Record Sealing Modernization Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: September 19, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Kenyan McDuffie, and Trayon White


Summary: To amend Chapter 8 of Title 16 to establish a process for expungement of records and qualify certain records for expungement, allow for automatic expungement or sealing of records in certain cases, expand the number offenses eligible for sealing to include all misdemeanors and most felonies and establish procedures for such, and allow for sealing of multiple convictions.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

I am introducing the Record Sealing Modernization Amendment Act of 2017.

This legislation would overhaul the way that we handle records of arrests, charges and convictions in the District of Columbia to support reintegration of people with such records into the community.

At this point there is broad consensus that our criminal justice system has been dysfunctional for too long, resulting in too many arrests and convictions, with racist consequences.

We have begun to move away from using criminal penalties as the solution to social issues, we are seeking to undo the discriminatory policies of the war on drugs, and we are seeking to support people who go to jail or prison to be successful upon their return to the community.

One significant barrier to successful reentry is public access to criminal records.

It is time for us to recognize that making criminal records available does little to improve public safety and directly harms the individuals concerned, in fact hampering their ability to leave behind involvement in criminal activity.

A report from the Center for Court Excellence released last year noted that the burden of criminal records falls almost exclusively on our black neighbors—96% of people sentenced to prison in D.C. are black.

That same report called on the Council to reform the criminal records sealing process.

Research published by the Urban Institute this year showed how a criminal record was a direct barrier to gaining employment, even as having a job is the most important factor in helping returning citizens to avoid recidivism.

Nationally, there is a bipartisan policy trend that acknowledges the unfair premise of visible criminal records and the relationship between criminal records and recidivism.

In the past four years, 21 states have passed laws that expand opportunities for sealing or expunging records.

In preparing this legislation, I heard from constituents who didn’t understand why it can be so easy to seal records for some minor incidents next door in Maryland but so hard here in the District.

This bill would put us at the forefront of restoring people after an arrest or the conclusion of a criminal sentence.

It would create a process of expungement, completely removing some records from the system, such as for arrests that don’t result in a charge.

It would allow an individual to seal more than one record, and would greatly expand the records eligible for sealing.

The bill would make sealing automatic for a number of misdemeanor convictions, which would reduce the burden on the Superior Court as well as on the individual seeking relief.

I was pleased to write and pass legislation a few years ago to allow individuals to seal their arrest or conviction records for marijuana violations, but as I learned how hard it is for people to actually seal their records under our current system, I felt that the promise of that bill was not fulfilled.

It is my hope that the Record Sealing Modernization Amendment Act of 2017 can help fulfill the promise to returning citizens—or even people who are arrested and nothing ever comes of it—that we support them and will not judge them forever for mistakes of their past.