What Does the Clean Slate Law Mean for Employers and Background Checks?

Criminal background checks

Criminal actions that result in felony and misdemeanor convictions can impact a person’s life for years to come. As a result, clean slate laws are becoming more common as lawmakers and criminal justice advocates try to balance accountability for past criminal actions with a desire to help rehabilitation.

There are two sides to the argument around clean slate laws. While on the one hand, it is believed that employers should have access to this information to protect their livelihoods and other employees. The other side argues that an individual cannot move their life forward in a positive direction if past actions never allow them to access meaningful employment.

These criminal records (including those that may have occurred years ago related to minor crimes) can prevent obtaining meaningful employment. They can also prevent individuals from securing housing, accessing educational opportunities, and even engaging in volunteer work – all activities that would lead to positive outcomes for those trying to better their lives and prospects. Advocates for clean slate laws feel that these records prevent ex-offenders from moving on with their lives.

What are clean slate law?

Clean slate laws make it possible to erase or remove some criminal records from the public view, including information that would regularly appear during a criminal background check. Ex-offenders can expunge or seal the records. Expungement means the records are erased from existence. Sealing them means they are no longer available to the public.

In both instances, this information would no longer appear during a criminal background check. However, it would still be accessible to individuals in law enforcement if the ex-offender were to re-offend. Clean slate laws in most states do not automatically expunge or seal a record. Rather, they only make criminal records eligible for expungement or record sealing.

Once eligible, the ex-offender would have to petition the court to have the record expunged or sealed. There are some exceptions. For instance, states that have legalized the use of marijuana may also include a mechanism that allows for the automatic expungement of records for crimes related to marijuana use.

What states have clean slate laws?

After a wave of clean slate laws were passed in 2020, many states now have clean slate laws in effect, although they vary from one state to another. An overview of the current clean slate laws in states that have adopted them includes:

  • Arizona: Records for marijuana possession, consumption, transportation, and cultivation are eligible for expungement.
  • California: The Attorney General must mine official criminal records and identify those eligible for relief, including most misdemeanors, summary crimes, and arrests that don’t result in a conviction. Violent crimes, sexual crimes, and child abuse crimes are ineligible.
  • Georgia: Pardoned convictions and up to two misdemeanor convictions are eligible for expungement. Violent felonies and sexual offenses are not eligible. Crimes committed while an individual was a victim of human trafficking are vacated.
  • Maryland: Crimes committed while an individual was a victim of human trafficking are vacated.
  • Michigan: Unlimited misdemeanors and up to three felonies are eligible to be ‘set-aside.’ No more than one conviction for the same offense may be set aside if the offense is punishable by more than ten years in prison.
  • Montana: Marijuana-related crimes are eligible for expungement.
  • Nebraska: expanded eligibility for people sentenced to a year or less in prison. Those on probation are eligible to request that a conviction be ‘setaside.’
  • North Carolina: Mandatory expungement for 16 and 17-year olds convicted as adults. Multiple non-violent convictions are also eligible for expungement.
  • South Dakota: Crimes committed while an individual was a victim of human trafficking are vacated.
  • Utah: Marijuana-related crimes are eligible for expungement.
  • Vermont: Marijuana-related crimes involving the possession of less than two ounces of marijuana are eligible for expungement.
  • Virginia: Marijuana possession crimes are eligible for expungement.
  • Washington: Juvenile sealing of records is permissible if the person is off supervision and has paid restitution.

How will clean slate laws affect criminal background checks?

States with clean slate laws allow individuals in those states who meet the eligibility criteria to petition the court to have their criminal record sealed or expunged. The end result is that background checks will no longer show this information in their results after the record has been sealed or expunged. Employers will not have access to the record or ever know the individual was convicted for the crime.

As you can see, the clean slate laws also make the background check process more complicated depending upon the state in which you live. They add another layer of diligence and compliance to the process, which is already complicated by other existing federal and state regulations. Contact USA Fact today to learn more about ensuring your criminal background checks comply with all applicable laws.

USA Fact Global Screening Services provides comprehensive background and criminal checks for employers that comply with federal and local laws. By helping you eliminate high-risk applicants through tailored solutions, USAFact enables you to create a safe and productive work environment and a foundation for future success.