Upgrades to the Restoration of Rights Project

We are pleased to announce the completion of a major project to upgrade our flagship resource, the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP).  The RRP is a free on-line compendium of legal research that describes and analyzes the laws and practices relating to criminal record relief in the United States.  The improvements we have made will make it easier for our readers to gain both a snapshot and more detailed understanding of how record relief laws and policies operate within each of the 50 states, D.C., 2 territories, and the federal system.  They will also facilitate comparisons of how different states address various types of relief, producing a national-level picture against which each state can measure its progress.

This major undertaking was a collaboration between CCRC staff and four students at Yale Law School: Jordan Dannenberg, Kallie Klein, Jackson Skeen, and Tor Tarantola.  We thank these students, as well as YLS Professor Kate Stith, for their excellent contributions to our mission of promoting public engagement on the issues raised by the collateral consequences of arrest or conviction.

The state-by-state profiles, summaries and 50-state comparison charts from the RRP are what we rely on in preparing periodic and year-end summary reports on new legislation, which we track and add to the RRP in real time throughout the year.  The research and analysis in the RRP also informs our commentary on everything from new court decisions and scholarship to politics and practice, as well as the amicus briefs we file from time to time in significant litigation.  It is the foundation of our work on model legislation.  The RRP provided the raw material for a national overview report of record relief laws and policies, Forgiving and Forgetting in American Justice, which was last revised in August 2018.  Because of this report’s value in identifying overall patterns and emerging trends, we are already at work bringing it up to date with the more than 200 new laws passed since it was last revised.

Through the upgrade project we reorganized and expanded the RRP in three major ways.

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Legalizing marijuana and expunging records across the country

As the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana has now reached a majority of the states, the expungement of criminal records has finally attained a prominent role in the marijuana reform agenda.  Laws to facilitate marijuana expungement and other forms of record relief, such as sealing and set-aside, have now been enacted in more than a dozen states.  Most of these laws cover only very minor offenses involving small amounts of marijuana, and require individuals to file petitions in court to obtain relief.  But a handful of states have authorized streamlined record reforms that will do away with petition requirements and cover more offenses.  In the 2020 presidential race, Democratic candidates have called for wide-ranging and automatic relief for marijuana records.

Given these important developments that we expect will continue in the present legislative season, we have put together a chart providing a 50-state snapshot of:

(1) laws legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana;

(2) laws that specifically provide relief for past marijuana arrests and convictions, including but not limited to conduct that has been legalized or decriminalized; and

(3) pardon programs specific to marijuana offenses.

We hope this tool will help people assess the current state of marijuana reform and work to develop more expansive, accessible, and effective record relief.

As of this writing, 26 states, D.C., and one territory have legalized or decriminalized marijuana to some degree.  Eleven states and D.C. have done both.  Seventeen states and D.C. have enacted expungement, sealing, or set-aside laws specifically for marijuana, or targeted more generally to decriminalized or legalized conduct.  Four states have pardon programs for marijuana offenses.  Our 50-state chart documenting these laws is available here.  We will update this chart to cover new legislative developments as they occur.  For example, just this week both chambers of the Virginia legislature passed a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and limit access to records of such offenses.

This comment describes some of the history of marijuana decriminalization, legalization, and expungement reforms, recent trends, and the current state of the law in this area.  It attempts to provide evidence for what Professor Douglas A. Berman recently described as the “linking and leveraging” of the marijuana reform and expungement movements.

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CCRC reports on criminal record reforms in 2019

We are pleased to publish our annual report on criminal record reforms enacted during the past calendar year.  This is the fourth in a series of reports since 2016 on new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  This year we have included for the first time a Report Card grading the progress of the most (and least) productive state legislatures in 2019.  The press release accompanying the report is reprinted below:

Report finds record-breaking number of criminal record reforms enacted in 2019

February 17, 2020

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the astonishing number of laws passed in 2019 aimed at promoting reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Last year, 43 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted an extraordinary 153 laws to provide criminal record relief or to alleviate the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime and frequently have little or no public safety rationale. 

The year 2019 was the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013, a period CCRC has documented in a series of legislative reports (2013-2016, 2017, and 2018). 

CCRC’s 2019 report, titled “Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019,” is available here.

This report is our first to include a Report Card on how state legislatures performed during the year in advancing the goals of reintegration,” said CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love. “We wanted to recognize New Jersey as Reintegration Champion for having the most consequential legislative record in 2019, including three important new laws authorizing clean slaterecord relief, restoring voting rights, and curbing driver’s license suspensions.

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New 2019 laws on diversion and other non-conviction dispositions

This comment on new laws authorizing non-conviction dispositions is the fourth in a series of comments describing some of the 153 laws passed in 2019 restoring rights or delivering record relief.  The full report on 2019 laws is available here.

