Bill would preserve public access to records when necessary and allow Coloradans a second chance to thrive
DENVER, CO– The House today advanced legislation sponsored by Representatives Mike Weissman and Jennifer Bacon that would automatically seal records for low level offenses while preserving public access to records when necessary and in the public interest.
“Punishment for an offense should end when the sentence does, but for many who have come into contact with our criminal justice system, court records can block access to housing or employment for a lifetime,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora. “Without automatic record sealing, it can be expensive and often extremely difficult for Coloradans to truly have a second chance after they have served their sentence for a low level offense. This bill preserves access to criminal records when it is in the public interest to do so while allowing Coloradans the opportunity to fully return to life outside of our criminal justice system.”
“In our system, just having an arrest record even if you were never charged keeps you from opportunities. Automatic record sealing is one of the most obvious tools we have to ensure that Coloradans have a real opportunity to successfully reenter society and thrive after leaving the criminal justice system,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver. “The evidence is clear: clean slate laws like this help people access education, housing and employment, and reduce recidivism. For the Black and Brown Coloradans who have faced disproportionate impacts from our unjust criminal legal system, automatic record sealing is a necessary step to curb the systemic racism that often blocks pathways to success.”
Two years ago the legislature passed HB19-1275, a bill that created a process for people convicted of low level offenses to petition the court to have their record sealed, by a vote of 91-6 across both chambers. Under HB21-1214, certain records for low-level drug offenses would be automatically sealed. The bill does not change the non-drug offenses eligible to be considered by a court for discretionary sealing and would still not apply to violent offenses, child abuse, or driving under the influence, among other exceptions in current law. It requires waiting periods of up to ten years depending on the offenses being considered by a court for sealing.
With the exception of a life sentence, punishment in our criminal legal system is meant to be finite–meaning it ends. However, a criminal record follows a defendant for the rest of their lives, often impacting opportunities for housing or employment, even for minor offenses. Criminal records make it harder for people to re-integrate into their communities and create barriers to secure housing and employment. When record sealing is based on a petition system, the burden falls on the individual to be aware of their eligibility and to navigate a time-consuming and costly process to secure relief. Nearly half of Black men and almost 40 percent of white males are arrested by the time they are 23 years old.
The bill, which is supported by the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity, shifts the onus of responsibility onto the system while still allowing records to be easily unsealed if there is an intervening factor, for example if the person who committed the offense is running for public office. Furthermore, comprehensive arrest data is collected under SB20-217 regarding the race, ethnicity and gender of every person arrested in Colorado in order to reveal patterns of discriminatory law enforcement practices.