Minnesota enacts four major record reforms in 2023

Thanks to a series of criminal-justice reforms enacted earlier this year, Minnesota has burnished its reputation as a national leader in reintegration and criminal record reform.  In a year in which there have been far fewer criminal record reforms than in the recent past, Minnesota’s performance stands out for the variety and breadth of relief granted, in many cases automatically. Here are the four major new laws:

  • Expungement was made automatic for both non-convictions and a range of conviction records, effective January 1, 2025
  • The pardon process was entirely overhauled to make this relief more available, and expungement for pardoned convictions was made automatic
  • Felony disenfranchisement was limited to periods of actual incarceration
  • A law legalizing adult possession of cannabis made expungement automatic for a broad range of cannabis convictions.

These four major new authorities are described below. We expect that the Minnesota legislature’s exemplary performance in enacting these important new provisions will be in for further recognition in our annual round-up of new record reforms.

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DC enacts progressive new record-clearing law

Until last month, the District of Columbia had one of the most complex and restrictive record relief laws in the country. D.C.’s sealing law even applied the same burdensome petition-based procedures, extended waiting periods, and onerous burdens of proof to non-conviction records that applied to convictions. In testimony before the D.C. Council in 2021, CCRC’s Margaret Love noted: “Compared to states across the country, DC’s record relief laws are very prohibitive and unusually complex.” CCRC’s Reintegration Report Card published in March 2022 commented that “the restoration laws in the District of Columbia are noteworthy for a remarkable study in contrasts: D.C. has extraordinarily progressive laws in civil areas like voting, employment, housing, and occupational licensing, and among the most regressive laws in the Nation in every category of criminal record relief, likely reflecting the heavy hand of the federal authorities that are responsible for most prosecutions under the D.C. Code.”

Last month, everything changed. The Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022 (D.C. Law 24-284, codified at D.C. Code § 16-801 et seq.), which became final after the required period of congressional review on March 16, 2023, gave the District one of the broadest record-clearing laws in the country, including both petition-based relief for all but the most serious violent felony convictions, and automatic relief for misdemeanors and non-conviction records.  D.C. now becomes the 11th U.S. jurisdiction to enact a “clean slate” law that applies to both conviction and non-conviction records.

The new D.C. record-clearing law is the product of more than two years of hard work by the D.C. Council and a broad coalition of advocacy groups in the District. When coupled with the District’s progressive civil restoration laws referenced above, this new law propels DC from middle-of-the-pack to the top tier of jurisdictions in the Nation where fair treatment of justice-affected individuals is concerned. It will certainly advance DC’s candidacy for Reintegration Champion of 2023.

Though D.C. Law 24-284 is enacted, it is unfunded, which means it cannot be used. Currently, the FY24 Budget Support Act of 2023 set the effective date for the Second Chance Act as 1/1/26 for most of the law and 10/1/29 for the automatic sealing provisions.

The new law’s specific provisions are described in greater detail below, and in the DC profile from CCRC’s Restoration of Rights Project.

The new D.C. law provides for petition-based sealing for all non-conviction records at disposition, for all misdemeanors after a five-year waiting period, and for all but a specified group of the most serious felony convictions after an eight-year waiting period.  The waiting period begins following completion of all aspects of the sentence, except that it does not require payment of fines and other court debt. The law also facilitates procedures: e.g., not all eligible records need be sealed at the same time, as under the old law, and there are no “disqualifying offenses” that could extend the waiting period even for non-conviction records.

It also eases standards, particularly for sealing non-conviction records: it deleted a provision allowing the court to consider “the weight of the evidence against the person” and any priors sealings of arrest records.  It specifically directs the court in all cases to consider “The community’s interest in furthering the movant’s rehabilitation and enhancing the movant’s reintegration into society through education, employment, and housing.” As noted, D.C.’s existing sealing law extended to same burdensome procedures and standards to non-conviction records that applied to sealing of convictions.

The new law makes sealing automatic beginning in 2027 for non-conviction records, and for most misdemeanor convictions after a 10-year waiting period. It also provides for automatic expungement of marijuana convictions effective January 1, 2025, and for expungement by petition on grounds of actual innocence. Provisions in existing law authorizing expungement for victims of human trafficking and sealing for juvenile defendants were not changed.

D.C. now joins the 19 states that have enacted automatic record-clearing relief for arrest records and other non-convictions.  More than half of these state laws have been enacted in the three years since publication of CCRC’s Model Law on Non-Conviction Records, which advocated for automatic expungement of all non-conviction records, including records with no final disposition, except for pending matters. Like CCRC’s model law, which was cited as authority by several parties during the hearings before the D.C. Council, the new D.C. law recommends restrictions on accessing, inquiring about, and commercially disseminating non-conviction records.

