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File sealing: Giving people second chances

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"No one should underestimate how much even the most minor of misdemeanor convictions — including marijuana or trespassing or any kind of conviction — can affect someone's ability to get a job, to get housing and to function fully in society." 

This is a direct quote from Jenny Roberts, an American University law professor. Her assessment is spot on. People with criminal records, even minor misdemeanors, statistically have a much harder time getting ahead in life. Many struggle to find work, and when they do, it is often an underpaying job that leaves them functioning as second-class citizens.

You are not alone

Federal statistics point to around 60 million people in the U.S. having criminal records. Another study points to just as many people having criminal records as college diplomas. Simply put: It is human to make mistakes and many people have criminal records.

Facing an uphill battle

Employers want to get a sense of the person applying for a job. Not just their qualifications, but also who they are as a person. This means not only looking at someone’s resume, though, as most employers also ask about previous convictions. Some even ask about previous arrests.

But how fair is this, really? Especially for crimes that happened years and years ago. Take for example the now 35-year-old who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in college. Is it honestly fair to judge this person based on a mistake made 15 years prior? Should this 35-year-old continue to be turned down for jobs or have to take lesser paying jobs because of one mistake?

Or even if the conviction was only a few years ago, if someone completed all the requirements of their conviction and has not had a single run-in with the law since, isn’t it time to let the past be the past?

Most would argue that it makes sense on an individual and societal level to let a person move on, which is why many states are starting to implement changes to the process for file sealing and expungements.

Colorado state law allows for sealing of records of police investigations that did not lead to charges being filed, and of cases that were dismissed due to a not guilty verdict, a prosecutor’s decision, or a successfully completed diversion program, deferred prosecution, or deferred judgment. Colorado also allows sealing of records related to convictions of petty offenses and municipal code violations. Additionally, Colorado allows sealing of records related to drug misdemeanors and certain drug felonies, when certain requirements are met.

File sealing to move forward in life

People make mistakes and should not have to continue to pay for those mistakes for the rest of their lives. This is why many turn to file sealing.

By having a record sealed, you can confidently answer “no” to questions about a previous conviction on an employment application, which can only help you when trying to find a job.

The hope is that the file sealing process becomes easier to understand and more standardized across the country, so more people can put their past behind them and confidently move forward in life.

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