In a ground-breaking win for criminal justice reform, California has passed a new law that will seal the records of about 230,000 California residents who have served prison sentences. The law comes after years of campaigning by the Clean Slate movement, a nationwide collection of criminal justice activists dedicated to providing former felons with access to housing and employment.
The bill, titled Senate Bill (S.B.) 731, was authored by California State Senator María Elena Durazo. She wrote the law to provide people with criminal records greater access to opportunities and prevent them from facing unjust discrimination. She cites the fact that 75% of people who serve time in prison remain unemployed for a year or more after their release as one of her reasons for authoring the bill.
“We expect [former felons] to get back on their feet, but we’re not allowing them the resources to get jobs and careers,” Sen. Durazo stated. “We cannot continue to pour billions of dollars into rehabilitative services while at the same time – exclude people from positively contributing to their communities.”
The bill is intended to turn this trend around. S.B. 731 will go into effect in July 2023. At that time, criminal and arrest records for California residents will be automatically permanently and electronically sealed once they meet specific requirements:
- They have fully completed their sentence, including any and all probation and other penalties assigned.
- They have gone several years without subsequent arrests.
- They have not been convicted of crimes requiring registration as a sex offender.
There are exceptions to this law, of course. Registered sex offenders are excluded entirely. People convicted for certain serious or violent crimes must petition to have their records sealed once they have met the other criteria.
Furthermore, the records will still be provided if someone applies to work at schools, law enforcement agencies, and in public office. The court system, law enforcement officials, and the Department of Justice will also retain full access to the records. The law only seals them from public view.
Still, the law is a significant step forward in protecting the rights of people who have been convicted. Here’s how sealing criminal records can protect convicted people and how the new law may benefit you.
The Impact of Sealing Criminal Records
In California, criminal records are publicly available. This leaves many people who have been convicted facing discrimination for crimes they committed years ago and have since moved past. Convictions and arrests appear on background checks for housing and employment, making it difficult for people to become productive members of society after leaving prison.
Sealing the records of people who have served their sentences and remained out of the criminal justice system can prevent this. When California seals criminal records, they will no longer appear on searches of public databases. The searches performed by landlords and most employers will not reveal sealed arrests or convictions, making it significantly easier for former felons and others with criminal records to get jobs and housing.
More importantly, the bill will allow hundreds of thousands of people to answer that they have no criminal record on applications. Simply confirming that you have a criminal record is often enough to have your application for work or housing thrown out. S.B. 731 will allow you to move on with your life instead of dragging one mistake behind you forever.
What California’s New Law Means for You
S.B. 731 will change lives once it goes into effect. If you fit the specific requirements listed in the bills, your record should be automatically sealed by the end of 2023. You may find it significantly easier to find employment and housing without your record haunting you.
However, the process will not be that smooth for many people. For example, if you have been convicted of violent crimes like assault or robbery, you will not automatically have your record sealed. You will still need to petition the court to seal it, which requires you to demonstrate that you have grown and changed for the better since your original conviction. Expert legal counsel can guide you on how to seal a criminal record with these convictions.
Furthermore, having your record sealed is not as comprehensive as having it expunged. Sealing simply removes the record of arrests and convictions from the public. Expungement changes your legal record for a criminal charge from “convicted” to “dismissed,” essentially making it as though you had never been convicted. If you want all traces of your record removed for good, you will still need to pursue expungement with the help of a qualified defense and expungement attorney.
Finally, S.B. 731 only goes into effect once a convicted person has served their entire sentence and waited several years. If you have been charged with a crime and believe conviction is inevitable, you’ll benefit from keeping the sentence as short as possible. The lighter your punishment, the sooner S.B. 731 will seal your record.
Contact Us for Help Sealing or Expunging Your Criminal Record
S.B. 731 will give many convicted people a new chance to participate in society on equal footing. However, it is not all-encompassing. Suppose you are not eligible for automatic record sealing or want the added security of expungement. In that case, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced California expungement attorney like the experts at the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib.
Our skilled attorneys are dedicated to assisting our clients with expungements and record sealings in Redwood City, California. We will advocate for you throughout the process and pursue the best possible outcome for your claim. Contact the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib to schedule your consultation and learn more about how we can help you.