Record Sealing Through Expunge Colorado



In 2018, a friend approached me to volunteer for an upcoming record sealing clinic. At that clinic, I saw the true positive impact a sealed record can have on someone’s life and that a great need exists for this type of work. A criminal record can prevent someone from obtaining employment or housing, and it can stick with them in a way that undermines personal dignity. As a criminal defense lawyer, I have a unique ability to make an impact in this area and I started to become more engaged.


Now five years later, I have co-founded a non-profit with the original organizers, Rosalie Flores and Melanie Rose Rodgers. Expunge Colorado, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is dedicated to providing education, training, consultation, and access to pro bono legal services for Coloradans to seal their eligible criminal records.


Our team has hosted four previous record sealing clinics, one every fall. Our upcoming clinic will take place October 15, 2022 at CrossPurpose in Denver. Over the years, we have trained volunteer attorneys and helped more than 400 Coloradans determine whether they have an eligible criminal record. We have sealed more than 100 criminal records. Our nonprofit raises funds to pay all the costs associated with sealing a record, including filing, processing, and record pulling fees. The filing fee alone to seal a criminal record is $65.00, plus an electronic processing fee. If a petitioner were to seek out a lawyer to seal their record, they could spend between $500.00-$1,500.00 per record. We follow-up with the petitioner and the Courts to ensure that the case is handled in a timely manner and relay the outcome to the petitioner throughout the entire process.


Pictured: Expunge Colorado Volunteers at 2019 Record Sealing Clinic


In addition to the record sealing clinic, we have become engaged with the larger community to stress the importance of record sealing. More than 1.3 million Coloradans have an eligible criminal record, yet only 5% successfully get their records sealed. While the government provides access to forms online for petitioners, the process can be overwhelming. In preparation of our annual record sealing clinic, I facilitate training that provides CLE credit to our volunteer lawyers to learn how to read a criminal background history and determine if a record is eligible. It may sound like a simple process, but it involves a knowledge of the criminal justice system that can be difficult to grasp.


It is important to note that in Colorado, “expungement” of criminal records is only possible for juvenile records. When a record is “sealed”, it means public agencies no longer have access to the record and it will not appear on public background searches. The government, including judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies, will still have access to the sealed record.


Colorado Clean Slate Legislation, SB22-099


Expunge Colorado is also a member of the Colorado Clean Slate Coalition. In 2022, the Coalition drafted and helped pass SB22-099, a bill that automates record sealing for eligible offenses. I testified in front of Senate and House committees in favor of SB22-099, emphasizing the current process for petition-based record sealing, the costs associated, and the importance of the work we do in helping our community and restoring personal dignity to those who have earned it. The Colorado legislature passed SB22-099 nearly unanimously, and we were present for the Governor’s bill signing.


SB22-099 now automates record sealing for eligible offenses, effective August 9, 2022. It did not expand what convictions or charges are eligible. Now, for cases that are already eligible to be sealed pursuant to C.R.S. §24-72-703 and §24-72-706, the state will compile a list of eligible convictions, starting July 1, 2024, for the following:

  • Civil infraction – if four years have passed since final disposition

  • Petty offense or misdemeanor – if seven years have passed since final disposition

  • Felony – if ten years have passed since final disposition or release of the defendant from supervision, whichever is later

To be an eligible offense for this purpose, the defendant must have no subsequent convictions. The district attorney will have the ability to object to the automatic sealing of felony convictions if they believe public interest and public safety in retaining public access to the record outweighs the privacy interest of, or adverse consequences to, the defendant. The case would then be set for a hearing.


There were other important changes that came with the passage of SB22-099.


Although not an exhaustive list, other important changes that the legislature created with the passage of SB22-099 include:

  • A court shall no longer require a written motion for sealing for non-conviction cases. If the automatic sealing does not occur, the defendant may file a motion to seal, without being charged fees or costs;

  • The court shall determine eligibility of a drug offense committed before October 1, 2013 by the classification of the offense at the time of considering the record sealing;

  • A defendant can now file motion into the criminal case in which the record exists for municipal cases;

  • Upon an inquiry into a sealed record, a criminal justice agency shall reply that a public criminal record does not exist with respect to the defendant;

  • A defendant does not have to pay the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (“CBI”) any costs associated with sealing the criminal justice record if the records are sealed for automatic sealing of drug convictions, arrest records with no charges filed or non-conviction records; and

  • A defendant will not be prevented from sealing their record if they have any unpaid fines, court costs, late fees, or other fees ordered by the court in the case subject to the motion to seal.


Pictured: Rosalie Flores, Abbey Moffitt Hruby and Melanie Rose Rodgers, founders of Expunge Colorado at Expunge Colorado’s Legal Mixer in August 2022


The Need for Continued Record-Sealing Work


The 2022 Clean Slate legislation creates a necessary path to automatically sealing many criminal records in Colorado. Legislative changes in 2021 created a similar automatic record sealing system for drug convictions and for arrest records when no charges were filed.


However, under the current law, Expunge Colorado still sees there is a need for the petition-based process. There is a petition-based process, created in 2021, to allow for someone to seal their record if they have multiple offenses. Those will not be sealed through the automatic process. Also, the automatic process will not begin until 2024, and some petitioners will need their record sealed sooner in order to apply for employment or housing. The waiting period for automatic sealing is longer than the waiting period required for petition-based sealing.


I see this work as balancing the scales of justice. Most criminal cases in Colorado result in a guilty plea, rather than a jury trial. This means many defendants chose not to risk the uncertainty of proving their innocence at trial, for the certainty of a negotiated plea agreement. I believe those guilty pleas should not follow defendants for the rest of their lives. There should be a mechanism in place to allow them to move on from their past mistakes. In cases where the Colorado legislature has determined they have earned it, people should be able to have a brighter future where they are not prevented from obtaining employment and housing. Record sealing changes lives, and can create generational wealth as well, impacting the children of the petitioners who have their records sealed. Perhaps someday there will no longer be a need for Expunge Colorado if all eligible records are sealed, but until that day, our organization will persist in helping Coloradans move forward with dignity past their criminal record.


Expunge Colorado hosts their 5th Annual Colorado Record Sealing Event on Saturday, October 15th from 11 AM to 4 PM at CrossPurpose in Denver 80205. Help us get the word out!


Want to make a difference in criminal justice reform? We are looking for Sponsors, Legal Volunteers and Volunteers to help make this our best community event yet!

Legal Volunteers will attend a 1-hour virtual training October 12th and earn 1 CLE credit.


See the flyer below for more information.

 

Abbey Moffitt Hruby is the owner of The Law Office of Abbey G. Moffitt. She began her career working as a Public Defender in Golden, Colorado, where she fought for clients from all walks of life. Moving to private practice, she represented cannabis business clients and defended clients charged criminally with marijuana offenses. In June 2019, Abbey started her own law practice, A. Moffitt Law. She represents clients in criminal cases across the state of Colorado. She helped form the non-profit organization, Expunge Colorado, in June 2020, and has served as the lead supervising attorney for record sealing clinics for the past 4 years. Abbey graduated from The University of Iowa College of Law and is a member of the Colorado League of Women Voters, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorado Women-Owned Law Firms (W.O.L.F.), and the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.

 


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