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Mayor Bowser Announces Legislative Reforms to Overhaul Criminal Record Sealing Process

Thursday, September 14, 2017
Legislation Will Remove Barriers to Education, Workforce Training, and Housing Opportunities

(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Bowser announced a series of legislative reforms to simplify the process of sealing arrest and conviction records of DC residents. The legislative reforms include: mandating the automatic sealing of arrest records in cases that are not prosecuted and cases that do not result in a conviction; shortening the time period a person must wait before his or her record can be sealed; and ordering a review of the types of convictions that are eligible for record sealing.

“We know that when we remove barriers to housing, education, and employment for some residents by giving them a clean slate, we are actually building a safer, stronger city for all residents,” said Mayor Bowser. “Through this legislation, we will give more individuals, more families, and more neighborhoods a fair shot at success.”

Sealing a person’s criminal records prevents a third party from obtaining his or her records when conducting a background check, but still allows law enforcement, the judicial system, and special employers (those who work with children, elderly, or another special needs population) to access them.

The Mayor’s proposed legislation will overturn the current law that states individuals must prove they deserve to have their record sealed even if there were never any findings of guilt. Currently, the burden is on the individual to file a petition with the Superior Court asking the judge to allow the sealing of their record, and the judge has the discretion to reject the petition. There are a limited number of crimes eligible to be sealed, but the large majority of criminal offenses – including almost every felony – are never eligible. Additionally, there are significant waiting periods before a person is eligible to even file a petition with the Superior Court, and resolution of that petition can take up to six months.

Each year, more than 10,000 people seek assistance from the Public Defender Service to have their records sealed in DC Superior Court. Several local nonprofit organizations and local law school clinics also provide record sealing services.

Since coming into office, Mayor Bowser’s top priority has been ensuring the safety and well-being of all residents. After introducing the Safer Stronger DC plan in 2015, the District has seen significant reductions in crime. In addition to working with MPD to enhance the department’s community policing efforts, the Mayor continues to work with local and federal partners to improve Washington, DC’s criminal justice system. In the fall of 2016, the Mayor announced a new partnership between the Mayor’s Office, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and the DC Attorney General that will fund eight new attorney positions at the Office of the Attorney General. Several months later, the Mayor signed legislation that closed a critical loophole in DC’s GPS monitoring legislation.

Year to date, violent crime is down 26 percent, robberies are down 31 percent, and homicides are down 19 percent.