Criminal Records Restriction and Expungement in Georgia 2021
The 2021 Georgia Criminal History Records Restriction law provides for the restriction of certain criminal records for non-criminal justice purposes. This article tells you what you need to know for restricting accessibility to a criminal history record in Georgia.
Criminal Justice Records Restriction Reform in Georgia
The stigma of a criminal conviction can make it extremely difficult to get a job and live a normal life. Compassionate legislators in Georgia recognized that people with a criminal record can face a huge obstacle trying to move their life forward. The state of Georgia has now joined 41 other states in taking action to make it easier to benefit from being granted a criminal records restriction. A restriction is how to seal an arrest or conviction record from public scrutiny, and mitigate hassles from previous mistakes in life.
Until the new law went into effect, only allowed arrests that did not lead to convictions and misdemeanor convictions for minors to be erased from people’s records. Now, things are vastly different. An article published by the Savannah Morning News summarized the new law as, “The new law, which passed the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year with near-unanimous support, will allow records restriction of two misdemeanor convictions for people who haven’t been arrested in the last four years. It will also allow restriction of certain felony convictions if they have been pardoned by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.”1.
When SB288 became law in January of 2021, it immediately made it possible for some people with a criminal conviction to distance themselves from past mistakes. Although every request to seal or expunge a record is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, at least now there is a far better chance of making the stigma go away.
What can it do for you? For qualifying misdemeanor and felony convictions Georgia SB288 opens the door for potential record expungement. Specifically, this means that a large number of misdemeanor and felony convictions can possibly be blocked from showing on private or public personal background checks.
What is a Record Restriction (Expungement)
The term expungement truly means that something is permanently removed (expunged), as if it never existed. Relative to criminal records in Georgia, the reality is that criminal records were never truly erased, they were just made unavailable outside of requests by justice and law enforcement personnel.
Presently, Georgia no longer uses the term expungement and instead uses the term record restriction. Record restriction means that eligible records on your official criminal history report are restricted from public view. Even if you are successful in having a record restriction approved, law enforcement for criminal justice personne can still access your history.
Per the Georgia Bureau of Investigations website, “O.C.G.A. §35-3-37 provides for the restriction of certain criminal history records for non-criminal justice purposes when approved by the prosecuting attorney. For arrests after July 1, 2013, there is no application process. You must contact the prosecutor to have your record restricted. For arrests prior to July 1, 2013, you are required to apply for records restriction at the arresting agency.”2
About Georgia’s Second Chance Law for Records Restriction
While the new law provides opportunities it does not guarantee any person that they can be granted a record restriction. In fact, there reamins a number of charges for which a person cannot have a record restricted.
For misdemeanor convictions, four years after completing the full sentence (incarceration/probation/parole), a person may petition the court to restrict the record of up to two convictions.
Additional information about restricting misdemeanor crimnal history is provided on the Georgia Law Review website. The website states, “SB 288 permits restriction and sealing of up to two misdemeanor convictions during a person’s lifetime and of pardoned felonies. To petition to restrict misdemeanor convictions, a person must: 1) have completed all terms of their sentence; 2) have not been convicted of any offenses for at least four years prior to filing a petition; and 3) not have any pending charged offenses. Sexual offenses and most family violence offenses remain ineligible for restriction. Less understandably, serious traffic offenses (e.g. DUI), and most theft offenses remain ineligible for records restriction no matter how old the arrest, although theft by shoplifting can be restricted.”3.
For felony convictions, after successfully receiving a pardon for said crimes, a person may petition the court to restrict criminal records.
Additional information about restricting felony crimnal history is provided on the Georgia Law Review website. The website states, “A person may petition to restrict pardoned felonies if: 1) the person has not been convicted of a new offense (other than a non-serious traffic offense) since obtaining the pardon; and 2) the person has no charged offenses pending. Serious violent felonies and sexual felony offenses are ineligible for restriction. Earlier bills that included restriction for some felony convictions were unsuccessful; therefore, non-pardoned felony convictions will remain on a person’s record no matter the age of the offense—at least for now.”4.
Other Possible Obstacles
Every petition submitted to the court must undergo a review and approval process. In addition to the specific requirements listed above, there are certain subjective hurdles that must be cleared. One such element is cited in an article published on the JDSpra website. The particular part of the process mentioned in the article is, “In deciding whether or not to grant the petition, the court will weigh the harm to the individual versus the public’s interest in knowing about the conviction.”5.
If you want to learn how to have a criminal history record restricted, sealed, or expunged, we invite you to call our law firm to get started.
FOOTNOTES & CREDITS
- 1 Nancy DeVetter, “Attorney: New Georgia law to benefit those who have made past criminal mistakes”, January 6, 2021, Available from Savannah Now
- 2 Georgia Bureau of Investigations, “Georgia Criminal History Record Restrictions”, January 10, 2018, Available from Georgia Bureau of Investigation
- 3 Elizabeth M. Grant, “Second Chances: Georgia Dramatically Expands Arrest Records Restriction”, November 30, 2020, Available from Georgia Law Review
- 4 Elizabeth M. Grant, “Second Chances: Georgia Dramatically Expands Arrest Records Restriction”, November 30, 2020, Available from Georgia Law Review
- 5 Stokes Wagner, “Georgia’s SB 288: Giving Rehabilitated Individuals a Second Chance”, May 18, 2021, Available from JD Supra
- Photo Credit: Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash