Round-up of 2023 record-clearing laws
In a year that saw fewer criminal record reforms enacted than in the recent past, six states plus the District of Columbia took significant steps to expand their sealing and expungement laws.
Minnesota, New York, and the District of Columbia enacted the most ambitious record-clearing schemes, expanding eligibility for relief while also making some relief automatic for the first time. Louisiana continued to resist a full “clean slate” approach, but established an automated application system that should make it easier for individuals to seek expungement once the legislature reduces the sky-high statutory application fee. Like Louisiana, Maryland significantly improved its record relief system even without changing eligibility criteria, including by cutting waiting periods in half. Ohio and Pennsylvania expanded eligibility for petition-based sealing and reduced waiting periods, with Pennsylvania also extending automatic relief to some drug felonies.
These seven reforms are described in greater detail below, in approximate order of importance. Further analysis of each state’s new law can be found in the relevant state profile from the Restoration of Rights Project. All in all, considering the relatively few record reforms in other categories enacted in 2023, they make for a surprisingly productive year for record clearing.
Minnesota: Through provisions in an omnibus criminal justice reform bill (SF 2909), Minnesota largely subsumed its petition-based system with automatic expungement that will take effect next year. Prior to enactment of the 2023 reform, even non-conviction records were subject in Minnesota to a burdensome process that required the court to apply an individualized balancing test. One study found that just 5% of Minnesotans eligible for record relief actually received it. Once the automatic expungement provisions take effect, hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans should finally benefit. The record reforms in SF 2909 also broadened expungement eligibility to include some less serious drug crimes, reduced waiting periods, and made expungement of pardoned convictions automatic.
In addition, as part of a bill that legalized marijuana (HF 100), Minnesota will automatically expunge over 60,000 misdemeanor convictions for selling or possessing cannabis. It also created a new board to review nonviolent cannabis felony records for potential expungement.
If more were necessary to show why Minnesota is our 2023 Reintegration Champion, its legislature also overhauled the pardon process to encourage more grants, limited felony disenfranchisement to a period of actual incarceration, capped sentences for gross misdemeanors to avoid immigration consequences, extended ban-the-box to multimember agencies, and further eased the drug felony ban on SNAP and TANF benefits.
New York: In November, New York enacted its own broad Clean Slate Act (A1029C), substantially expanding eligibility for sealing from a rather stingy maximum of two convictions (only one of which could be a felony) to all misdemeanors and all but the most serious felonies, without numerical limits, making New York’s automatic record-clearing law the broadest in the Nation by far.
New York also reduced some waiting periods (though not as substantially as Maryland and Pennsylvania). Starting in November 2024, New York will begin the process of automatically sealing misdemeanors three years after completion of sentence, and eligible felonies after eight years, so long as an individual has no pending criminal charges and is not on probation or parole. It is estimated that as many as a million felonies and up to 4 million misdemeanors will become eligible for sealing under the new law.
“The best crime-fighting tool is a good-paying job. That’s why I support giving New Yorkers a clean slate after they’ve paid their debt to society and gone years without an additional offense,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said at the bill’s signing.
The District of Columbia: The District of Columbia is the third jurisdiction to substantially revise its record-clearing laws, replacing one of the most complex and restrictive schemes in the country with a generous one that includes some automatic relief. DC’s preexisting record sealing law limits relief to certain misdemeanors and non-conviction records, requires lengthy waiting periods and provides for their extension based on so-called “disqualifying” arrests or convictions, and imposes onerous procedures for sealing even non-conviction records.
DC’s Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022 (D.C. Law 24-284), which became final after the required period of congressional review on March 10, 2023, extends petition-based sealing relief to all non-conviction records and misdemeanors, and to all but certain felonies involving violence and sexual crimes. Non-conviction records may be sealed at disposition; a waiting period of five years after completion of sentence is required for misdemeanor convictions and eight years for all but the most serious violent felony convictions. The new law facilitates procedures and eases standards and burdens of proof, and it also makes sealing automatic for non-convictions and most misdemeanors, and for marijuana convictions.
The new law’s shortcoming is that it is presently not scheduled to take effect for several more years. Currently, the FY24 Budget Support Act of 2023 establishes the effective date for the Second Chance Act as 1/1/26 for most of the law and 10/1/29 for its automatic sealing provisions (extended from 2027 in the law as enacted).
