After a haul of record relief reforms in 2020, more states launch clean slate campaigns

Yesterday, the Clean Slate Initiative, a bipartisan national effort to automate the clearing of criminal records, announced four new state campaigns in Texas, New York, Oregon, and Delaware, joining ongoing campaigns in Louisiana, Connecticut, and North Carolina to advocate for automatic record relief legislation.

This announcement follows a productive year for record relief reforms in 2020, when Michigan became the sixth state to enact automatic relief for a range of conviction records, the most expansive such authority enacted to date. In total, 20 states enacted 35 bills and two ballot measures creating or expanding record relief (i.e. expungement, sealing, set-aside) last year. Michigan, along with three other states, also enacted major legislation expanding eligibility for petition-based conviction relief. Kentucky and North Carolina authorized the automatic sealing of many non-conviction records (with simplified petitions for others), consistent with a 2019 model law on non-conviction records developed by a group of practitioners under CCRC’s leadership. Other reforms addressed marijuana offenses, victims of human trafficking, juvenile records, and more.

Below we summarize 2020’s record relief reforms, broken down into six categories: general conviction relief (9 states, 14 laws), automatic conviction relief (4 states, 5 laws), non-conviction records (4 states, 4 laws), marijuana offenses (6 states, 5 laws, 2 ballot measures), offenses by victims of human trafficking (3 states, 3 bills), and juvenile records (5 states, 6 laws). Seven bills that were vetoed are described at the end. (Our full report on 2020 legislation is available here. Further detail about a particular jurisdiction’s record relief laws can be found in the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project, which includes both individual state profiles and 50-state comparison charts for conviction and non-conviction records.)

General conviction relief (9 states, 14 laws)

In 2020, four states enacted major reforms expanding eligibility for petition-based conviction relief. Michigan significantly expanded sealing eligibility for misdemeanors and felonies. Georgia for the first time authorized the sealing of convictions, covering pardoned records and up to two misdemeanors. North Carolina broadened felony and misdemeanor eligibility criteria. Nebraska extended set-aside eligibility beyond only probation cases to include cases involving sentences of up to one year’s imprisonment.

  • Michigan expanded petition-based eligibility for set-aside and sealing to an unlimited number of misdemeanors and up to three felonies, provided that no more than two convictions for assaultive crimes may be set-aside in a person’s lifetime, and no more than one conviction for the same offense may be set-aside if the offense is punishable by more than 10 years in prison (HB 4984). Mich. Comp. Laws § 780.621, et seq. HB 4983 sets new waiting periods for seeking set-aside: more than one felony requires 7 years; one felony, or 2+ serious or assaultive misdemeanors requires 5 years; other misdemeanors require 3 years. These periods run from the latest of the following: imposition of sentence, completion of incarceration, and completion of supervision. HB 4985 provides that in counting convictions for determining eligibility for set-aside and sealing, crimes in the same 24-hour period arising from the same transaction are counted as a single offense unless they involve violence, guns, or a maximum sentence of 10+ years in prison.HB 4981 specifies that set-aside and sealing is not available for felonies punishable by a life sentence; specified sex offenses; traffic offenses if they involved alcohol, injury or commercial licensees; and a felony domestic violence conviction if the person has a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.
  • Georgia made eligible for record restriction and sealing: pardoned convictions (except for serious violent felonies or sexual offenses), up to two misdemeanor convictions (excluding specified violent and sexual offenses), and various conditional discharges (SB 288). Ga. Code Ann. § 35-3-37.
  • North Carolina enacted the Second Chance Act, which expands “expunction” opportunities and streamlines the process in a variety of ways, including providing mandatory expungement for 16- and 17-year olds convicted as adults before “Raise the Age” legislation, who meet certain criteria; broadened eligibility criteria for expungement of conviction records (i.e. allowing multiple non-violent misdemeanors to be expunged; treating multiple convictions in the same court session as one conviction, etc.) (SB 562). A more detailed summary ishere.
  • Nebraska expanded eligibility for set-aside to people sentenced to a year or less in prison. Preexisting law permits a person sentenced to probation to petition the sentencing court to “set aside” the conviction upon completion of sentence. LB 881, for the first time, allows a person who has completed a term of imprisonment of one year or less, to also petition to “set aside” their conviction, so long as: no charge is currently pending against them; they are not required to register under the Sex Offender Registration Act; the offense was not vehicular homicide; and they were not denied a set-aside within the previous two years. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2264.

