Record sealing bill addresses collateral consequences from punishments that have never truly ended
DENVER, CO– The House Judiciary Committee today passed legislation sponsored by Representative Mike Weissman that would expand access to the ability to seal records for people arrested for or convicted of low-level offenses. This allows Coloradans to move on with their lives, breaks down barriers to employment and housing, and strengthens public safety by lowering the chances of someone reoffending.
“Record sealing gives people who have served their time a second chance to thrive, while reducing the chances that they will reoffend,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora. “One’s punishment should end when their sentence does, but in practice, criminal records lead to a lifetime of collateral consequences, staying with the offender even as they work to rebuild their lives. The crimes covered under this bill are low-level, and many are for drug offenses that, after the end of marijuana prohibition, aren’t even crimes any more. Redemption and the belief in second chances are fundamental American values, and it’s time our criminal record laws uphold these values, as well.”
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 offenses eligible to be considered by a court for discretionary sealing of non-drug offenses and would still not apply to serious 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.