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Sealed Records for Nonviolent Marijuana-Related Arrests Addressed in Bipartisan Bill

April 26, 2019 by Dan McCue

Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., are leading a bipartisan effort in the House to ensure that individuals arrested for nonviolent federal crimes stemming from marijuana possession get “a second shot at a better life.”

On Monday, the liberal Democrat and the conservative Republican re-introduced the Clean Slate Act. If passed, a bill  that would automatically seal the federal criminal records of people arrested for minor federal cannabis offenses.

The legislation is modeled on a similar law enacted in Pennsylvania in 2018. That bill allows residents with nonviolent misdemeanor convictions to have their records sealed if they have stayed on the straight and narrow for 10 years.

“If enacted, this legislation would make meaningful strides in filling the 7.1 million unfilled jobs in our country and improve the everyday lives of 100 million Americans who have past records,” Blunt Rochester said in a statement.

Reschenthaler, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who was once a district court judge, said criminal records stemming from low-level, nonviolent offenses, “can present a significant obstacle to employment, housing, and education.”

“If our goal is to reduce recidivism and improve the lives of millions of Americans, we cannot allow hardworking and reformed citizens to be defined by their worst mistakes in life,” he said.

If passed in its current form, Clean Slate Act would automatically seal an individual’s federal criminal record if they have been convicted of simple possession or any federal nonviolent offense involving marijuana; create a new procedure that allows individuals to petition the United States Courts to seal records for nonviolent offenses that are not automatically sealed; and would require, within 180 days, the automatic sealing of arrest records and other related records for individuals that have been acquitted, exonerated, or never had charges filed against them.

The bill would also authorize district courts to appoint a public defender to help indigent petitioners file and successfully seal their records, and protect employers from liability for any claim arising out of the misconduct of an employee if the misconduct relates to a sealed criminal record.

The House bill has already garnered diverse support outside the halls of Congress, and has been endorsed by groups ranging from the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Faith and Freedom Coalition to the liberal Center for American Progress.

Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, a conservative and libertarian advocacy group, said in a written statement that “the Clean Slate Act offers a streamlined path forward for certain individuals who have come into contact with the criminal justice system to have their records sealed so that they may gain employment, secure a place to live, or pursue educational opportunities.

“These are simple necessities of life that one mistake may impede if we do not provide reasonable chances for a clean slate,” Pye said.

Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., is reportedly working on a Senate companion bill and is currently seeking a Republican co-sponsor.

For the full legislative text of the House bill, click here, and for a fact sheet, click here.

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