A bill introduced in Vermont would expand the number of criminal offenses eligible for expungement in the state including low-level drug crimes, VT Digger reports. The measure would also streamline that process by creating a “one-track” system to clear criminal records — including some felonies — covered under the legislation.
The proposal includes all misdemeanor convictions, except for violent crimes such as sexual crimes against children and domestic violence. Under current state law, expungement of charges makes them disappear while sealing allows access to those records only for specific purposes, the report says. The bill would make the sealing of records more like expungement by narrowing the reasons those records could be accessed and the time period the access would be allowed.
The law would not allow a record to be sealed until a person has finished their sentence, plus an additional three years for most misdemeanors and seven years for felonies, according to the report.
State Rep. Maxine Grad (D), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and bill sponsor told VT Digger that the proposal could help individuals with criminal records obtain better jobs, housing, and access to educational opportunities once their records were expunged or sealed.
“I think it’s an important workforce development issue. It removes a major barrier for people.” — Grad to VT Digger
Vermont Legal Aid attorney Mairead O’Reilly told VT Digger that the bill is “important because it provides greater access to record clearance for folks who have served their sentence and paid their debt to society and really need and deserve to be reintegrated into our community.”
Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan explained that the bill’s exceptions for opening sealed records are overly broad and that the bill’s mechanisms to make sealing more like expungement don’t go far enough. He said expungement is “better for the Vermonter.”
“You want to give Vermonters certainty,” he said in an interview with VT Digger. “I always preferred expungement. I’m certainly also willing to compromise.”
The measure has already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee and Grad said that she expects the bill would pass the full House. It is currently in the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.
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