A new state law hailed as “the most expansive and comprehensive record-clearing law of its kind in the country” will seal the criminal records of everyone who’s served their time, though there are a few exceptions for sex offenders and violent felons.
We made note of a few new California laws Governor Gavin Newsom signed in the annual flurry of such things in September, some of which lightened the legal load on traffic fee late fines and cannabis use outside the workplace. But another of those new laws that’s received little notice is a bigger deal for those who’ve actually been incarcerated in California. The New York Times has an analysis of a new state law that automatically seals the criminal record record of anyone who’s completed their sentence, once said sentence is completed, in what Jeff Selbin of the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic called “the most expansive and comprehensive record-clearing law of its kind in the country.”
“We cannot continue to pour billions of dollars into rehabilitative services while at the same time exclude people from positively contributing to their communities,” state Senator María Elena Durazo (D-L.A,), who introduced the bill, said in a statement, adding that the new law “will not only benefit the individual, but entire families and communities.”
The sealing of the records is automatic but is not quite as broad as it initially sounds. The Times notes that “Eight million people in California have a criminal record, and at least 225,000 will have an old conviction automatically sealed as a result of the new law.” That's a fairly small fraction.
And it doesn't happen right away, The Times also adds that the state “will automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentences.” So there is some time lapse involved. But the Times adds that “Records of arrests that didn’t lead to convictions will also be sealed,” so it has significant ramifications on opportunities for employment and housing.
There are also some exceptions to who gets their criminal records sealed. Sex offenders and violent felons will not get their criminal records cleared, and said criminal histories would turn up in advanced background checks for working in law enforcement, education, and holding public office.
And law enforcement is unsurprisingly not at all happy with the new law. The state's largest law enforcement union, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said in a statement that “By allowing violent criminals back on the street, with their record dismissed, they will have less deterrent to commit another crime.”
According to the text of the new law, the state Department of Justice will start reviewing records on January 1, 2023 to see who’s eligible to have their criminal records sealed. The sealing of the records themselves is scheduled to begin on July 1, 2023.
Related: Report: SFPD Already Using Surveillance Video From Self-Driving Cars [SFist]\
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