SB 35: Modifications to Clearing Criminal Records
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Utah has made significant progress with allowing individuals to move on with their lives after a criminal conviction with the passage of the automatic expungement bill in 2019. This law allows the courts to automatically clear an individual’s lower-level criminal record after they have completed the legislative requirements and waiting period, thus avoiding expensive and confusing applications for those seeking expungements. And while the law has yet to be fully implemented, there are modifications that still need to be made to improve the lives of those who don’t qualify for automatic expungements.
Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, addresses some of these concerns for petition-based expungement seekers. It further clarifies the technicalities of past modifications of the laws in order to make the process easier for petitioners and government agencies alike, while still prioritizing public safety.
Current Utah law says that those who apply for expungement while currently involved in another criminal proceeding are not eligible for expungement. SB 35 clarifies that this includes probation and parole. Additionally, if the petitioner’s records are tied in relevance to another active criminal case, these records cannot be expunged, even if they are technically eligible absent the other case. The bill also clarifies that those with an active criminal protective order or stalking injunction in effect for the case are not eligible to have their records cleared.
SB 35 also states that if the court denies an applicant’s expungement request, the petitioner is now ineligible to apply for the next five years. This will reduce redundancy and unnecessary time and effort for the individual and the courts to avoid excessive applications that will likely be denied.
An interim report from the Utah Expungement Navigator Program found that 44 percent of eligible expungement applicants did not receive an expungement because of failure to complete their application. SB 35 makes it easier to complete the application by moving some of the requirements into the digital age and removing in-person requirements to physically bring copies of expungements and deliver them to each relevant agency. This modification will help ensure more people successfully finish their applications.
The bill also prohibits state employees from divulging information contained within expunged records with certain exceptions. It allows prosecutors to share information with other prosecutors regarding expunged records but prevents them from using such a record for sentencing enhancements.
Overall, this bill helps clarify ambiguities within current expungement laws and makes the process better for petitioners and government agencies alike.