DENVER (CBS4)– Public access to criminal records in Colorado could soon become more restrictive. A bill at the state Capitol would allow individuals to seal multiple convictions for a wide range of offenses. Right now, the law allows only one conviction to be sealed.
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy says nearly two million Coloradans are in the criminal record database.
Joybelle Phelan is among them, “I can never undo the choices I made.”
She is the first to tell you she’s made mistakes in life, the kind of mistakes that resulted in prison time. Convicted twice of felony theft, she spent seven years behind bars.
“I did something wrong. I absolutely did. I broke the law and I deserve the consequences of my choices,” said Phelan.
She says she also deserves redemption, something many employers and landlords are reluctant to give a two-time felon.
“I don’t want to minimize the choices I made, but when am I done serving my time?”
That’s the question before state lawmakers as they debate a bill that would essentially erase many convictions from the public record. Rep. Mike Weissman, the sponsor of the bill, says those records often impact an individual’s ability to get a job and housing, which increases their chances of reoffending.
“Data shows people who are able to access sealing, who are able to get back to work, to use their skills are better able to avoid committing another offense. We want every interaction anybody has with the criminal justice system to be the last so, for public safety reasons, we care about sealing,” said Weissman.
The bill would allow people to petition the court to seal up to three lower level (Class 4,5, and 6) felony convictions and four misdemeanors. It would also automatically seal arrest records where no charges were brought and most drug offenses.
Crimes of violence, sexually-based offenses, and drug distribution would be exempt. There would also be a waiting period of ten years with a clean record for a felony and five years for a misdemeanor.
Weissman says, “Data does tend to show if you have come out… and stayed clean for something like 7-10 years, your chances of offending again are very much reduced”
Phelan says it would be life-changing, “We all absolutely deserve a chance to be seen as more than the worst mistakes we’ve made.”
The Colorado District Attorneys Council says DAs are split on the bill. Some have concerns about drug offenders working in health care, for example, or embezzlers in finance.
The Colorado Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position on the bill, which would limit what employers see in background checks.
The bill gets its first committee hearing next Tuesday.