Pending California Legislation Would Seal Criminal Records After Four Years

09/07/2022 10:25 AM By Kayla Florence

A bill to provide automatic sealing/expungement of criminal records recently passed the California State Assembly and is on its way to Governor Gavin Newsome to be signed.

While the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) currently allows the reporting of non-convictions for seven years, it allows unrestricted reporting of convictions regardless of when they occurred. Currently, a handful of states, including California, limit the use of convictions to just seven (7) years from the date of conviction or release from incarceration/parole with California and a couple more preventing the use of non-convictions entirely. If signed, California Senate Bill 731 (SB731) will further restrict the use of convictions by automatically sealing/expunging infraction and misdemeanor convictions if an individual completes the term of their probation or if incarcerated they do not re-offend within one (1) year of completing their sentence. For felonies, the window for reoffense is four (4) years from completion of their sentence including incarceration, probation, supervision, and parole. If enacted, SB731 will go into effect July 1st, 2023, and aims to reduce recidivism by removing the barriers for those actively trying to re-enter society. 

This legislation includes carve-outs for crimes that result in sex offender registration, serious violent felonies, and certain career fields, i.e. law enforcement, education, etc. The bill was authored by Senator Maria Elena Durazo (Senate District 24) and is sponsored by several reform organizations including Californians for Safety and Justice. ABC News recently reported that “A criminal record can trigger nearly 5,000 legal restrictions in California, many of which can limit job opportunities as well as the ability to get housing and educational opportunities.” Senator Durazo deems the lingering penalties & restrictions related to a criminal record as creating a “permanent underclass” that increases recidivism and that SB731 will rectify it by removing the lingering effects if certain conditions are met.

Strong opposition has been voiced by multiple organizations including the Peace Officers Research Organization of California. Opponents of SB 731 cite California's existing restrictions as being the most lenient nationwide, the existing methods already available to clear convictions, a steady three-year recidivism rate of around 50% (rearrests as high as 2/3), and studies that show job training, comprehensive health insurance, mental health support, and truly livable wage employment as being the most effective means to reduce recidivism and actual re-integrate convicts to society. While the bill's arbitrary application exposes most private employers to increased risk, it's the sealing/expungement of records that concerns organizations across the nation.  Currently, all criminal records are available however the reporting of information is increased/decreased based on where a candidate lives, works, or an employer's federally mandated need. Examples of employers Federally required to perform a ten (10) year background check are Banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, insurance companies, and Tribal Gaming Commissions. If these employers are unable to meet Federal requirements they may avoid investing/hiring in California and could hinder the chances of former residents seeking jobs elsewhere to obtain an interview or job offer if it's known they lived in California.  

While SB 731 has passed both the California Senate and Assembly,  it is currently pending Governor Gavin Newsom's signature. If you're interested in vocalizing your support or opposition to this bill the Governor can be contacted via this link.  

To find out who else represents the state, the California Secretary of State is a great starting point.