Criminal reform advocates have reason to celebrate.
Two current proposals in city government would make it easier for thousands of former criminals to have their arrest records either sealed or completely expunged, giving them a helping hand in finding housing or employment.
Sealing one’s record makes it available only to law enforcement, while expunging the record deletes it completely. Mayor Bowser’s bill would decrease the waiting times those seeking to seal or expunge their records currently face; it would also increase the crimes for which sealing would be possible.
Taking a cue from other cities and states that have made it easier for people to seal or expunge their records by expanding the list of crimes, Council member David Grosso has said he will introduce a bill that would further expand the situations where a record can be sealed, and require that records be expunged automatically if someone is not convicted of a crime.
Both bills reduce waiting periods before someone can ask for their record to be sealed, and both expands the list of sealable offenses. As the law now stands, 40 misdemeanors and one felony makes a person ineligible to have their record sealed.
“Punishing someone by keeping an arrest on their record when they have not been convicted of a crime does not make sense,” said Glenn Ivey, a criminal defense lawyer at Price Benowitz LLP. “Sealing or expunging your criminal record after an arrest can only be beneficial. Being able to succeed economically by finding a job or renting their own apartment — things that are virtually impossible with a criminal record — is a win-win for themselves and for society as a whole. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
Being arrested in the District but not prosecuted is known as being “no-papered”; if you are no-papered, you can request that a judge seals your records. However, the process takes anywhere from two to four years. The mayor’s bill would make these cases automatically sealed; Grosso’s bill would expunge these records.
These new bills would affect thousands of people — out of 40,000 people who are arrested in D.C. each year, almost one-third of them are no-papered.