Also in 2020, five other states eliminated some eligibility barriers and streamlined procedures:

  • Louisiana repealed a requirement that to expunge certain violent offenses, the person “has been employed for a period of ten consecutive years” (HB 179). La. C. Cr. Proc. Art. 978. The state also authorized expungement when a person is on parole; repealing requirements that no felony conviction was expunged in the last 15 years and no misdemeanor was expunged in the last 5 years; and repealing a requirement, where expungement is sought for DUI, that the person have had no arrest or conviction expunged in the past 10 years (HB 241). Arts. 975, 977, 978. Finally, Louisiana modified its expungement forms to allow applicants to indicate if they had received a “first offender pardon” (HB 194).
  • Indiana clarified that the waiting period for expungement for a felony reduced to a misdemeanor is five years from the date of conviction (SB 47). Ind. Code §§ 35-38-9-2.
  • West Virginia authorized a state resident seeking expungement of convictions in multiple counties to file a single petition for expungement in their county of residence; and deleted a provision that a person may file only one expungement petition under either the general expungement authority or the special treatment/job program authority (SB 562). W. Va. Code §§ 61-11-26, -26a.
  • Wyoming provided that convictions for purchase, possession, or use of nicotine products by persons under 21 shall not be reported by the court to law enforcement agencies; and, upon payment of the fine, the conviction “shall be expunged by operation of law…six (6) months after the entry of conviction” (SF 50). Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 14-3-304, -305.
  • Utah prohibited the Bureau of Criminal Identification from considering minor prior or pending cases, or any clean-slate-eligible cases, in determining whether to issue a certificate of eligibility for expungement (HB 397). Utah Code Ann. § 77-40-105(4).

Automatic relief (“clean slate”) (4 states, 5 laws)

In 2020, Michigan became the sixth state to enact automatic relief for a range of conviction records—a type of reform known as “clean slate,” championed by the Clean Slate Initiative, among others. Michigan’s law is the most expansive automatic authority enacted to date. Pennsylvania improved its landmark 2018 Clean Slate Act, by eliminating barriers to relief based on unpaid fines and fees; and, automatically sealing pardoned convictions and expunging acquittals. Louisiana established a Clean Slate Task Force. And Vermont authorized automatic relief for marijuana possession. In addition, two states delayed or blocked automatic relief, as described below.

  • Michigan authorized automatic set-aside and sealing for a range of convictions. An unlimited number of minor misdemeanors will be eligible seven years after imposition of sentence; and, up to four more serious misdemeanors and up to two felonies that are eligible for relief under expanded petition-based standards (see above) would be eligible 7 or 10 years after imposition of sentence or release from imprisonment, respectively, provided that the conditions in the petition-based standards are met (no pending charges in the state database, no additional convictions in the waiting period) (HB 4980). Mich. Comp. Laws § 780.622,et seq. For more serious misdemeanors and felonies, a person with more than one conviction for an assaultive crime (broadly defined) is ineligible for relief. Also, a broad range of crimes involving violence or dishonesty, or subject to a lengthy sentence, are ineligible. While restitution and other court debt need not be paid for a conviction to be expunged, a court may reinstate a conviction if a person “has not made a good-faith effort to pay” restitution. The law requires the system to be made operational two years after the effective date of the law, “subject to any necessary appropriation,” as well as a potential one-time 180-day extension at the governor’s request it cannot be implemented by the deadline “because of technological limitations.” See also the juvenile section for additional clean slate authority.
  • Pennsylvania eliminated unpaid fines and fees (excluding restitution and a filing fee) as barriers to existing petition-based and automated sealing; authorized automatic sealing of pardoned convictions; and authorized automatic expungement of acquittals (HB 440). 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9122.1,et seq.
  • Louisiana established a Clean Slate Task Force to study the possibility of automating expungement (HR 67) and authorized access to criminal justice data for nonprofit partners providing technical assistance to this task force (HB 2).
  • Vermont authorized automatic expungement of convictions involving possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana entered prior to January 1, 2021, with expungement to be completed no later than January 1, 2022.