Louisiana: Louisiana’s legislature has for several years tried to enact automatic record clearing, only to be frustrated by opposition from the state police and the courts. SB 111 establishes an automated expungement process applicable to all cases currently authorized for relief under Articles 976 (non-convictions), 977 (misdemeanors) and 978 (felonies). This law was effectively a compromise after opposition from law enforcement and the courts twice defeated efforts in 2021 and 2022 to enact an automatic “clean slate” process.
The law directs the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information (BCII) to inventory all crimes for which expungement is authorized, and to develop a simplified online process whereby individuals can submit basic information about their case to obtain expungement relief. If a record is eligible, the Bureau must expunge it within 30 days and then notify the Louisiana Supreme Court case system, which in turn will notify law enforcement and district courts about the expungement. Once the system is fully implemented after January 1, 2025, state lawmakers also aim to eliminate the $550 filing fee that in the past has discouraged applicants, though implementation is still contingent on the state legislature funding the automated expungement process. One potential model would be New Jersey, which introduced a similar electronic expungement system in 2019. (See Akil Roper, “New Jersey Launches Electronic Filing System for Expungements.”)
Pennsylvania: In December, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed HB 689 which for the first time authorizes sealing of some felonies, specifically low-level property crimes and less serious drug offenses, after 10 conviction-free years. It also builds on the state’s landmark Clean Slate Act to provide automatic relief for a single less serious drug felony. In addition, the bill shortens the waiting period for sealing of misdemeanors from 10 to 7 years and for summary offenses from 10 to 5 years. It also provides for automatic expungement of pardoned convictions.
The bill represents just the latest extension of Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act. Since it first took effect in June 2019, the state has sealed over 40 million cases, predominantly uncharged arrests and other non-convictions. According to Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services, that figure represents “more than half of the charges in the court’s database.” As a result, the Clean Slate Act has directly impacted more than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians, providing greater access to employment, education, and housing opportunities.
Ohio: In 2023, S. 288 made major revisions to Ohio’s record-clearing law, extending eligibility for sealing to additional categories of felonies (though still excluding certain offenses from relief), shortening waiting periods, authorizing prosecutor-initiated sealing, and creating a new authority for expungement of records after an additional waiting period ranging from six months for petty misdemeanors to 10 years for felonies, and for non-convictions at disposition. The law also authorized courts to seal the record of any case in which the governor had granted a pardon, on the same basis as non-conviction records.
Maryland: Under the REDEEM Act (SB 37), Maryland cut in half what we reported in 2022 were among the longest waiting periods in the country, from 10 years after completion of sentence to five years for misdemeanors and from 15 years to 7 years for felonies. Maryland also made expungement of non-conviction records automatic, and provided that any unpaid court fees or costs will not bar expungement and will be waived if associated with the charge being expunged.
Maryland’s reduction in its waiting periods appears to have been encouraged by our 2022 report, Waiting for Relief: A National Survey of Waiting Periods for Record Clearing, a report that we prepared at the instance of Maryland advocates for reform, which prominently identified Maryland’s waiting periods as the longest in the Nation. “You commit a nonviolent felony at 20 and not have that expunged until you’re 40 years old,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher. “That’s a lot of living. And that is impacted by a criminal record.” He added that “By cutting the waiting period, it provides greater access to the resources that ex-offenders need to get back into the mainstream economy.”
These and other new laws enacted in 2023 will be discussed in our annual report on new record reform legislation, which we expect to publish in a few days.
- Making the research case for hiring people with a conviction record - January 12, 2024
- “Advancing Second Chances: Clean Slate and Other Record Reforms in 2023” - January 8, 2024
- Round-up of 2023 record-clearing laws - January 4, 2024
- A New Year’s wish: New life for the pardon power! - January 2, 2024
- Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws - December 6, 2023
- Comments on SBA proposal to eliminate criminal history loan restrictions - November 16, 2023
- Minnesota enacts four major record reforms in 2023 - October 18, 2023
- SBA takes one step toward fair chance lending, but needs to take another - September 7, 2023
- CCRC seeking a Deputy Director - June 13, 2023
- Biden Administration announces actions to promote reintegration - April 28, 2023