Riding the wave of the social justice movement last summer, the Georgia state senate overhauled an antiquated law regarding criminal histories in a sweeping bipartisan criminal justice reform effort in June of 2020. Georgia’s has had one of the most restrictive laws in place that effectively barred expungement by keeping criminal listings permanently on an individual’s record unless he or she was granted an official pardon.
Senate Bill 288, known as the second-chance law, went into effect on January 1, 2021. It allows the expungement of criminal records for those individuals who have served sentences for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. Although it does not compare with the more progressive measures in other states toward restoring fairness to the criminal justice system, advocates see this as just a first step for Georgia.
What is expungement?
Expungement is a process that allows individuals who have served time for committing certain crimes to be allowed to have their criminal record removed from public view. Eligibility for expungement can depend on several factors, such as:
- the length of time since the crime was committed
- the severity of the crime
- whether or not there was a conviction
- state law
State law determines the procedure for the access of expungement of criminal records as well. Georgia’s new law does not offer expungement for all convictions, but it does provide for an individual to petition the court to restrict or seal up to two misdemeanor convictions four years after they have completed their sentence, as long as no other crimes have been committed during that period.
Some felonies are also included. In the event that the individual was pardoned for a felonious offense, they may petition the court to seal that record from view. Crimes that cannot be expunged include DUI’s, sex crimes or family violence. There are also protections in the new law for employers who hire individuals who have been incarcerated.
For minors, it is now possible to request expungements for first-time alcohol possession, and the court may defer a sentencing if the minor complete a rehabilitation probation, after which the case may be dismissed altogether.
Individuals who have become trapped in the criminal justice system now may have a way out in Georgia. Being able to start a new life and contribute in a positive way to society is all that many could wish for. In order to understand how the new law may affect your eligibility, getting informed legal advice is a good first step.