Sealed records are placed in a non-public file but remain available to law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, licensing agencies, public employers, and schools and child care facilities, to be used “for any lawful purpose.” Sealed records may also be used in civil litigation relating to the arrest or conviction, and may be made available to others “upon order of the Court for good cause shown.”  An individual whose record has been sealed may deny the arrest or conviction “for any purpose”, without penalty of perjury or other provision of the law for giving a false statement. This appears to be a change from the 2006 law, which required testimony about prior arrests and convictions “in response to an inquiry from one of the entities expressly authorized to access the records.” In other words, while certain entities may gain access to sealed records, the subject of the record may lawfully deny its existence without penalty.

The 2022 law imposes certain requirements on “criminal history providers” that provide criminal history background screening reports, requirements that mirror those provided by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.  It requires providers to provide the subject of a background report with a copy of the report and identify the source of the report, and to use at least two identifiers (e.g., birthdate and name); prohibits reporting records that have been sealed, expunged or set aside; and pohibits reporting information that has not been updated within 30 days of the report.  Complaints of a violation of these provisions may be filed with the DC Office of Human Rights (but not in court), and fines are specified for violations.

There are still ways that D.C.’s sealing law could be improved.  For example, there appears to be no good reason why sealed non-conviction records should remain available to employers and licensing agencies, and in most states they are not. Automatic relief should be extended to all convictions now subject to sealing by petition, and the waiting periods for both petition-based and automatic relief seem excessive by standards in recently enacted record-clearing laws.  See CCRC’s 2022 report on waiting periods, Waiting for Relief: A National Survey of Waiting Periods for Record Clearing (February 2022).  But those caveats aside, the new law represents the most substantial progress in record clearing of any U.S. jurisdiction since 2018, when North Dakota and New Mexico enacted a broad sealing scheme for the first time.  Congratulations to the D.C. Council!

 

 

 

 

Oklahoma and California win Reintegration Champion awards for 2022 laws

On January 10 we posted our annual report on new laws enacted in 2022 to restore rights and opportunities to people with a record of arrest or conviction. Like our earlier reports, it documents the steady progress of what we characterized two years ago as “a full-fledged law reform movement” aimed at restoring rights and dignity to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system.

This year’s criminal record reforms bring the total number of separate laws enacted in the past five years to more than 500. Posted below is our fourth annual legislative Report Card recognizing the most productive states in 2022.

Reintegration Awards for 2022

While more than a handful of states enacted noteworthy laws in 2022, two states stand out for the quantity and quality of their legislation:  California and Oklahoma share our 2022 Reintegration Champion award for their passage of at least two major pieces of record reform legislation.

  • California – Enacted a whopping 11 new laws, including the broadest general record clearing law in the nation, a direction to courts to effectuate clearing of marijuana records, removal of restitution as a bar to clearing criminal records, easing access to judicial certificates of rehabilitation, and simplification of the process for certifying people with criminal records to work in community care. California’s governor also vetoed a bill that would have facilitated background screening by eliminating court-imposed restrictions on online access to personal identifying information.
  • Oklahoma – Enacted a major automatic record clearing law and the most sweeping update to an occupational licensing scheme of any state in the country this year. Oklahoma also passed a significant law allowing young people who successfully complete the state’s youthful offender program to have their charges dismissed and expunged.

Another eight states earned an Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one significant new record reform law: Read more

The Frontiers of Dignity: Clean Slate and Other Criminal Record Reforms in 2022

At the beginning of each year since 2017, CCRC has issued a report on legislative enactments in the year just ended, new laws aimed at reducing the barriers faced by people with a criminal record in the workplace, at the ballot box, and in many other areas of daily life.  These annual reports document the steady progress of what our report two years ago characterized as “a full-fledged law reform movement” aimed at restoring rights and dignity to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system.

In the three years between 2019 and 2021, more than 400 new criminal record reforms were enacted.  Many states enacted new laws every year, and all but two states enacted at least one significant new law during this period.

The modern record reform movement reflected in our annual reports is bipartisan, grounded in and inspired by the circumstance that almost a third of adults in the United States now have a criminal record, entangling them in a web of legal restrictions and discrimination that permanently excludes then from full participation in the community. It reflects a public recognition that the “internal exile” of such a significant portion of society is not only unsafe and unfair, but it is also profoundly inefficient.

We are pleased to present our report on new laws enacted in 2022, titled The Frontiers of Dignity: Clean Slate and Other Criminal Record Reforms in 2022. While this report shows that the legislative momentum gathering since 2018 slowed somewhat in the past year, there has still been progress, with more new laws enacted this year than in 2018 when the current reform movement took off in earnest.

The title of this report is borrowed from the Basic Law adopted by the Federal Republic of Germany after World War II, which declared that “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of state authority.” Most European countries incorporate this foundational premise, as well as a concern for individual privacy, into their treatment of criminal records, by making them largely unavailable to the public and by limiting how they are used to deny rights and opportunities.

In part because American legal systems are not similarly grounded in respect for dignity and privacy, our progress toward a fair and efficient criminal records policy has been slow and uneven. Yet it has been steady, animated in recent years both by a concern for racial justice and by economic self-interest. This report, like our past annual reports, attempts to capture this steady progress toward recognizing the worth and dignity of the millions of Americans whose past includes a record of arrest or conviction. Read more

Marijuana legalization and record clearing in 2022

CCRC is pleased to announce a new report on recent cannabis-specific record sealing and expungement reforms in the past 18 months. The report, extending CCRC’s fruitful collaboration with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University, is available here

An accompanying infographic (reproduced at the end of this postr) summarizes the report’s findings, and includes a color-coded US map showing which states have enacted cannabis-specific record-clearing provisions.  To supplement the map, the report includes an appendix classifying and describing marijuana-specific record clearing statutes in all 50 states, based on CCRC’s 50-state comparison chart on “Marijuana Legalization, Decriminalization, Expungement and Clemency.” 

To put our new report in context, CCRC and DEPC reported 18 months ago on an “unprecedented period for policymaking at the intersection of marijuana legalization and criminal record reform in the first months of 2021,” with four states (New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia) legalizing marijuana possession and at the same time providing criminal record relief for past convictions along with a variety of social equity provisions. 

Our report shows this trend continuing into 2022. Since our 2021 report, four additional states (Connecticut, Maryland, Missouri, and Rhode Island) have adopted similar record-clearing provisions in connection with adult-use cannabis legalization, authorizing sealing and expungement provisions that in most cases extend well beyond convictions for legalized conduct.

All four states made at least some relief automatic, removing the burden of a criminal record from many individuals while raising the bar on standards for marijuana record relief nationwide. Like the four states discussed in our earlier report, these four also address racial disparities in marijuana criminalization by directing tax revenue and business opportunities for legal marijuana to individuals and communities disproportionately affected by criminal law enforcement. During this same timeframe, three additional states (California, Colorado, and Massachusetts) enhanced their existing marijuana-specific record sealing statutes.

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California poised to expand record clearing to cover most felonies

NOTE: On September 29, Governor Newsom signed into law both of the bills discussed in the post below. They will take effect on January 1, 2023.   

California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign this week two bills that will give that state the broadest record-clearing laws in the nation. Senate Bill 731 would extend both automatic and petition-based and record relief to felony-level offenses, while Senate Bill 1106 would preclude denial of relief based on outstanding court debt in most cases.

When signed into law, Senate Bill 731 will place California at the forefront of record clearing nationwide. It would expand automatic record relief to all felony non-convictions since January 1, 1973, six years after the date of arrest. California law currently excludes felony arrests from eligibility for automatic relief if the charge is serious enough to potentially result in incarceration at a state prison. Other felony non-convictions remain eligible for automatic relief after three years unless the charge was punishable by eight years’ incarceration or more in a county jail, for which the new six-year wait period applies.

SB 731 also expands eligibility for automatic relief to persons convicted of a felony and sentenced to probation on or after January 1, 2005, if they violated probation but later completed all terms of supervision. Current law excludes from relief anyone who violated their probation. The new law requires a four-year conviction-free period after completion of the sentence. This expansion of automatic relief does not apply to certain serious and violent felonies, and ones for which the person is required to register as a sex offender. As noted below, all but the last-mentioned category will now be eligible for relief by petition.

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A closer look at racial disparities in California’s automatic record clearing

Numerous studies have demonstrated how Black Americans are treated more harshly at every stage of the criminal legal system—from over-policing to overcharging to more punitive sentencing. New research from California shows how eligibility limitations on criminal record relief perpetuate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and have a disproportionately adverse effect on Black Americans.

The study, by Alyssa Mooney, Alissa Skog, and Amy Lerman, and published in Law & Society Review, examined recent legislative changes to criminal record relief laws in California, one of the first states to automate relief. The study assessed the equity of California’s existing automatic record relief laws by examining the share of people with criminal records who are presently eligible for automatic record clearing, and variations across racial and ethnic groups.

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Oklahoma enacts automatic record clearing law

On May 2, 2022, Oklahoma Governor Stitt signed into law a comprehensive process making expungement automatic for all otherwise eligible misdemeanors and a range of non-conviction records.  See HB 3316, enacting 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(C).  Oklahoma thus becomes the tenth state to join the bipartisan trend toward broadening the availability of record clearing to people with convictions, without requiring them to file a petition and go to court for relief.  In addition to these states, another 10 states now make expungement automatic for non-conviction records. 

