Punishment for a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction continues long after completion of a probationary sentence or jail term. Presently the consequences of a criminal record can last a lifetime when they show up on background checks long after those regrettable events occurred.
Starting over comes with overwhelming challenges. Finding a job, leasing an apartment, applying to school and passing a background check can involve obstacles that are insurmountable.
Two bills pending in the Colorado Legislature can help by easing the process.
One proposal limits an employer’s ability to inquire into a job applicant’s criminal history. The bill prohibits employers from advertising that a person with a criminal history need not apply for a position and prohibits inquiring about an applicant's criminal history on an initial employment application. However, an employer may obtain a job applicant's criminal history at any time.
A second bill increases the protection of the current record sealing statutes so that cases dismissed outright or as a result or diversion or deferred judgment agreements (except sex offenses) are immediately sealed upon request. The bill allows a defendant to petition for sealing criminal justice records even when there is a criminal conviction.
It will allow petitions to seal convictions for petty offenses or drug petty offenses to be filed one year after release of the defendant from supervision concerning a criminal conviction. If the offense is a class 2 or 3 misdemeanor or any drug misdemeanor, the motion may be filed 2 years after termination of supervision. If the offense is a class 4, 5, or 6 felony, a level 3 or 4 drug felony, or a class 1 misdemeanor, the motion may be filed 3 years after release from supervision.
Sealing is not available for cases when the only charges were a class 1 or 2 misdemeanor traffic offense; a class a or b traffic offense; or a deferred judgment the factual basis involved unlawful sexual behavior.
The Colorado House of Representatives is trying to tackle this problem of sealing criminal records. Simply put, they are looking for a more finite solution to the concept of punishment. If successful, employers, college admissions and landlords would not only be prohibited from accessing the information, but also asking applicants about any misdemeanors or felonies.
While the bill continues to navigate through the complex waters of the state legislature, a true fresh start may be a governor’s signature away.