Last week, Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation that should allow more reformed offenders to seal their criminal records. The measure, known as the Second Chance Expungement law, amends the existing law in meaningful ways.
Before the new law, the paths to expungement were limited. Most often, an offender had to prove that the criminal charges against him or her had not resulted in a conviction, or that the offender’s constitutional rights were at stake. Now a variety of offenders have the right to petition the court to have their records sealed.
Further, under existing law judges can seal criminal court records, but generally cannot seal records collected by state agencies. The Second Chance Expungement law changes that. The new law provides that agencies, including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Department of Human Services, must seal criminal records under an expungement order.
The new legislation also requires business screening services to delete records if they know a record has been sealed, expunged, or is the subject of a pardon. The politicians behind the legislation hope that these steps will help prevent the records from turning up in background checks used in job and housing applications.
What does this mean for offenders? Depending on the category of the underlying crime, offenders may petition the court to seal all records relating to an arrest, indictment, trial or verdict anywhere between one to five years after the end of their sentence. For example, an offender convicted of a petty misdemeanor may petition the court in two years, while an offender convicted of a non-violent felony must wait five years. Courts will consider a number of factors in deciding whether to grant a petition. Some of these factors include the nature and severity of the underlying crime, the steps the offender has taken toward rehabilitation, and the reasons for the expungement, such as the offender’s attempt to obtain employment, housing or other necessities.
There are some limitations to the legislation. Prosecutors and law enforcement still have access to sealed records for criminal investigations, prosecutions and sentencing. Also, even if a record has been sealed, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will maintain any related DNA samples or DNA records.
The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2015. Supporters believe the measures will allow more low-level offenders to get a fresh start.