Newsom Signs Bill Allowing Criminals To Hide Records From Background Checks
Crime and violence concept with handcuffs - stock photo Handcuffs and wooden gavel. Crime and violence concept. simpson33 via Getty Images
simpson33 via Getty Images

Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Thursday that would let previous arrests or convictions be hidden from background checks.

The bill is SB-731 and would allow a person who has been convicted of a felony, among other requirements, to be eligible for “automatic conviction relief.” The bill would not apply to people who are registered sex offenders or those who have committed a serious or violent felony. Four years also must have passed since the person finished probation and wasn’t convicted of another felony.

If someone has only been arrested for a felony, among other requirements, he or she could also take part in “arrest record relief.”

The person who has committed the felony must not be serving time or have any “indication of pending criminal charge.” He or she must also not have an active record. It goes into effect on July 1 of next year.

The Department of Justice must look at the criminal records and “identify persons with convictions that meet the criteria” and who are available to get “automatic conviction record relief.”

The measure doesn’t get rid of someone’s criminal record, but would essentially allow someone who has been arrested or convicted of a crime in the past to electronically seal those records so that the offenses do not show up in a criminal background check, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

Various people have spoken out against the measure, concerned about issues that it could raise.

“There’s the old saying that the most effective way of predicting future behavior is past behavior. And yet, within a short period of time, under this very radical bill, these records will be sealed,” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said about the bill in August.

According to the legislative digest of the bill, it would allow the criminal history to be used for “teacher credentialing or employment in public education, as specified.” However, it would also prevent the “record of a conviction for possession of specified controlled substances” older than five years, “for which relief was granted” from being utilized in decisions about teacher credentialing.

California Republican Senator Shannon Grove, who voted against the bill along with all Senate Republicans and one lone Democrat, said the bill would let domestic violence perpetrators take advantage of its provisions.

“These things are very violent things even though they are not listed as serious and violent in the penal code,” Grove said in August.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California said in a statement to the Chronicle that offenders would have “less deterrent to commit another crime” if they are let free with their record wiped. They also noted that the language of the measure doesn’t rule out some violent acts of crime.

The California Association of Licensed Investigators’ president Frank W. Huntington, III sent the organization’s response to SB-731 to The Daily Wire, saying it “completely supports second chances. SB 731 was simply not the way to accomplish this goal.”

“Presently, investigators are prohibited from reporting convictions older than seven years in pre- employment background matters. We at CALI offered the same conditions, even lowering the time frame to four years for other investigations including pre-housing inquiries. This compromise would have accomplished the exact same result without sealing records that have historically been public,” Huntington said in the response. “Now, with the signing of SB 731 into law, these records are no longer public, yet still accessible to government agencies such as prosecutors and law enforcement. In other words, the government has access to information the public no longer has. That is of great concern to us at CALI, as it should be to all.”

“CALI is also concerned that the sealing of critical public record information will lead to preventable situations where an employer hires an individual who harms an employee or customer and may be detrimental to the efforts of individuals and organizations to prevent domestic violence among many other public safety matters,” the response noted.

California is the first state in the country to make an automatic process for closing off records of felonies. In 2019, Newsom signed a bill making California the third state to allow “clean slate” automatic record relief.

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