Governor Newsome signed bold expungement legislation to create automatic expungement for eligible offenders starting January 1, 2021. Not to be outdone by the efforts of Pennsylvania with its clean slate law or by Utah, who starts automatic expungement next May, the Golden State passed AB 1076 that will make it so those who receive a conviction or arrest on or after January 1, 2021 will have their record automatically expunged once they meet the eligibility requirements.
The mood across the country is becoming increasingly open to expanded expungement opportunities and automatic expungement is the next evolution of that policy. Many eligible people do not seek expungement because they cannot afford another round with the legal system or they are simply unaware of the availability of relief. Either way, our communities are left with people who have done their time to society and are still left to suffer the stigma of a criminal conviction. And the collateral consequences are not just harmful to the record holder, but to their families and the community at large. Someone with a criminal record sees their economic opportunity hampered and that impact is felt by others too.
California’s automatic expungement law steps in to solve that for future people who may find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system with a receipt of their journey. Instead of an eligible person having to file a petition with the court for something they are already eligible to receive, the court agencies will now actively seek out eligible records and submit them for expungement without the applicant having to file for relief. This should help alleviate the challenge people sometimes have when pursuing expungement of their record.
Concerns over the ability of the government record holding bureaucracy more than likely led this bill to be less sweeping than it was at its inception. An earlier version of AB 1076 would have led to records going as far back as the 1970s to be eligible for expungement. So despite the boldness of the law, this is a law that impacts only future offenders and arrestees. Those who have a record from the present and past will still be stuck in the current system of processing expungement petitions. Despite this, if this was the necessary compromise to have the bill passed it is still a positive step to changing the culture of how we handle those with criminal convictions. The overall benefits of having more people be able to fully move on from their past once they have done their time can mean great economic opportunity and therefore greater economic output generated for the community. A rising tide that can lift all boats.
If you are someone with a record currently, this law will unfortunately not be able to help you. However, there are resources out there and pursuit of the expungement will be a valuable investment in yourself that should enhance your opportunity to be more competitive when applying for housing and employment.