Imagine being denied for student loans, rejected from your dream job, and turned down for housing, all because of a past mistake. This is the reality that many Utahns could face when they have a criminal conviction on their record, no matter how long it’s been since they completed their sentence. Even if that conviction was a relatively minor misdemeanor, it will follow them for the rest of their lives—unless they go through the process of expungement, a formal method of removing criminal convictions off of one’s record.
Clearing a criminal record is a great way for individuals to fully move on from the errors of their past after they have done their time, but obtaining an expungement is an uphill battle for the average person. The Legislature can and should act to pass legislation to help qualified individuals attain expungements more easily.
The problem with the current expungement system is that it is an extremely untimely process requiring individuals to wait three to ten years to be eligible to even submit their expungement application. Then, it can take up to six months for the courts to issue a decision. All of this is a confusing process to navigate through alone, which is why many opt for an attorney which can cost thousands of dollars atop the $241 required fee for the mandatory application, filing fee, and certificate of insurance.
Expunging a record simply isn’t a feasible option for people who are struggling with finances, or don’t have the energy and time to try to embark on the process alone. But if they are fully qualified to receive an expungement, money and time shouldn’t be holding them back. This is why the legislature should approve a change that would require courts to automatically expunge low level crimes from the records of people who meet the lawful requirements.
Last year, Senator Todd Weiler sponsored a bill to fix some of the problems with expungement law. Individuals weren’t able to obtain expungements if they owed any money to the state, but because of Senator Weiler’s successfully passed bill, if the debt is unrelated to the crime, the individual can expunge their records. This is a great change that will help many debt-burdened Utahns accelerate their life. But these same individuals still may not be able to afford expungements, which is why making them automatic is a great solution.
Last month, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice met and discussed future legislation to do just that. Sponsored by Representative Eric Hutchings, it is a bill concept that was met with enthusiasm from the group as well as many of the meeting attendees.
Providing automatic expungements for people with low level criminal history will affect thousands of Utahn’s lives for generations to come. They will have one less hurdle to jump over in a path towards a prosperous life. It won’t solve every problem with expungement law, but it is an excellent place to start.