DC bill would simplify sealing criminal records after arrests without conviction

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has introduced a bill that would simplify the sealing of criminal records for some people arrested in the District whose cases were never prosecuted or who were acquitted of the charges.

If passed by the D.C. Council, The Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 would result in the automatic sealing of cases in which a person arrested and charged with a nonviolent crime is cleared, or if prosecutors decide to drop charges.

Each year, more than 40,000 people are arrested in the District, according to the mayor. While one-third of those arrested are never prosecuted, a criminal record still exists in online court records.

A criminal arrest record can often be a hurdle for people trying to move forward with their lives.

“As we work to make our city more equitable, we must rethink how we expand opportunity for Washingtonians who need it most,” Bowser said in a news release.

“With a clean slate, residents can access the jobs, housing, and education that will help them thrive and, in turn, make our communities safer.”

Under the bill, sealing a person’s criminal record would prevent a third party from obtaining records when conducting a background check, but still allow law enforcement, the judicial system and special employers — for instance, those who work with children — to access them.

For those with convictions, the bill would require a panel of experts to review the types of convictions that should be eligible for sealing. In cases where a person is charged, but not convicted, the bill would result in records being sealed within 90 days of the case ending.

This is the third time in four years Bowser has introduced record-sealing legislation. Previous bills didn’t make it out of committee, in 2017 and 2019. According to the mayor’s office, approximately 10,000 people each year seek legal assistance from nonprofit organizations to navigate the process of sealing criminal records.

“We are long overdue in reforming and simplifying the record sealing process in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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