Record sealing provides a pathway for previous offenders to move outside the shadow of their criminal records and gain stability in the community. Between 70 million and 100 million people in America are living with a criminal record. With 87 percent of employers conducting background checks, a criminal record can be a barrier to employment. Criminal records can also prohibit an individual from obtaining housing, government benefits, occupational licensing, and more.
In Colorado, not every criminal record is eligible to be sealed. In 2019, the Colorado legislature changed the framework for sealing criminal records in Colorado and expressly listed a variety of serious criminal convictions that are never eligible to be sealed due to a concern for public safety. However, at the same time, the legislature opened up the sealing law to allow for sealing a number of eligible criminal records, including convictions for drug and non-violent offenses.
The change in the law also mandated that cases must be sealed when they are dismissed outright or through successful completion of a deferred judgment. And it provides a clear timeline for when misdemeanor and lower level felony convictions can be sealed, with the greatest amount of time an individual must wait being five year.
However, it is important to note the difference in language across the nation when it comes to record sealing and expungement. The definitions are different state to state, but in Colorado, expungement applies only to juvenile offenses and sealing applies to all others.
If a case is sealed, the defendant may respond to public inquiries about their criminal history that no such case exists. Public agencies will not be able to see the conviction, case, or arrest. However, the case is still accessible to government agencies, like judges, district attorneys, immigration, and law enforcement.
Sealing records is important to balance the scales of justice by giving our citizens a chance for a new life if they have served their sentence. As human beings, we deserve redemption from our mistakes, if so earned. After a conviction and successful completion of a sentence, our community should be able to move on from the past.
However, in so many cases, criminal records prevent advancements in employment, access to affordable housing, healthcare discrimination and so much more. It is important to empower and enable our fellow citizens to follow their own path to redemption, and record sealing provides a clear way to change a person's life for the better.