Ringing in 2021 is going to be cause for celebration for many just given the challenges of 2020. But for Georgia residents with a criminal record, there could be even more reason to celebrate as the state’s new record sealing and restriction (formally known as expungement) law takes effect on January 1, 2021.
The new law, often referred to as the “second chance” law, allows individuals with certain criminal convictions to petition to have their record restricted and sealed. The first big change in this area of Georgia law took place in 2013. Prior to 2013, most criminal convictions, including misdemeanors, stayed on a person’s record for life. Senate Bill 288 was signed by Governor Brian Kemp in 2020, which expanded the opportunities to get criminal cases restricted and sealed.
Under the first set of record sealing and restriction reforms, there was a significant limitation on who would qualify for those restrictions. For many of the restrictions, you had to be convicted before you turned 21 years old. In most cases, this limitation has been removed in the new 2021 changes in the law. This opens up an opportunity for record sealing that did not previously exist for many people.
Additionally, the laws allow for sealing records of people who pled guilty to Underage Possession of Alcohol under Georgia’s alcohol Conditional Discharge Act (O.C.G.A. 3-3-23.1) as well as people who pled guilty to drug possession charges under Georgia’s drug Conditional Discharge Act (O.C.G.A. 16-13-2).
Many other changes exist in the law, and even if you have previously been told you don’t qualify for a record sealing it is worth looking into this again.
The new record sealing law applies only to certain convictions, mostly misdemeanors, and individuals cannot petition until four years after they have completed their sentences. Most felonies and some misdemeanors are not covered by the second-chance law, meaning individuals with these convictions cannot take advantage of the new legislation to seal those records. However, you should never assume there isn’t an option that could work for your unique situation. If you are interested in trying to get your records sealed, contact an attorney to discuss the options for your situation
Under the new law, restricting a record for a specific criminal offense means the record will only be available to judicial offices and criminal justice agencies for law enforcement or criminal investigative purposes – and not to any private person or business, government agency, or licensing and regulating agencies. Restricted and sealed convictions will no longer appear in official Georgia criminal history background checks by potential employers.
The second-chance law limits individuals to a lifetime maximum of restriction and record sealing for two convicted misdemeanors or series of misdemeanors arising from one incident. Individuals must not have additional convictions or pending criminal charges since completing the sentence for the conviction for which they are requesting record sealing.
Excluded misdemeanor convictions include:
Despite being on the excluded list, there are exceptions that can allow for sealing some of these types of cases in certain scenarios, which is another place consulting with an attorney about your situation can help.
Certain felony convictions for which an individual has been pardoned are also eligible for record restriction under the new law, provided the individual has not been convicted since receiving the pardon. Even if pardoned, serious violent felonies (such as murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping) and sexual offenses are not eligible for record restriction and sealing under the new law.
The expungement process requires a petition with a judge and best practices are to ask for a hearing to present evidence about the basis for the restriction. The judge then reviews the evidence and decides whether your privacy interests outweigh the public’s interest in knowing about the matter. If the judge determines that your privacy interests outweigh the public’s interests, then the judge should order the records be sealed.
Once the judge orders the records be sealed, there are additional steps to be taken to ensure the court records are actually sealed and to request that the arresting agency also seal their records.
If you or your child were convicted of a crime and you would like to explore having the record restricted and sealed, the experienced attorneys at Ghanouni Teen & Young Adult Defense Firm can help. We are experienced at having offenses sealed or expunged and are knowledgeable about the new second-chance law. Even in scenarios where the new laws don’t apply, we can sometimes find creative solutions to help achieve a person’s goals. Contact us for a complimentary strategy meeting.