By: Mary Agramonte
A new expungement law is on the way, which will come as great news to the millions of Georgians who have a criminal history. Governor Kemp recently signed SB 288 into law after state leaders unanimously approved the bill. Georgia’s new “Second Chance Law” will become effective on January 1, 2021 providing Georgians with an opportunity to expunge certain misdemeanor cases, both a victory and a first in Georgia.
Georgia historically has not had favorable expungement laws on the books. Under current Georgia law, criminal convictions stay on a person’s record forever. Convictions never ‘age off’ no matter the time that has elapsed, or the strides made for rehabilitation. This places a staggering number of Georgians at a disadvantage for employment, housing, higher education, and other opportunities.
Georgia’s current law disallowing expungement has been troublesome for the hundreds of thousands of people who get caught up in our justice system each year. In fact, Georgia leads the nation, by far, in placing people on probation following conviction. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 433,200 people in Georgia were on probation at the end of 2018. According to Second Chance for Georgia (INSERT link: https://www.secondchancegeorgia.org/), 4.3 million people have a criminal record in Georgia. This means that an astounding 40% of Georgia’s adult population carry a criminal history through life, resulting in more than 1/3 of the State’s population having barriers to advancement in careers and other opportunities.
This new change in Georgia law will allow individuals to petition the court to have certain misdemeanor convictions restricted and sealed off their record after living a crime free life for four years. This is a process sometimes referred to as “expungement,” but is called “record restriction” in Georgia. So long as a person has completed the terms of their sentence and has had no new convictions for at least four years, then SB 288 allows the individual to petition the Court to restrict the misdemeanor off their record.
Upon petition and a request for a hearing, the Court will conduct a balancing test to determine whether to restrict the misdemeanors off the criminal history. The hearing must take place within 90 days of the request. Under the new SB 288 law, the Court must grant the petition to restrict the criminal history records if it determines that the harm resulting to the individual clearly outweighs the public’s interest in the criminal history being publicly available. Factors such as the nature of crime, the loss of career opportunities, time elapsed since conviction, and proven rehabilitation will all become relevant inquiries for the Court.
Under SB 288, certain crimes will continue to be ineligible for record restriction in Georgia. This means that the following crimes cannot be expunged following a conviction:
- Family Violence Assault and Battery
- Family Violence Stalking
- Hindering 911 call
- Child Molestation or Enticing a child for indecent purposes
- Public indecency
- Pimping and pandering
- Sexual Battery
- Theft by Taking, Theft by Deception, Theft by Conversion
- Serious Traffic Offenses (Reckless Driving, DUI, Homicide by Vehicle, Serious Injury by Vehicle, Fleeing or Attempting to Elude, and Aggressive Driving)
Crimes that will be eligible under the new law for potential record restriction include but are not limited to:
- Possession of Marijuana
- Possession of Drug Related Objects
- Non-Domestic Battery and Assault
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
- Giving False Name, False Report, or False Statement
- Criminal Trespass
- Terroristic Threats
- Disorderly Conduct
- Driving with a Suspended License
Some felonies are included in this expansion as well. For example, if someone has been convicted of a felony charge, but were issued a pardon, they too can petition a Judge to restrict and seal the charge off their record under the new law.
Who is eligible to petition the court for record restriction or expungement?
Anyone who was convicted of a misdemeanor crime, (other than the crimes explicitly exempt under the statute), and have had no new convictions in the past four years.
How many cases can I ask to be restricted?
Individuals will be allowed to petition the court for record restriction on two misdemeanor cases (a case can include multiple misdemeanor offenses under one accusation).
What happens if the Judge denies the request for record restriction?
You can request the record restriction again after waiting two years from the Judge’s denial.
How do I obtain record restriction under SB 288?
The new law requires you file a motion into the court you were convicted requesting the misdemeanor be restricted and expunged. A court order is required in order for your criminal history to be expunged under the new law.
Keep in mind that record restriction is not limited to misdemeanor convictions discussed in this blog under the new SB288 law and can be, at times, automatic. For example, if you were arrested after July 1, 2013, and the case against you was dismissed, or you were fully acquitted at trial, the charge will be automatically restricted when the clerk enters that disposition into the GCIC system. Arrests prior to July 1, 2013 that resulted in dismissal require a request and separate process for restrictions, but are eligible.
The best way to know what is on your criminal history is to request a copy of your GCIC under Purpose Code “E” from a local police department or sheriff’s office. If you or a loved one is one of the millions of people carrying a criminal history through life in Georgia, the Second Chance law may come as a reprieve. The attorneys at W. Scott Smith are versed on all aspects of Georgia’s expungement and record restriction laws and are available for a FREE CONSULTATION by calling 404-581-0999.