A new bill in California would seal the rap sheets of convicts in the state after they have completed their prison time, thus intentionally keeping potential employers and landlords in the dark about past legal troubles. The legislation targets those who have committed misdemeanors and even some felonies.
In California, certain convicts already have an option to petition for their rap sheets to be sealed from the public, but AB 1076 would automatically and retroactively seal the records of convicts who qualify for the relief.
“This bill would, commencing January 1, 2021, require the Department of Justice, on a weekly basis, to review the records in the state summary criminal history information database and to identify persons who are eligible for relief by having their arrest records, or their criminal conviction records, withheld from disclosure,” reads the bill currently making its way through the California Legislature.
There are specific requirements for those who may qualify, such as time lapsed from the offense, that are expressed in the legislation:
(i) The arrest is for misdemeanor offense, and at least one calendar year has elapsed since the date of the arrest.
(ii) The arrest is for a felony offense that is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to paragraph (1) or (2) of subdivision (h) of Section 1170, and at least three calendar years have elapsed since the date of the arrest.
(B) A criminal conviction did not result based on the arrest.
(C) Nothing in the arrest record indicates that proceedings seeking conviction remain pending.
(b) (1) The department shall grant relief to a person identified pursuant to subdivision (a), without requiring a petition or motion by a party for that relief.
The legislation states that law enforcement agencies would still have access to the full rap sheets.
State Assembly member Phil Ting, a Democrat who introduced the bill, told The New York Times that “offenses that would qualify to be automatically sealed under the new legislation are identical to those that people are permitted to seek to have sealed now.”
The Times reports:
Those crimes include certain felonies, like burglary and other property crimes and drug offenses, and all misdemeanors. People convicted of the most serious crimes, like murder and rape, would not be eligible.
For felonies, eligibility would depend, in part, on how severe the punishment for them was; crimes that earned a jail sentence, rather than a term in state prison, would generally qualify.
Reforms to the criminal justice system hit the national stage when President Donald Trump recently signed the First Step Act.
“This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community,” said the president. “The First Step Act gives nonviolent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now, states across the country are following our lead. America is a nation that believes in redemption.”
The legislation passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle.
“Essentially, the law allows thousands of people to earn an earlier release from prison and could cut many more prison sentences in the future,” notes Vox.