A new law signed on Thursday will allow Californians to seal old arrests and convictions from their official records, in an effort to give them a fresh start.
The bill, SB 731, was introduced by State Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) in March 2021 and was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 27.
The law will automatically seal conviction and arrest records in California once a former offender has “fully completed their sentence and successfully gone four years without further contact with the justice system.”
It also includes arrest records that did not result in a conviction. It does not, however, apply to registered sex offenses or serious felonies. All criminal histories will still be shared with law enforcement.
The law will take effect beginning July 1, 2023.
“California now has the most comprehensive record sealing system in the nation,” said Jay Jordan, chief operating officer of the Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Millions of Californians will now be able to contribute to this state and its economy, freed from the thousands of counterproductive yet permanent restrictions to opportunity that serve only to destabilize families and undermine our collective safety.”
The new law will allow millions of people to gain employment, housing, education opportunities and more, proponents say. Officials estimate at least 225,000 Californians will have an old conviction automatically sealed and over one million will be eligible to petition a judge.
California now joins seven other states with a similar “Clean Slate” law including Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, Connecticut, Delaware, Oklahoma and Colorado.
“Millions of Californians are unable to reach their full employment and economic potential due to having an old conviction or arrest record,” supporters said. “SB 731 will give individuals the tools to turn the page on their past and an opportunity to build a new, better life.”
Proponents say about one in five Californians are living with a past record, facing around 5,000 legal restrictions, most of which are employment-related. Of those restrictions, 73% remain permanent, officials said.
Opponents of the bill argued that keeping those records sealed could put public safety at risk, with some saying that four years was not a long enough period to be sure that previous offenders wouldn’t commit crimes in the future.
But the bill’s supporters say that sealing these non-violent convictions will provide an economic annual boost of around $20 billion to the state’s economy
“SB 731 is about rehabilitation and supporting people to reach their full potential,” said Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., the founder of Homeboy Industries. “Every human being deserves a second chance to rebuild, because people are much more than the worst thing they have ever done. And, this is a second chance felt not only by the person who has served their time, and completed their sentence, it is also about their families and breaking generational cycles, leading to healthier and more just communities.”