Russell Hebets June 10, 2019

House Bill 19-1275 is new legislation modifying Colorado’s rules for sealing criminal records. With several exceptions that we will discuss, the bill promotes such sealings—it enlarges the category of cases that can be removed from someone’s criminal record, prescribes steps courts must take to help people through the process of removing them, and stops prosecutors from stipulating in plea deals that defendants waive their right to seal at a later time. This legislation will have a dramatic effect in Colorado for years to come, as people who otherwise would have had to face the consequences of a criminal record get a second chance to live without one.

What Has Changed?

One change the bill makes is requiring that a defendant be advised in writing, once by the court at the time of sentencing and again by a probation officer upon termination of probation, of his or her rights with respect to sealing. This by itself should be telling; we speak to many people who are unaware even of the possibility of sealing their cases, and to others who are aware but intimidated by the prospect of pursuing a sealing without guidance. In addition, 19-1275 mandates that courts seal cases resolved by outright dismissal, acquittal of all charges, or successful completion of a diversion agreement or deferred judgment.

This is in sharp contrast to the previous state of the law that required no such action unless defendants requested it. Someone against these amendments might argue that they will allow criminals to hide in plain sight, leaving too much room for recidivists to exploit, and on rare occasions this will be true. However, parts of the bill are designed to counter that problem: there is a provision, for example, that records be unsealed in the event of a subsequent conviction, and many of the existing classes of crime ineligible for sealing have been preserved in the interest of public safety. 19-1275 is not intended as a blank check for those who intend to violate their civic responsibility over and over; it is intended to free decent people from an encumbrance that is out of proportion to their offenses—if they have even committed any! A criminal record deriving from even the pettiest mistake can make employment, housing, and many other public goods impossible to obtain, and there is no telling how many of those records exist currently. We predict 19-1275 will create a net benefit for the public welfare.

The new bill went into effect on May 28th. More information about it is available here.