A Clean Slate: Automatic Expungement Laws Explained

“Clean slate” laws are a growing trend among states to help eliminate barriers to hiring for individuals with criminal records. These laws automatically expunge or seal criminal records after a certain amount of time has passed. Keep reading to learn how clean slate laws work, where they exist, and how they may affect your hiring process. 


One in three Americans has a criminal history, and for many, that record poses a formidable obstacle to getting a job. Amid growing public awareness of the lasting negative effect of criminal records, a growing number of states have proposed or passed laws expanding the types of criminal records that are eligible for automatic expungement or sealing. 

Removing a criminal record can give people with criminal histories a “second chance.” But wiping the slate clean, so to speak, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Individuals may not realize their records are eligible for expungement, or may lack the time, knowledge, and financial resources to go through an onerous court process. They might have to file petitions for each offense separately, resulting in only partial records clearance. The Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that only 6.5% of Americans eligible for records clearance complete the process within five years after qualifying.  

This difference between theory and reality is known as the “second chance gap”— a gap that clean slate laws are designed to bridge. Clean slate initiatives go one step beyond allowing records to be cleared. These laws use technology to find eligible criminal records and automatically seal or expunge them when all conditions are met. No effort or expense is required on the individual’s part. 

Understanding Clean Slate Laws

The clean slate concept got its start in 2014 when Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) developed software to speed the expungement process by automatically generating expungement petitions. Seeing the potential to take the concept further, CLS partnered with CAP to promote automating the entire record-clearing process. 

In 2018, Pennsylvania became the first state to pass a clean slate law. After 10 years with no convictions, the records of individuals with eligible offenses are automatically searched by computer and any qualifying records are automatically sealed, with no need to petition the court. 

Clean slate laws today vary from state to state, with different types of records eligible for automatic record clearance. For example, some states clear felony records while others only clear misdemeanors. States also impose different waiting periods and different requirements as to whether restitution must be paid before records are cleared. In some states, records are expunged; in others, they’re sealed. 

Seal vs. Expunge

What’s the difference between the two? A sealed record still exists, and though it can’t be accessed by the public, it can be opened by a court order based on the laws of that jurisdiction. An expunged record is erased from the individual’s file as if it never existed, effectively wiping the slate clean. 

Some states do not have expungement laws, but instead allow for a set aside or vacating of the sentence. Neither remove the charge or conviction but show evidence of rehabilitation through fulfilling of probation or sentence obligations. For example, Arizona allows individuals to “set aside” eligible convictions and receive a Certificate of Second Chance. 

It’s important to note that federal crimes cannot be expunged or sealed. 

The Benefits

Clean slate laws have multiple benefits for everyone involved: 

  • They give job candidates with criminal records a fair chance at being hired, which can reduce recidivism by allowing them to earn wages and become productive members of society.
  • They expand the labor pool as employers consider job applicants who may have previously been excluded based on criminal histories. In a 2021 survey, 85% of HR professionals said that employees with criminal histories perform their job duties equally well as or better than those without records. 
  • They support diversity, equity, and inclusion. Because people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, clearing criminal records can help support more inclusive hiring practices. 
  • They help the wider economy. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that excluding job applicants who have criminal records costs the nation up to $87 billion in GDP

Clean Slate Laws by State

As of July 2022, seven states have passed clean slate laws. Here’s how they operate:

Colorado

Beginning in July 2025, all but the most serious felonies will be automatically sealed after four years for civil infractions, seven years for petty misdemeanors, and 10 years for eligible felonies. Eligible non-conviction records will be sealed immediately. 

Connecticut

Effective January 1, 2023, Connecticut will automatically erase records of most misdemeanor convictions and certain less serious felony convictions entered after January 1, 2000. The waiting period for this automatic expungement ranges from seven to 10 years after the most recent conviction for a crime (excluding certain drug possession offenses). 

Delaware

Starting in August 2024, most misdemeanor convictions, some minor felonies, and cases “terminated in favor of the accused” (which includes acquittals, dismissals of charges, dismissals after probation but before judgment, and arrests not charged within one year of arrest) will be automatically expunged upon completion of the case or sentence. 

Michigan

In 2023, sealing of records will become automatic for an unlimited number of minor misdemeanors and up to four serious misdemeanors, seven years after sentencing was imposed. In addition, up to two felonies (excluding convictions for assaultive crimes) will be automatically expunged 10 years after release from prison.

Oklahoma

Automatic expungement will begin in 2025 for non-conviction records and eligible misdemeanors, but not for eligible felonies (even pardoned ones). 

Pennsylvania

After a 10-year waiting period with no convictions and full payment of restitution, second- and third-degree misdemeanors and ungraded offenses are automatically sealed. This Pennsylvania clean slate law also includes the automatic sealing of non-conviction records within 30 days of disposition.

Utah

A Utah clean slate law went into effect in February 2022. Eligible cases will be automatically expunged according to their specified waiting period: Seven years for Class A drug possession, six years for Class B misdemeanors, and five years for Class C misdemeanors, infractations, and minor regulatory offenses. 

In total, 19 states have some form of automatic record clearing, including laws permitting expungements of dismissed records, non-convictions, or marijuana-related offenses. 

Additional Clean Slate Legislation

A 2019 New Jersey law directed the state to develop and implement a clean slate provision for eligible offenses to be automatically removed by “sealing, expungement, or some equivalent process.” While there is no deadline for implementation of the automated system, an e-filing system has been created in the interim. Additionally, a 2021 amendment provides automatic sealing of records for certain marijuana offenses, as well as automatically expunging or vacating remaining sentences for certain marijuana offenses prior to Feb. 22, 2021.

Impact on Background Checks and Hiring

How do clean slate laws impact your background screening results? Even in some states that have passed clean slate laws, automatic records clearing won’t begin until 2023 or later. Until then, background checks may still uncover records that will eventually be excluded. 

Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) guidance reminds employers that considering criminal records when hiring may result in unintentional discrimination against certain employees. Therefore, EEOC recommends using the “nature/time/nature” test and conducting an individualized assessment to gain context and make more informed hiring decisions. 

Partnering with a trusted consumer reporting agency (CRA), like GoodHire, can help you build internal processes compliant with federal, state, and local laws, mitigating the risk of potential legal liability. To help close the second chance gap, you may wish to go beyond the letter of the law by implementing your own policies regarding what records appear in background check results. Even if you don’t consider a certain record when hiring, simply seeing it while reviewing the background check results could unconsciously bias your decision. 

GoodHire: A Leader in Compliance

Legislation making it easier for individuals to expunge criminal records, including clean slate laws to automate the process, are on the rise. While this is a positive trend for both job applicants and employers, it can also make legal compliance that much more challenging. 

GoodHire offers many features to help remove bias and promote fair chance hiring while remaining compliant. For instance, we automatically exclude non-convictions from background screening results. We also use a manual review process that helps eliminate unconscious bias by identifying and removing records that shouldn’t be shown, such as non-convictions, expunged records, or dismissed charges. Our record filtering options let you customize background check results by specifying what kinds of records to show or hide, so you can focus on the results that are most relevant to the position. GoodHire’s additional automated compliance features are built to mitigate risk and simplify compliance tasks so you can make confident hiring decisions. 

GoodHire Is A Leader In Compliance

GoodHire follows FCRA, ban the box, and EEOC compliance laws
disclaimer

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.


About the Author

author karen axelton

Karen Axelton is a Southern California-based freelance writer specializing in business topics. 

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