ST. GEORGE — During a press conference held Thursday, a program designed to automatically expunge old misdemeanor offenses was officially launched, one that will impact hundreds of thousands of Utahns by giving them a second chance with a clean slate.
On Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox held a press conference announcing the activation of the Clean Slate law, which was unanimously passed in 2019 and uses technology to automatically clear the criminal record of those individuals who remain crime-free for a certain amount of time (dependent on their conviction) and frees them from having to go through a lengthy and expensive expungement process.
Having a criminal record is more common than many people realize, Cox said. In fact, more than 500,000 Utahns are negatively impacted by past criminal convictions, which is roughly 1 in 4 residents across the state, he added. With the new law, individuals with cases involving low-level misdemeanors will be eligible for the program.
Utah is only the second state in the country to implement a Clean Slate law, the governor said.
He also explained that once an individual has paid their debt to society, whatever that is, then that mark left behind as a conviction can be very debilitating and also prevent them from finding housing and securing employment. It can also be counterproductive in reducing recidivism rates by increasing the likelihood the person will re-offend, he said.
Having a criminal history can also cause people to give up, lose hope and fall back in with old friends, old habits and old ways.
“And we need to make that not happen,” Cox said.
Ron Gordon, Utah State Court administrator, also spoke during the conference and said the program uses algorithms to scan cases and then selects which ones are eligible to be removed by the automated program.
Gordon said Utah believes in the rule of law and of holding people accountable, but the new law changes the landscape by allowing people to start over, and Utah also believes in second chances.
“And second chances are so important,” he said.
Commissioner Jess Anderson with the Utah Department of Public Safety also spoke, and specified that the new law will remove the record both from the state system and FBI records.
Anderson also outlined qualifying criteria for the program. Individuals must remain conviction-free for five to seven years. And the new law will not clear any felony records, domestic violence-related offenses, sex offenses or any convictions involving violence. DUI convictions are also not eligible for the automated expungement program.
The program also assigns numerical limits, meaning those with too many convictions will not qualify for any automatic clearance.
That is further broken down by the required waiting period in which the individual must remain crime-free for each offense level, which is five years for a Class C misdemeanor, six years for a Class B, and a Class A misdemeanor requires a seven-year period without any further criminal activity.
Anderson also said research shows that clearing criminal records is good for public safety, as people get back on their feet and have an opportunity to get a job and continue to progress in their life, they also stay out of trouble with the law.
“We support that,” he added.
Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance, said during the conference the new law is a “common sense” policy for employees and employers, and for the public as a whole by expanding the state’s workforce.
Miller went on to say removing the barrier that results from having a criminal history can also help individuals to gain employment and provide for themselves, which in turn reduces the need for government support. Also, by automating and streamlining established clearance processes, the new law increases government efficiency and improves overall outcomes while reducing taxpayer costs.
He also said the strongest indicator to criminal behavior is poverty and unemployment, which is what the program is designed to address.
As a result, the program also makes communities safer, he said.
Moreover, he said, an individual having a clean criminal record not only increases productivity for any business, but it also expands the pool of candidates the employer has to choose from. The measures also reduce the costs associated with lack of housing and funding that are often borne by the taxpayer.
Miller also asked that employers educate their workforce about the new measure, as well as any potential candidates.
Eric Hutchings, former state representative and sponsor of the bill, said what fueled his desire to develop the legislation was his realization over the years that there were elements within the criminal justice system that were very wrong. Part of that was the mentality that “when we catch you, we’re going to beat you. And we’re going to use that stick for the rest of your life.”
The ramifications of that mentality create problems for anyone caught up in the system, he said, adding that as a state, that mentality no longer works.
“That’s not who we want to be. That’s not who we are,” he added.
The new law has garnered tremendous support, with rooms of unsung heroes that have continued to develop the program over the past three years, he said.
Noela Sudbury, executive director of Clean Slate Utah, a nonprofit organization, said criminal records, unfortunately, hold people back long after they’re out of the justice system – which is not good for anyone.
She went on to say that everyone makes mistakes, but when people turn their lives around they deserve a second chance, and an expungement can be truly life-changing. In fact, she said, studies have shown that individuals without criminal records are more than 60% more likely to get a job interview. And after one year of a person’s record being expunged, wages increase by more than 20%, she said.
The process of clearing the records is set to begin immediately, and the first to be processed include the more than 210,000 cases that have been dismissed or resulted in an acquittal, followed by another 800,000 combined cases that meet the criteria that will be automatically expunged. The cases will not all be expunged at once, but in batches that will be processed in the coming months.
Amy Daeschel, a senior technical trainer at Utah Naloxone, began her comments by saying, “What a monumental and transformative day today is.”
Daeschel will also be a recipient of the program for a drug conviction that has prevented her from becoming fully integrated into society because of her “perpetual record,” which prevented her from finding housing, and also made it difficult to find a job that aligned with her career. She then went over her efforts to become gainfully employed and to integrate herself into society.
While the justice system has long defined rehabilitation as obtaining sobriety, the process of rehabilitation reaches far beyond just being sober, she added. Even so, her criminal record remained a constant barrier.
The expungement program bridges that gap between rehabilitation and reintegration, she said.
She closed by addressing those on the panel, “Thank you for seeing the individual for not what they’ve done, but for what they’ve overcome.”
The program will also include an application that will officially launch in March, but anyone interested can sign up for the service at any time. There is also an expungement tool kit that can assist in navigating through the system.
For more information about Clean Slate Utah go to their website.
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