Diversionary and other non-conviction dispositions

In 2019, 18 states enacted 26 laws creating, expanding, reorganizing, or otherwise supporting diversionary and deferred dispositions, to enable individuals charged with criminal offenses to avoid a conviction record.  The 2019 enactments on diversionary dispositions reflect the clear trend across the country toward increasing opportunities to steer certain categories of individuals out of the system, through informal diversions, specialized treatment or intervention courts, or completing a deferred adjudication and probation period.  Laws enacted in 2019 extended this favorable treatment to juveniles, military service personnel and veterans, persons with mental illness, drug and alcohol users, human trafficking victims, caregivers of children, and even certain persons charged with sex offenses.

Of particular note, Colorado enacted a major revision of its juvenile records scheme, the second in three years, making almost all juvenile offenses eligible for diversion, and expungement automatic upon successful completion of diversion “without the need fora court order,” as long as the prosecutor or victim do not object.  Colorado also authorized funding for mental health diversion courts. Tennessee and Vermont also significantly expanded their programs of juvenile diversion, while Mississippi reorganized its system of specialized courts as “intervention courts.”  Oregon modified diversion to avoid deportation consequences of a guilty plea.  California enacted perhaps the most novel (and promising) diversion program we’ve seen in several years, authorizing the creation of pretrial diversion for primary caregivers of children,who are charged with a misdemeanor or non-serious felony offenses, except for offenses against the cared-after child.  These and other diversion laws are described briefly below:

  • Colorado enacted a major revision of its juvenile records scheme, the second in three years, making almost all juvenile offenses eligible for diversion, and expungement automatic upon successful completion “without the need for a court order.” See HB 1335, revising Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-306(4)(b)(I). This law also authorized the court to discontinue sex offender registration.  Colorado also authorized funding for mental health diversion courts. (SB 211).   Colorado’s impressive record of legislating on criminal records issues in recent years, for adult as well as juvenile records, is described in detail in the state’s profile in the Restoration of Rights Project.
  • Tennessee addressed diversion both in the context of juveniles (HB 1319) and those charged with sex offenses (HB 624). The latter law revises provisions governing the circumstances under which a person’s name must be removed from the sex offender registry, to add successful completion of judicial diversion for certain offenses.  Juveniles will now be eligible for diversion not only after a plea, but also after an adjudication.   In its third new law affecting diversion, Tennessee rescinded the $350 filing fee for a defendant applying for expunction of an offense following the completion of a diversion program.  See HB941.
  • Vermont authorized its courts to expunge records of juvenile diversion cases after two years without a subsequent conviction, if restitution has been paid. See S105. While referral for juvenile diversion remains in the control of the district attorney, courts are authorized to impose a deferred sentence for a less serious crime even if the prosecutor objects. 13 V.S.A. § 7041.  This provision was amended by S105 to delete the age limits on the court’s authority under this section, so that it no longer applies only where the defendant is under 28 years of age.
  • Mississippi reorganized its system of specialized problem-solving courts (including drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts) as “intervention courts,” and made an Intervention Courts Advisory Committee responsible for coordinating the policies and operation of these courts through the State.  See HB 1352, Code Ann. §§ 9-23-1, 9-23-9.  These courts are primarily aimed at reducing the incidence of drug abuse as a driver of criminal behavior, but they are aimed at different populations and have differing eligibility requirements.   See, e.g., § 9-25-1 (veterans courts); § 9-27-7 (mental health courts).   These courts all offer the possibility that successful participants in their programs may avoid conviction and become eligible for expungement of the record upon successful completion.
  • Oregon enacted a law formalizing the terms of conditional discharge in controlled substance cases, specifically omitting the requirement under preexisting law that a defendant must first plead or be found guilty. (HB 3201).  Under the new law, a participant must enter into a “probation agreement” waiving various trial and appellate rights, and must agree to pay restitution and court-appointed attorney fees, with no provision for waiver, following an unfortunate practice of restricting the benefit of certain non-conviction dispositions to people who can pay for them.  The agreement “may not contain a requirement that the defendant enter a plea of guilty or no contest on any charge in the accusatory instrument,” a provision evidently intended to avoid the collateral consequences of a finding of guilt.  This law is also covered in the section on relief from immigration consequences.