Also, California postponed implementation of its 2019 automatic record relief law from early 2021 to mid-2022. (SB 118). Cal. Penal Code §§ 851.93, 1203.425. Washington governor Jay Inslee vetoed an automatic conviction relief bill (HB 2793), predicating the veto on the economic burdens imposed on the state by the pandemic.  Automation authorized in 2019 has also been delayed in Utah and New Jersey because of disruptions based on the pandemic.

Non-conviction records (4 states, 4 laws)

Last year two states (Kentucky and North Carolina) authorized the automatic sealing of many non-conviction records (with simplified petitions for others), consistent with a 2019 model law on non-conviction records developed by a group of practitioners under CCRC’s leadership. This brings the total number of states with automatic or expedited non-conviction relief to 21. In addition, Louisiana clarified that dismissed diversion cases may be expunged; and Illinois extended a fee waiver for non-conviction relief.

  • Kentucky significantly streamlined the expungement of non-conviction records (HB 327). For cases disposed after March 27, 2020, expungement of misdemeanor or felony charges resulting in acquittal or dismissal with prejudice (“not in exchange for a guilty plea to another offense”) is automatic upon disposition. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 431.076. Cases disposed prior to that date, and felony cases in which charges have not resulted in an indictment, may be expunged on petition after 60 days. Cases in which charges were dismissed without prejudice are eligible for expungement three years after disposition for felony charges, and one year after disposition in the case of misdemeanor charge (reduced in both cases from five years). Expungement is mandatory for eligible cases (for unindicted felony cases, the prosecutor may obtain an extension of up to 180 days to file an indictment). Preexisting law required hearings and made expungement discretionary.
  • North Carolina authorized automatic expungement of many non-conviction records and a streamlined petition process for others (SB 562).
  • Louisiana made clear that a person can file a motion to expunge records if the district attorney declined to prosecute for the reason that the person successfully completed a pretrial diversion program (HB 129). La. C. Cr. Proc. Art. 976.
  • Illinois extended the waiver of filing fees in large-counties for the sealing or expungement of non-conviction records (SB 1857).

Marijuana offenses (6 states, 5 laws, 2 ballot measures)

Marijuana expungement continued to accelerate across the country, as expungement has attained a more prominent role in the broader legalization movement. Six states enacted specialized marijuana relief laws in 2020, following 7 states (and D.C.) that did so in 2019, and 4 states in 2018—bringing the total number of states with specialized marijuana expungement laws to 23.

In Congress, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act in November. However, the Senate did not bring it up for consideration so it will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress.

Last year, Arizona and Montana approved ballot measures to authorize expungement for many marijuana offenses. Vermont made expungement automatic for marijuana possession of 2 ounces or less. Michigan and Utah streamlined marijuana relief procedures. Virginia restricted access to records of marijuana possession offenses.

  • Arizona passed a marijuana legalization ballot measure that requires courts, upon petition, to expunge arrests, charges, and convictions for certain marijuana possession, consumption, transportation and cultivation offenses (effective July 2, 2021) ( 207). Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2862.
  • Michigan streamlined petitions for marijuana misdemeanors with a presumption in favor of set-aside and sealing for offenses that have been decriminalized (HB 4982); and provided for a rehearing or appeal where set-aside of a marijuana misdemeanor is denied (HB 5120).
  • Montana passed a marijuana legalization ballot measure that provides that a person serving a sentence—or who has completed a sentence—for an act now legalized or now punishable by a lesser sentence may petition for an expungement, resentencing, and/or redesignation (I-190). I-190 sec. 36 (2020).
  • Utah made eligibility periods and the requirement of a certificate of eligibility inapplicable to convictions for possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes (SB 121) Utah Code Ann. § 77-40-103(5).
  • Vermont authorized automatic expungement of convictions involving possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana entered prior to January 1, 2021, with expungement to be completed no later than January 1, 2022 (234).
  • Virginia decriminalized marijuana possession, restricted public access to records relating to past arrests, charges, or convictions for this offense, prohibited employers and educational institutions from inquiring about them, and prohibited state and local officials from requiring an applicant for a license, permit, registration, or governmental service to disclose information about them (SB 2 / HB 972). Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-250.1; 19.2-389.3.