The Oklahoman reported that the “clean slate” bill passed the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support, with a combined five votes against, and it was promptly signed into law by Oklahoma’s Republican governor.  The bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, said that “There was certainly a general consensus that, you know, this this isn’t anything that’s partisan related; what it’s about is it’s about humans. So this is really a measure to help people.” 

Under Oklahoma law expunged records are sealed, but remain available to law enforcement and may be used in subsequent prosecutions.  Any record that has been sealed may be ordered “obliterated or destroyed” after an additional 10 years.  § 19(K).  Oklahoma also authorizes its courts to expunge up to two non-violent felonies, andn also pardoned felonies, but these were not included in the new law (styled “clean slate”).  The law is effective November 1, 2022, and the process for automatic expungement is to commence three years after that date.   

The Oklahoma process for expunging records without a petition is spelled out in a new § 19(B): the Oklahoma Bureau of Criminal Investigation must provide a list of eligible cases to the prosecutor on a monthly basis for a 45-day review.  The prosecutor mayh object only for specified reasons:  the case does not meet the definition of a clean slate eligible case; the individual has not paid court-ordered restitution to the victim; or “the agency has a reasonable belief, grounded in supporting facts, that an individual with a clean slate eligible case is continuing to engage in criminal activity, whether charged or not charged, within or outside the state.”  A list of cases as to which there has been no objection is then sent to the court for expungement.  The court must expunge all cases on the list sent to it, and notify all agencies holding records directing them to expunge as well.  The law does not provide for notifying individuals in case of prosecutor objection, or after their record has been expunged, al though the state supreme court and the BCI are authorized to make rules governing the process.  The BCI is required to provide to the legislature a list of individuals whose records have been expunged on an annual basis.  Read more

Reintegration Champion Awards for 2021

Based on our annual report on 2021 criminal record reforms, the bipartisan commitment to a reintegration agenda keeps getting stronger. A majority of the 151 new laws enacted last year authorize courts to clear criminal records, in some states for the very first time, and several states enacted “clean slate” automatic record clearing.  Other new laws restore voting and other civil rights lost as a result of conviction, and still others limit how criminal record is considered by employers, occupational licensing agencies, and landlords.  (The report includes specific citations to each of the new laws, and they are analyzed in the larger context of each state’s reintegration scheme in our Restoration of Rights Project.)

Again this year we have published a Report Card recognizing the most (and least) productive legislatures in the past year. While more than a dozen states enacted noteworthy laws in 2021, two states stand out for the quantity and quality of their lawmaking:  Arizona and Connecticut share our 2021 Reintegration Champion award for their passage of three or more major pieces of record reform legislation.

  • Arizona – The state enacted eight new laws, including a broad new record clearing law, two laws improving its occupational licensing scheme, and a judicial “second chance” certificate. Arizona also repealed a law authorizing suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay and authorized its courts to redesignate some felonies as misdemeanors.
  • Connecticut – Enacted a major automatic record clearing scheme, restored the right to vote and hold office upon release from prison, provided for record clearing in connection with marijuana legalization, and broadened expungement for victims of human trafficking.

Another eight states and the District of Columbia earned Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one major new law: Read more

“From Reentry to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2021”

At the beginning of each year since 2017, CCRC has issued a report on legislation enacted in the past year that is aimed at reducing the barriers faced by people with a criminal record in the workplace, at the ballot box, and in many other areas of daily life. These reports have documented the steady progress of what last year’s report characterized as “a full-fledged law reform movement” aimed at restoring rights and status to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system. The legislative momentum, which slowed a bit during the first year of the pandemic, picked up again in 2021.

The title of this post introduces our annual report on new laws enacted during the past year, and emphasizes the continuum from reentry (for those who go to jail or prison) to the full restoration of rights and status represented by reintegration. Recent research indicates that most people with a conviction never have a second one, and that the likelihood of another conviction declines rapidly as more time passes. The goal of full reintegration is thus both an economic and moral imperative.

In the past year the bipartisan commitment to a reintegration agenda has seemed more than ever grounded in economic imperatives, as pandemic dislocations have brought home the need to support, train, and recruit workers who are essential to rebuilding the businesses that are the lifeblood of the economy. If there is any one thing that will end unwarranted discrimination against people with a criminal history, it is a recognition that it does not pay.

Our 2021 report highlights key developments in reintegration reforms from the past year. It documents that 40 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted 151 legislative bills and took a number of additional executive actions to restore rights and opportunities to people with an arrest or conviction history. As in past years, a majority of these new laws involved individual record clearing: All told, an astonishing 36 states enacted 92 separate laws that revise, supplement or limit public access to individual criminal records to reduce or eliminate barriers to opportunity. Most of these laws established or expanded laws authorizing expungement, sealing, or set-aside of convictions or arrest records. Several states enacted judicial record clearing laws for the very first time, and a number of states authorized “clean slate” automatic clearing. Executive pardoning was revived in several states where it had been dormant for years.

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