Colorado Legislators Would Allow Criminal Records Sealed – Will the Governor Agree?

Colorado legislators this week approved a bill that would allow people convicted of crimes to petition to have those records sealed. Colorado law already contains a provision for sealing records in cases where a criminal offense was not charged or was dismissed. The new provisions, however, would allow those convicted of crimes to have their criminal records sealed if:

  • At least ten years had elapsed since the last legal action in the case or the date the defendant was released from supervision, whichever was later; and
  • The defendant had not been charged with or convicted of a criminal offense in the ten years since the final disposition of the criminal proceeding.

The bill includes a number of exceptions limiting the circumstances under which criminal records can be sealed and what exactly “sealed” means under the law. For instance, law enforcement agencies and courts would still have access to sealed records for “any lawful purpose within the scope of their duties”. The statute explicitly states that sealing a criminal record does not have the effect of vacating the conviction.

In addition, any agency required by law to conduct criminal background checks would have access to criminal records sealed under the statute. Records could not be sealed with outstanding fines, costs, restitution, or other fees unless the order imposing them had been vacated by the court that initially entered the order.

The bill also excludes certain listed crimes, ranging from traffic offenses to child abuse and sex offenses.

Nonetheless, concerns have been raised about the provision. Objections raised by the Colorado Press Association prompted legislators to add a provision that would require court administrators to post notices of requests to seal criminal records on court websites for 30 days. The new bill also includes a provision to request that records be “unsealed” if new information or circumstances warrant the change.

The provision requiring that requests be published on the web might deter some convicted of crimes from requesting that their records be sealed, since the posting might draw attention to long-dormant convictions.

Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, it passed both houses by a comfortable margin. The House voted 46-18 in favor of the bill in April, and the Senate approved the measure 26-8 earlier this month.

Governor Bill Ritter has until June 4 to sign the legislation.