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Bill introduced to automatically expunge certain nonviolent offenses in Colorado

DENVER (KRDO) -- A new bill filed Tuesday in the Colorado Senate would create a program that automatically expunges certain nonviolent petty offenses after a waiting period, providing a clean slate for many Coloradans convicted of misdemeanors or felonies.

Senate Bill 21-074, filed by state Sen. James Coleman of Denver, doesn't include those convicted of drug felonies or crimes against other people, but it would automatically clear petty convictions for people who have stayed out of trouble otherwise.

If passed, eligible misdemeanors would be expunged three years after completion of the sentence, and nonviolent felonies would be expunged five years after completion of the sentence.

SB074 would create a process that involves the state court administrator compiling a list of convictions that are eligible for expungement. That list would then be sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations to eliminate any people who have any additional pending criminal charges, and then local district attorneys would have a final check before sending it back to the court administrator. After that, the chief judge authorizes the expungement.

Not all nonviolent offenses are eligible for the program under the initial bill text. It would exclude those convicted of prostitution, unlawful termination of pregnancy, identity theft, cruelty to animals, or crimes involving family relations like bigamy, contributing to delinquency, and domestic violence. It also doesn't include traffic violations.

The advantage, according to the bill, is that Coloradans who are eligible for this program don't have to do anything to apply for it, and it would be automatic for them. Defendants would be able to check a website that confidentially says if their conviction was expunged and then get instructions on receiving a copy of the expungement order.

Coleman says many defendants convicted of nonviolent offenses can't afford the judicial process to have their records sealed, and the conviction prevents them from getting better housing, improved job prospects, and education opportunities.

According to Coleman's writings in the bill, expungement is preferable to sealing records because it requires the conviction to be physically destroyed with no remaining record. Coleman also references a study published in the Harvard Law Review that says "only 7.1% of expungement recipients are rearrested within five years of receiving their expungement," with reconviction rates even lower, at 4.2%.

The bill was introduced along with several dozen other bills on Tuesday, and it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. We'll keep an eye on the legislature's progress.

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Andrew McMillan

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