Criminal Justice

Congress Seeks to Expand Eligibility for Expungements for Nonviolent, First-Time Offenders

Congress is considering expanding the eligibility for an expungement for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. The Renew Act, sponsored by U.S. Representative Hakeem Jefferies and cosponsored by Representative Trey Gowdy, would increase the eligibility for expungements for those who have been charged with nonviolent, low-level, first time drug offenses. Currently, if the offender was under 21 years of age at the time of the offense and ultimately finishes their probationary period, they would have the ability to request the court grant a nondiscretionary order of expungement, thereby removing any record of the underlying arrest, proceedings and disposition of the case. Hence, the individual would have a clean record. The Renew Act would merely raise the age of eligibility for such an expungement order from 21 to 25.

Under the Renew Act, offenders still pay the price for their crime but are given a second chance to redeem themselves and would be able to reintegrate into society. Evidence shows that after several years have passed, a person is less likely to re-offend after their most recent offense. More specifically, after seven years have passed since their first offense, a person is no more likely to commit a crime than a person who has never offended. Hence, those nonviolent offenders who have not subsequently committed any crimes after seven years are no more dangerous to public safety than someone who has never committed any crime.

Allowing nonviolent, first time offenders the opportunity for an expungement enables them greater potential to be productive members of society. In essence, by allowing these nonviolent, first time offenders the opportunity to have their convictions expunged from their records, they are able to reintegrate and become productive, tax paying members of society. In addition, according to a report by The Heritage Foundation, individuals denied adequate opportunities to work and reintegrate into civil society because of their criminal record frequently end up committing new crimes, thereby having a negative impact on public safety.

Research has demonstrated that criminal records create a large hurdle that offenders have to overcome in order to obtain gainful employment, education and housing. With the widespread use of background checks, it is difficult to recover from a one-time drug possession conviction without the chance of having the conviction expunged. Importantly, the criminal record of any eligible individual would still be accessible by law enforcement agencies.

Ultimately, this Act affects nonviolent, low-level, first time drug offenders under the age of 25. These offenders pose little to no risk to public safety. The Renew Act would create a path to success for first time offenders without compromising the government’s interests in public safety.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

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