California will let millions of ex-offenders seal their criminal records

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Millions of Californians whose lives have been haunted by past criminal records will find relief after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Thursday that allows them to hide their rap sheet from public view.

The measurement,
SB731
, would not erase a person’s criminal record, but would allow people who have already been arrested or convicted to have their record electronically sealed, so that it does not end up in criminal background checks. Ex-offenders are eligible only if they have served all of their sentence, including any jail time or probation, and have stayed out of the justice system.

Judges will still be able to see a person’s complete record, and the state would be required to provide a person’s criminal history to schools and educational institutions that request it.

Criminal justice advocates say past offenses, due to the growing popularity of background checks, often unfairly prevent many people from leading normal lives, sometimes decades after serving their sentence. Democratic state lawmakers sent the bill to Newsom’s office last month.

“California now has the most comprehensive records sealing system in the country,” said Jay Jordan, CEO of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, an advocacy group that sponsored the bill. He said former offenders will be “freed from the thousands of counterproductive but permanent restrictions” that hamper their lives.

The law comes into effect on July 1, 2023 and will not apply if the person has been convicted of a serious or violent crime, such as murder, kidnapping or rape. Nor will it apply to crimes that require someone to register as a sex offender.

Former offenders convicted of a crime can have their records automatically sealed if they serve all the terms of their sentence and remain without a conviction for at least four years. People arrested but not charged with a crime can also have their records sealed.

State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles who championed the bill, said that because the state keeps a person’s conviction records until age 100, people often unfairly risk life sentences after paying the price for their crime. . About 8 million Californians – 1 in 5 state residents – have already been arrested or convicted.

“They did what they were asked to do, why should they continue to be punished?” Durazo told The Chronicle last summer.

Beyond the barriers to finding employment, housing and education, the limitations faced by those with prior criminal convictions are significant. Many cannot sit on homeowner association boards, volunteer or go on field trips to their children’s schools, coach sports teams, adopt a child, or get compensation to care for a elderly grandparent.

California is the first state to create an automatic system to seal criminal records. The push for SB731 has been led by organizers of the national “time done” movement, who said the bill will likely encourage other states to follow suit.

California already has a “no box” law, which prohibits employers of five or more workers from asking a job seeker about their conviction history before making a job offer. But nothing prohibits employers from carrying out a criminal background check.

Law enforcement associations and a handful of professional licensing boards opposed the bill. The Peace Officers Research Association of California said in a statement that criminals would have “less deterrence to commit another crime” if they were allowed to return to the streets with a clean criminal record. The group also warned that the language of the bill does not exclude certain violent crimes.

Dustin Gardiner (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @dustingardiner

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