With the passage of House Bill 19-1275, Colorado has expanded the number and nature of prior convictions eligible for sealing. For those who have a criminal record but have since led a law-abiding life, the new law gives a chance to truly let the past be the past- and the future to no longer be tainted by a mistake that happened many years ago.
The most important aspect of House Bill 19-1275 is that it allows sealing of criminal convictions that were previously barred. While recent changes in the law provided for certain drug offense to be sealed and charges for people in special circumstances, such as victims of human trafficking, to have their record removed, those with a conviction faced the consequences of having a permanent mark on their record that could affect their opportunities for education, employment, and housing.
The new law expands and simplifies existing procedures in several situations, such as when a person is arrested but no charges are filed or where a case is dismissed outright or after completion of a deferred judgment or diversion program.
The greatest changes deal with the sealing of criminal convictions.
A conviction may be sealed, depending on the severity, after a period of time passes from the later date of either the completion of any sentence or supervision, such as jail, probation, or parole, or the “final disposition” of criminal proceedings. You must have paid all fines, fees, and restitution to be eligible for sealing.
- For a Petty Offense or Drug Petty Offense, a petition to seal may be filed after 1 year
- For a Class 2 or Class 3 Misdemeanor, a petition to seal may be filed after 2 years
- For a Class 4, 5, or 6 Felony, a Class 1 Misdemeanor, or a Class 3 or 4 Drug Felony, a petition to seal may be filed after 3 years.
- For all other offenses, a petition to seal may be filed after 5 years.
Once a motion to seal is filed, a judge will do an initial review to see if it contains the necessary information required by law.
For a Petty Offense or Petty Drug Offense, a judge will seal the record without a hearing once it has been determined that the motion was properly filed and there have been no new criminal convictions.
For all other offense eligible for sealing, there is the additional requirement that notice must be provided to the District Attorney, who may object. If the District Attorney does not object and the offense is not crime that requires victim notification under C.R.S 24-4.1-302, the record is sealed. If the District Attorney does object, the judge will set a hearing and take into consideration any victim’s position. At a hearing, the judge must determine whether the harm to the privacy of the defendant and any adverse consequences to the defendant outweigh the public interest in retaining public access to the record of conviction.
Sealing is not available for cases where the only charges were a Class 1 or 2 Misdemeanor Traffic Offense, a Class A or B Traffic Infraction. Other ineligible crimes include Class 1, 2, and 3 felonies, Level 1 Drug Felonies, and convictions for child abuse, domestic violence, sex offenses, charges involving a commercial driver’s license, animal cruelty, identity theft, crimes involving “extraordinary aggravating circumstances” and “extraordinary risk”, crimes against a pregnant victim, convictions related to abortion and unlawful termination of a pregnancy and “special offenders.”
Sealing does not destroy the record of a conviction, but it limits who may see it. A sealed record is still available to any court, law enforcement agency, criminal justice agency, prosecuting attorney, or a party or agency required by law to conduct a background check. There are also additional restrictions for people seeking to be admitted as a member of the Colorado bar or who seek to seal a record and have an educators license.
At the same time, when a record is sealed, employers, state and local government agencies, landlords, and employees may not require disclosure of any sealed record on any application or interview. A person who has had a record sealed may state they have not been criminally convicted.
Sealing is also reversable. If a person is convicted of a new criminal offense after a record is sealed under the new law, the court shall order the records to be unsealed. “Shall” means it is mandatory- no ifs, ands, or buts.
The right to seal cannot be waived. The new law specifically states that the prosecution may not, under any circumstances, require a person agree not to seal a case as part of a plea agreement.
If you have a criminal conviction, House Bill 19-1275 provides a chance to truly let the past be the past. We would love to help you be able to walk into your next job interview, submit an application for a new place to call home or better yourself through further education and when asked about your criminal record, to confidently give the answer that you have earned by serving your sentence and living a law abiding life: “No, I have never been convicted of a crime.”