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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Darius Brown’s Adult Expungement Reform Act signed into law

June 30, 2019

DOVER – Thousands of Delawareans who have been arrested or convicted on low-level criminal charges soon will be eligible for a second chance – along with better access to education, housing and jobs – thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor John Carney.

“We should take steps that will make our criminal justice system fairer for all Delawareans,” Governor Carney said before signing the measure Sunday. “This legislation does just that, and offers a second chance to help Delawareans support their families and positively contribute to our success as a state.”

The Adult Expungement Reform Act is the first bill sponsored by first-year Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, to be signed into law and a centerpiece in his ongoing effort to lift Delaware families out of poverty by expanding access to employment and living wages.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 37 also is the second measure in a 19-bill criminal justice reform package signed into law so far this year.

“This legislation helps to create a fairer, smarter criminal justice system for all and so much more,” Brown said. “This is a jobs bill that will create safer communities by replacing barriers to economic opportunity with access to upward mobility. And it’s an act of compassion that will remove the stigma of people’s worst mistakes and recognize the humanity of those negatively impacted by the limited restorative justice policies that have hampered economic opportunity for far too long. I’m proud of our work bringing this legislation to fruition and I’m grateful to my colleagues and Governor Carney for their support.”

Passed unanimously by the Senate in April and overwhelmingly approved by the House last week, the Adult Expungement Reform Act will significantly expand Delaware’s current criminal-record expungement process, which is currently available only to those who have received a pardon or were charged but never actually convicted of a crime.

“Delawareans deserve the opportunity to not be defined by their worst mistake, and with this legislation we are helping more people have a fresh start and new beginnings. An expungement restores basic dignity and humanity to a person who has paid their debt to society,” said House prime sponsor Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover North. “This is a critical piece of criminal justice reform and I am proud to have the support of my colleagues and Governor Carney on this initiative. We must continually work to break the cycle of recidivism and improve opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals as it benefits our society on the whole.”

SS 1 for SB 37 makes expungements mandatory for some isolated misdemeanors once a petition has been filed with the State Bureau of Identification. The bill also makes clear that other charges can be expunged only at the discretion of judges with input from both the Delaware Department of Justice and any victims affected by the crime in question.

The bill also will allow most people who have received a pardon to apply to the court for an expungement. Certain offenses such as a DUI, a felony conviction for physical or sexual assault crimes and third-degree unlawful sexual contact will not qualify for expungement without a pardon.

“As we know from our work with juveniles, a criminal record can be a barrier to future education, stable housing, and financial security,” said Lisa Minutola, Chief of Legal Services for the Office of Defense Services. “Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 37 will give many more adults the opportunity to clear their record and pursue a future free from past mistakes. We’ve seen firsthand how an expungement can improve someone’s life, opening up new possibilities and dreams. This bill is a game-changer, and I am so appreciative of Senator Brown and Representative Lynn for making this a reality for Delawareans.”

While expunged records will not show up on most background checks, police will still be able to access those charges and convictions, while judges will be able to consider expunged records when weighing sentences for new crimes.

“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.”

The Adult Expungement Reform Act is supported by the Coalition for Smart Justice Delaware, the Delaware AFL-CIO, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Delaware, the International Longshoreman Association Local 1883 and the ACLU of Delaware.

The legislation will take effect in late December.

Seven other measures in the 19-bill criminal justice reform package cleared the General Assembly on Sunday night, putting the total number sent to Governor Carney at 11.