Connecticut lawmakers weighed legislation to automatically expunge the criminal records of people convicted of misdemeanors and low-level felonies a number of years after their convictions.
“Living a life with the criminal record has been a challenge. I don’t think anyone can truly understand unless they’ve experienced it first-hand,” Luis Delgado, a member of the ACLU Smart Justice Coalition, said Wednesday.
Under the bill, people convicted of misdemeanors would have their convictions automatically cleared from their records after seven years. Lower-level felonies would also be systematically erased after between 10 and 12 years, depending on the tier of crime. The bill does not apply to convictions of certain crimes like domestic violence and sexual offenses.
Delgado says he he was let go from gainful employment once his employers discovered he had a criminal record.
“I had to learn to avoid jobs with background checks because I knew that once my conviction came to light, no matter how good of an employee I was, or how well I got along with my bosses and coworkers, I would probably be let go,” Delgado said.
The legislation also seeks to protect people who have had their criminal records expunged from discrimination based on the erased convictions. The bill prohibits refusing to sell or rent someone a home based on their expunged convictions. It also prohibits requiring job applicants to disclose erased convictions in many cases.
Current law allows people to petition the Board of Pardons and Parole to expunge criminal records after a number of years. However, proponents maintain the automatic erasure of records would help ease the burden and stigma faced by residents living with records of prior convictions.
Carleton Giles, chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the board supports the automatic erasure of “low level misdemeanors and believes that change is unnecessary to certain provisions which impact the pardon power.”
Giles said he thinks the current process for applying to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for the erasure of a conviction for these low-level crimes works. He worries what happens to victims in some of these cases, who currently get to address the board.
“Automatic erasure is going to preclude input from victims of crimes,” Giles said.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the bill would impact 7,000 Hartford residents.
“Clean slate is not about commuting sentences or reducing time served. It’s about whether we believe that perpetual punishment is beneficial to our society as a whole,” Bronin said.
In written testimony submitted to the Judiciary Committee for a public hearing Wednesday, Kelly McConney Moore, a policy counsel for the ACLU of Connecticut, said criminal convictions place hundreds of barriers in front of some residents. Those barriers limit their civic participation and make them more likely to be unemployed, homeless, or impoverished, Moore wrote.
“These outcomes are the result of policy choices Connecticut has made that allow and encourage people with criminal records to be treated like second-class citizens, forever required to perform penance for past crimes,” she wrote.
“These policy choices also most harm Black and Latinx people, families, and communities – in a state that disproportionately incarcerates Black and Latinx people, those same groups are disproportionately haunted by the barriers of records,” Moore said.
In testimony submitted Wednesday, the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice wrote that there were “great concerns” about the scope of the automatic conviction erasure envisioned by the bill’s proponents. The division submitted a list of convictions that could be shielded from the view of prosecutors after the timelines outlined in the bill. The list included, among other things, convictions related to child pornography, driving under the influence, public corruption crimes, and some firearm offenses.
“The ability to own a firearm, DUI offenders’ ability to avoid increased penalties for subsequent offenses, and white collar criminals’ ability to return to their chosen field involving the handling of others money are just some of the areas where decision makers would be left in the dark,” the division wrote.