In more incremental extensions of diversion:

  • California authorized the creation of pretrial diversion for primary caregivers of children,who are charged with a misdemeanor or non-serious felony offenses, except for offenses against the cared-after child. (SB 394). See Cal. Penal Code § 1001.83.
  • Missouri (HB 547) and Oregon (HB 2462) enacted laws aimed at giving service members and veterans the benefit of diversion.
  • Idaho (H78) and South Carolina (H3601) authorized diversion in DUI cases.
  • Texas expanded eligibility for deferred adjudication to victims of human trafficking (HB 2758), and created a family violence pretrial diversion pilot program in Bexar County (HB 3529), and authorized deferred adjudication for certain intoxication offenses (HB 3582).
  • Washington established a substance abuse diversion program (SB 5380), and authorized a law enforcement grant program to expand alternatives to arrest and jail processes (HB 1767).
  • Nebraska authorized restorative justice as a form or condition of diversion (LB595).
  • Nevada expanded eligibility for veterans and military service members specialty court programs (AB222).
  • Wyoming addressed diversion in its expansion of juvenile expungement in HB 44, discussed in the section on expungement.
  • Florida put in place a system of reporting for its various problem-solving courts (HB 7125).
  • Minnesota authorized cities and counties to create driver’s license reinstatement diversion programs (SF 8).
  • Rhode Island authorized superior court diversion programs (SB 962). See R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-2-39.3.
  • West Virginia established a specialized court program for military service members (SB 40).  See W. Va.Code §§ 62-16-1, et seq.

Record-breaking number of new expungement laws enacted in 2019

This is the third in a series of comments describing some of the 153 laws passed in 2019 restoring rights or delivering record relief.  The full report on 2019 laws is available here.

Criminal record relief (expungement, sealing, set aside)

As in past years, the reform measure most frequently enacted in 2019 was record relief, i.e. expungement, sealing, or other mechanism to limit access to criminal records or set aside convictions.  This past year, 31 states and D.C. enacted no fewer than 67 separate bills creating, expanding, or streamlining record relief.  This total does not include a dozen other new laws authorizing non-conviction dispositions that will be eligible for record-clearing under existing law.  A trend we observed in our 2018 report toward “a growing preference for more transparent restoration mechanisms” that limit use of a criminal record, as opposed to access, does not appear so obvious to us this year.  If anything, jurisdictions appear to be looking for new efficiencies in clearing records.

In 2019, 27 states and D.C. made certain classes of convictions newly eligible for expungement, sealing, or vacatur relief.  Five of those states enacted their first general authority for expunging or sealing convictions (North Dakota, New Mexico, West Virginia, Delaware, Iowa), making record relief available for the first time to thousands of people.   Nonetheless, most potential beneficiaries of these new relief schemes find them hard to navigate:  eligibility criteria are frequently complex and unclear, and court procedures are usually intimidating, burdensome and expensive.  These and other barriers to access have been shown to discourage the law’s intended beneficiaries.

To obviate the need for individual applications, in 2019 three states followed the example set by Pennsylvania’s 2018 “Clean Slate Act” by enacting automatic relief for a range of conviction and non-conviction records (Utah, California, New Jersey).  Specific provisions of these important new laws are described in the following pages, and in greater detail in the relevant state profiles in the Restoration of Rights Project.  Six additional states focused automatic relief provisions on specific offenses or dispositions (

, Illinois, New York, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas).

Also notable were bills providing relief for victims of human trafficking and for marijuana offenses.  Seven states and D.C. authorized relief for victims of human trafficking, allowing them to vacate, expunge, and seal a range of criminal records resulting from their status as a victim.   Seven other states—all of which have legalized or decriminalized marijuana—authorized record relief for certain marijuana offenses, including two automated relief measures (New York and Illinois).

In addition to these marijuana measures, which often extend to arrests and other non-conviction records, eleven states extended relief to certain non-conviction records for the first time.  Most far-reaching, new provisions in New York’s annual budget bill limited access to cases in which there has been no docket entry for five years; precluded the inclusion of such undisposed cases in background check reports; and extended New York’s automatic sealing of non-convictions to cases decided prior to the enactment of that relief in 1992

Finally, thirteen states enacted 18 laws to streamline and/or make more effective the procedures for obtaining relief under existing mechanisms.  Three states (Colorado, Washington, and New York) made particularly noteworthy and broad-based procedural reforms to their criminal records laws.

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To summarize the bounteous haul of record relief laws enacted in 2019, we have organized them into three categories: (1) new automatic relief schemes; (2) new petition-based relief; and (3) improved procedures and effect of existing record relief mechanisms.

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Updated report on 2018 fair chance and expungement reforms

On January 10, 2019, we released a report documenting the extraordinary number of laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Since that time, we discovered five additional laws enacted in 2018 (in AL, PA, OR, MO, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and have updated our report accordingly.

In 2018, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted at least 61 new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime. The CCRC report analyzes last year’s lawmaking and summarizes all 61 new authorities, which include 57 statutes, 3 executive orders, and one ballot initiative.

