Colorado's Clean Slate Act will seal hundreds of thousands of records in July

Senate Bill 22-099 makes the record-sealing process automatic for certain convictions.
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Posted at 7:22 AM, May 22, 2024

DENVER — In July, hundreds of thousands of criminal convictions will be automatically sealed in Colorado due to a law passed in 2022.

Senate Bill 22-099, commonly called the Clean Slate Act, only applies to eligible, low-level convictions. More serious felonies, such as murder, cannot be sealed. There are also some charges that are exempt from the law, including driving under the influence, some sex crimes, child abuse and felony abuse, according to The Denver Post.

The legislation was supported by Expunge Colorado. But there's a difference between sealing a record and expunging it.

"That's something that people can get misconstrued. Expungement would be if they totally wiped your record. But with sealing, the government can still see your record, so government agencies can see it," said Abbey Moffitt, a criminal defense attorney and one of the founders of Expunge Colorado. “If you seal a record in Colorado, it means that it no longer appears on public record background searches. So if employers or landlords are pulling a background check, they're not going to see it anymore.”

Moffitt said records could always be unsealed if someone receives a new conviction.

“The type of crimes or convictions that are eligible to be sealed are generally ones that did not involve a victim," said Moffitt.

The Denver Post reports that more than 100,000 convictions could be automatically sealed. Colorado district attorneys objected to sealing around 4.5% of those, The Denver Post found.

“We made sure that DAs had the opportunity to review eligible records so that we could continue to make sure that public safety was addressed," said Jake Williams, CEO of Healthier Colorado, another organization that helped the bill become law. "These are folks who made a mistake in the past, they were held accountable, they've gone several years without committing another crime, and they get a second chance that they deserve.”

Williams and Moffitt pointed out that individuals are not immediately eligible for their records to be sealed. A number of years must pass first. For misdemeanor crimes, there is a waiting period of seven years, while it is a 10-year waiting period for felonies.

“What it does is convert a process that used to be super cumbersome for people who exited the criminal justice system, whereby if they wanted their records shielded from public view, they had to hire a lawyer, go through a lot of red tape in order to get those records obscured from public view. As a result, only about 5% of eligible people actually took advantage of that process," Williams explained. “Now with this bill, there's automatic record sealing for low-level offenses so that people can have those records shielded from public view.”

Williams said the automatic sealing will greatly aid in employment and housing opportunities for Coloradans. He added that research shows when an individual is able to get a job after leaving the criminal justice system, they are half as likely to commit another offense.

The petition-based process is still an option to get a record sealed in Colorado, which has a shorter waiting period than automatic sealing.

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