Victims of human trafficking (3 states, 3 laws)

Since 2010, when New York authorized victims of human trafficking to vacate certain prostitution and related offenses from their criminal records, in response to the advocacy of sex workers’ rights organizations, almost every state has enacted specialized laws for sealing, expunging, or vacating convictions related to being trafficked. While the early laws were narrowly focused on prostitution and related offenses, more recently additional offenses have been added. In 2020, three more states expanded relief in this area, after seven states and the District of Columbia did so in 2019, and 5 states in 2018.

  • Georgia authorized petitions for vacatur, restriction, and sealing of convictions that occurred while a defendant was a victim of human trafficking (SB 435). Ga. Code Ann. §§ 17-10-21; 35-3-37(j)(6).
  • Maryland expanded the vacatur authority for victims of human trafficking by authorizing relief for more offenses (previously only prostitution), simplified procedures, and mades convictions that have been vacated eligible for expungement as a non-conviction record (HB 242 / SB 206). Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §§ 8-302, 10-105(a)(13).
  • South Dakota eliminated the requirement that a victim of human trafficking be over 18 years old to expunge a juvenile record; and authorized the victim to petition the court directly or through a parent, guardian, or guardian ad litem (HB 1047). S.D. Codified Laws § 26-7A-115.1.

Juvenile records (5 states, 6 laws)

  • California strengthened requirements for the automatic sealing of juvenile records not resulting in an adjudication of guilt (AB 2425). Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 786.5, 827.95.
  • Michigan enacted a juvenile clean slate law to make set-aside and sealing automatic for eligible adjudications, effective in mid-2023 (SB 681). Comp. Laws § 712A.18e, et seq. The state also enacted SB 682, which makes records of juvenile proceedings confidential to all but “persons having a legitimate interest,” defined to include the juvenile, their parents or guardians, law enforcement, and certain agencies with responsibility for juvenile custody. Mich. Comp. Laws § 712A.28.
  • South Dakota eliminated the requirement that a victim of human trafficking be over 18 years old to expunge a juvenile record; and authorized the victim to petition the court directly or through a parent, guardian, or guardian ad litem (HB 1047). S.D. Codified Laws § 26-7A-115.1.
  • Utah enacted the Juvenile Expungement Act, which reorganizes earlier law, with a few major changes (HB 397). As under existing law, upon reaching age 18, a person with a juvenile record is eligible for expungement following a one-year waiting period and completion of all sentence requirements (which may be waived by the court). After a hearing, the court may seal all the record if the individual has not, in the five years preceding, been convicted of a violent felony or have any proceedings pending. Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-1505. Previously, expungement was unavailable to any person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude since the juvenile court’s jurisdiction terminated. The bill also simplifies the process to expunge a record with only nonjudicial adjustments, without a hearing. § 78A-6-1504.
  • Washington facilitated juvenile sealing by omitting the requirement of a hearing if the person is off supervision and has paid restitution (HB 2794). Wash. Rev. Code § 13.50.260.


  • Utah expanded the authority of prosecutors to request that the court enter a judgment to a lower degree of the offense and impose a lower sentence, which is eligible for expungement (HB 441). Utah Code Ann. 77-2-1.2.

Vetoed bills

In 2020, at least five governors vetoed record relief reforms:

  • Florida governor Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill that would have provided for the non-disclosure of arrest records of minors who have completed diversion (SB 1292).
  • Maryland governor Larry Hogan vetoed three record relief bills: (1) HB 83 would have prohibited the Maryland Judiciary Case Search from in any way referring to the existence of a District Court criminal case in which possession of marijuana is the only charge in the case and the charge was disposed of before October 1, 2014; (2) HB 1336 would have authorized petitions for a partial expungement, among other things; and (3) SB 314 would have made various juvenile records confidential.
  • Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who signed 9 record relief bills in 2020, vetoed a 10th bill that would have authorized expungement of first-time DUI convictions (SB 1254).
  • Mississippi governor Tate Reeves vetoed a bill that would have allowed expungement of up to three felonies (currently only one is eligible) (SB 658).
  • Washington governor Jay Inslee vetoed a bill that would have provided automatic vacatur relief for a range of conviction records (HB 2793), predicating the veto on the economic burdens imposed on the state by the pandemic.