Last year saw the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013.  CCRC documented these earlier developments in reports on the 2013-2016 reforms and 2017 reforms.  In the period 2012–2018, every state legislature has in some way addressed the problem of reintegration.  Congress has not enacted any laws dealing with the problems presented by collateral consequences for more than a decade.

The state laws enacted in 2018 aim to break down legal and other barriers to success in the courts, the workplace, the pardon process, and at the ballot box:

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“High Time for Marijuana Expungement”

Any state that legalizes or decriminalizes marijuana should automatically include an expungement provision that clears the criminal record of individuals who engaged in activities deemed lawful under the new legalization or decriminalization laws.  This is the thesis of my new article, “High Time for Criminal Justice Reform: Marijuana Expungement Statutes in States with Legalized or Decriminalized Laws.”  At the federal level, Senator Cory Booker’s recently reintroduced Senate Bill 597, the “Marijuana Justice Act of 2019,” would do just that: remove marijuana from the Schedule of Controlled Substances and expunge records of marijuana possession and use convictions.  At the same time, some local governments are focusing on more efficient and expeditious expungement processes.  Earlier this year, the San Francisco District Attorney partnered with Code for America to identify and process eligible marijuana cases, including past convictions dating back to 1975.  The Denver District Attorney launched “Turn Over a New Leaf Program,” which helps individuals who committed now-repealed marijuana-related offenses vacate the records of their convictions.  While Colorado has a marijuana sealing statute (Col. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-710 allows sealing of misdemeanor marijuana possession or use offenses if an individual files a petition, pays a filing fee plus $65, and proves that the offense is no longer considered a crime), the New Leaf Program has attorneys from the Denver City Attorney’s Office guide individuals through the process and ask courts to vacate, dismiss, and seal convictions for marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal.

However—as I document in my article—of the ten states that have legalized, only four states have enacted marijuana-expungement legislation; of the thirteen states that have decriminalized marijuana, only three have enacted marijuana-expungement legislation.  My article includes charts compiling the status of expungement statutes in states that have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana and includes a model marijuana expungement statute.  My article draws on previous scholarship in this area by Professor Douglas Berman (Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices) and CCRC fellow David Schlussel (The Mellow Pot-Smoker: White Individualism in Marijuana Legalization Campaigns).

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Press release: New report on 2018 fair chance and expungement reforms (updated)

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the extraordinary number of laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  In the past twelve months, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted 61 new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime.  The CCRC report analyzes the past year’s lawmaking and summarizes all 61 new authorities, which include 57 statutes, 3 executive orders, and one ballot initiative.  The report, titled “Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: Fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018,” is available to download here

Last year saw the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013.  CCRC documented these earlier developments in reports on the 2013-2016 reforms and 2017 reforms.  In the period 2012–2018, every state legislature has in some way addressed the problem of reintegration.  Congress has not enacted any laws dealing with the problems presented by collateral consequences for more than a decade.

The state laws enacted in 2018 aim to break down legal and other barriers to success in the courts, the workplace, the pardon process, and at the ballot box:

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Michigan set-asides found to increase wages and reduce recidivism

Preliminary results of an empirical study by two University of Michigan law professors show that setting aside an individual’s record of conviction is associated with “a significant increase in employment and average wages,” and with a low recidivism rate.  We know of only one other similar study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, and it came to essentially the same conclusion.  One relevant difference between the two studies is that in Michigan set-aside results in sealing of the record, while in California it does not.  Such studies are rare because of the difficulty of obtaining data, particularly where relief seals the record, but they are a very important way of advancing a reform agenda.  Thus, Professors Sonja Starr and J.J. Prescott propose that their research “provides important empirical guidance to the broader social policy debates associated with set-aside laws and accessibility of criminal records.”  In the hope that their work will encourage others to undertake similar research, we reprint the entire report below.

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Second chance employment bill approved in West Virginia

CARDINAL_ownby1High drama on the final day of the West Virginia legislative session produced a last minute compromise between House and Senate over SB76, the WV Second Chance for Employment Act.  If the governor signs the bill into law, individuals convicted of non-violent felonies will be able to return to court after 10 years to have their convictions reduced to misdemeanors. [NOTE: The bill was signed into law on April 25.]

For several years the WV legislature has been considering how to improve employment opportunities for people with non-violent convictions, but the House and Senate had different ideas about how to do it.  The Senate approach would have expanded the state’s expungement law, which now applies only to youthful misdemeanors, while the House preferred reducing nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.   As the seconds ticked toward midnight on April 8, the Senate agreed to accept the “forgiving” approach favored by the House, creating a new category of “reduced misdemeanor” that need not be reported on employment applications but will be reflected in background investigations.

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