By J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr
Professors Prescott and Starr teach at the University of Michigan Law School.
March 20, 2019
“The consequences of a run-in with the law can persist for decades after the formal sentence has been served. People with records face major barriers to employment, housing and education, effectively condemning them to second-class citizenship.
In recent years, criminal justice reform efforts have increasingly focused on finding policy tools that can lower these barriers. The most powerful potential lever is the expungement of criminal convictions, which seals them from public view, removes them from databases, and neutralizes most of their legal effects.
At least 36 states have laws allowing expungement, but they tend to be narrow in scope. Whether it’s allowed typically depends on the number of convictions and the type of crime; people usually have to wait years after completing their sentences and go through an elaborate process to have their records cleared.
In the past year there’s been an explosion of activity on this front, however. In late February, an especially ambitious bill was introduced in the California Legislature, allowing automatic expungement of misdemeanors and minor felonies after completion of a sentence. In Utah, an automatic expungement bill is awaiting the governor’s signature. These developments follow on the heels of the first major automatic expungement law, which passed in Pennsylvania last summer.”