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Delaware Senate Democrats

Expungement reform bill heads to floor vote in Senate

April 9, 2019

DOVER – Legislation to reform Delaware’s expungement process was released from committee on Tuesday and is now cleared for a vote on the floor of the state Senate.

The measure is designed to provide people with an arrest record or conviction on low-level criminal charges a route to turn their lives around and achieve greater access to jobs and housing.

“Our state’s failed experiment with over-criminalization has left thousands of Delawareans facing closed doors long after a conviction,” said prime sponsor Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington.

“The truth is that punishment for a crime extends far beyond what our courts set in each sentence,” he said. “With no way to escape their record, many Delawareans are cut off from jobs and opportunities to restart their lives. In far too many cases, they end up breaking the law again just to make ends meet. This needless and preventable cycle of recidivism strains government resources and ends up making our communities less safe.”

Delaware has significantly expanded the availability of expungements for juveniles in recent years, recognizing that people can and do move beyond mistakes in the past. This legislation seeks to do the same for adults.

Currently, Delaware only allows adults convicted of certain misdemeanors to have their records expunged after they have received a pardon or if their arrest never led to a conviction at all.

Senate Bill 37 would expand that path by allowing more people to get their records expunged after they have paid their debts to society.

The legislation is strongly supported by Delaware labor unions and the construction industry, which is expected to see 3,500 job openings through 2024.

“With the demands for skilled workers up and down Delaware, the Adult Expungement Reform Act of 2019 provides a path for employers to open the door to otherwise qualified workers,” said James Maravelias, president of the Delaware AFL-CIO. “This important piece of legislation gives deserving people a chance to rebuild their lives without the stigma of a criminal conviction.”

Ronald “Kimoko” Harris of the International Longshoremen Association Local 1883 said the legislation is needed to help fill the thousands of jobs that will be created by an expansion of the Port of Wilmington.

“The ILA supports this bill 100 percent,” he said.

Under Senate Bill 37, certain expungements would be virtually automatic once a petition has been received by the State Bureau of Identification, a step that would ease the burden on courts and the Delaware Board of Pardons.

Some expungements could only be granted by judges after they receive input from both the Delaware Department of Justice and any victims affected by the crime in question.

The bill also would allow most people who have received a pardon to apply to the courts for an expungement.

Certain offenses such as a DUI, a felony conviction for physical or sexual assault crimes and third-degree unlawful sexual contact would not qualify for an expungement without a pardon. People would only be eligible for one expungement every 10 years. And in most instances, all fines, fees and restitution would need to be paid before someone could be eligible for an expungement.

“This is not about being tough on crime or soft on crime,” Brown said. “It’s about being smart on justice. It’s about having compassion and forgiveness. And it’s about giving people a second chance.”

Senate Bill 37 is supported by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, the Delaware Office of Defense Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.

“This is a jobs bill and this is an anti-crime bill,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said. “The mission of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice is to protect public safety, and that must include reducing recidivism. It has become clear that some of the collateral consequences of having even a short or old criminal record can place employment, housing, education, and other opportunities out of reach. Expanding access to expungements will lead to safer communities and second chances for those who have paid their debt to our community and have demonstrated that they are committed to leading a lawful life.”

Karen Lantz, staff attorney for ACLU-DE, agreed.

“A person with a criminal history has a harder time finding a job, securing stable housing, accessing credit and otherwise re-integrating into their community,” she said. “A study just released by the University of Michigan law school on similar expungement provisions in the State of Michigan shows that people who sought and received expungements experienced a 20-percent increase in earnings, as people were able to find better jobs and steadier employment. We are pleased that legislators in Delaware are poised to extend a similar opportunity for a fresh start to more Delawareans.”

A final vote for SB 37 on the Senate floor has not yet been scheduled.