CCRC in the Post: Protesting should not result in a lifelong record

CCRC’s Margaret Love and David Schlussel published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday: “Protesting should not result in a lifelong criminal record.”  The piece begins:

Sparked by the killing of George Floyd on May 25, protesters across the country have been demonstrating against police violence and racism. As of June 4, the Associated Press tallied more than 10,000 arrests during and after protests, and the number has surely increased.

Most of those arrested will almost certainly be released without charges or have their charges dropped. Others will face charges and may be convicted. Regardless of the outcome, the mere fact of an arrest will leave a person with a criminal record in most states, creating long-term barriers to employment and housing, and in other areas of daily life. Protesters should not wind up with a lifelong criminal record.

States should provide for automatic expungement of records that do not result in a conviction, particularly where the government does not even bring charges. States should also expand the availability of relief for convictions.

. . . .

Our research indicates that automatic or expedited expungement of many non-conviction records is available in 15 states, thanks to recent reforms. Thirty-three additional states expunge or seal certain non-conviction records, but only after a person completes a court or administrative process, often with restrictive eligibility requirements and burdensome procedures, including waiting periods and even contested hearings.

Ironically, in most of these states it is harder to seal the record of an uncharged arrest, which does not find its way into a court document, than to seal charges that are dismissed or acquitted.

The District of Columbia, a center of the protest movement, has one of the most restrictive record-sealing laws in the country, and certainly the most complicated. Two states, Arizona and Wisconsin, do not expunge non-conviction records at all, and there is no statutory authority to expunge federal arrest records. Most states allow some convictions to be sealed, but eligibility criteria and procedural requirements tend to be restrictive.

Fortunately, legislative trends favor automatic expungement of non-conviction and minor conviction records in a growing number of states. In the wake of the current protests, lawmakers should accelerate this process.

. . . .

Read the full op-ed here or in today’s print edition.

Automatic expungement falls short in Canada

The John Howard Society of Canada has a new post about a failed piece of Canadian legislation that would have provided automatic expungement of criminal records in that country.  The post describes the effort to remedy the shortcomings of the current “one-at-a-time” record-clearing system, which it says is expensive (more than $600 to apply), bureaucratic, and “systematically works against poor and marginalized people.”  As an example, it documents Canada’s serious “takeup” problem with its recent efforts to clear cannabis possession convictions: “despite the government’s claims of an enhanced process to grant pardons for cannabis possession now that it is legal, only a handful of the 250,000 or so Canadians with such records have received pardons so far.”

The post also discusses our report documenting U.S. expungement reforms in 2019, noting that while the problem of criminal records in this country is “much greater” than it is in Canada, we seem to be making better progress in dealing with it.

We reprint the introduction to the post below, and link to the piece.

Expunging criminal records

February 26, 2020

Last year Senator Kim Pate introduced a bill that would provide automatic expungement of criminal records in Canada.  Under this bill, criminal records would automatically be sealed after a certain amount of time had elapsed following a criminal sentence unless there had meanwhile been a new criminal charge or conviction.

Expungement of criminal records is important because a criminal record has many harmful effects for a person’s entire lifetime, even decades after the end of their sentence.  It is important to keep in mind that 3-4 million Canadian adults, or about 1 in 8, has a criminal record of some kind.  Wherever you live in Canada, you likely have neighbours with a record.  But, as another post on this blog showed, most people never commit a second crime, and this likelihood declines with every year that passes.

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