A criminal record can haunt you long after your sentence has been served. Because of the stigma surrounding criminal convictions in the United States, many people with records have a difficult time finding a good job, a good place to live or getting access to higher education (both college acceptance and student loans).
The majority of states have what are called “expungement” laws on the books. These laws allow reformed offenders to have at least some of their records sealed and hidden from anyone doing a background check. This summer, Georgia finally enacted its own law to seal criminal records. But does it go far enough?
In July and August, state lawmakers unanimously passed SB 288, also known as the Second Chance Bill. It was then signed into law by Governor Kemp.
When it takes effect at the beginning of 2021, former offenders can petition the court to have their criminal records sealed. However, there are some caveats:
- The law applies to misdemeanor convictions only
- Applicants are not eligible until four years after the completion of their sentence
- Applicants cannot have any new convictions or pending charges on their records (after completing that sentence for which they are seeking relief)
- Some crimes are ineligible for expungement, including DUI, sex offenses, crimes against children or family violence
Many of the crimes deemed ineligible make sense from a public safety perspective. But what about DUI? This is perhaps the most common criminal offense that Georgia adults face, and a conviction for drunk driving doesn’t necessarily make someone a higher risk for reoffending. Shouldn’t there at least be some room for judicial discretion based on a review of the circumstances of a given DUI case?
Until or unless the law is amended, DUI offenses will not be eligible for sealing/expungement. But many other misdemeanor convictions will be, including some non-violent drug offenses. If you are interested in applying for relief under the new Second Chance law, you may find the process to be much easier with the help of an experienced attorney.