Recommendation: States should enact legislation to provide for the automatic sealing or expungement of any arrest that does not lead to conviction. If asked, you should be permitted to answer as if it never occurred.

Best practices: Connecticut automatically erases arrest records when someone is not convicted and allows him or her to respond to inquiries as if an arrest never took place, CONN. GEN. STAT. § 54-142a and Cislo v. City of Shelton, 692 A.2d 1255 (Conn. 1997).

Recommendation: States should automatically seal or expunge conviction records after an appropriate amount of time has elapsed. They should limit public access to outdated conviction information but provide access to criminal justice agencies that need it for law enforcement purposes. Once a conviction record has been sealed or expunged, when asked about the record, the subject should be permitted to answer as if it never occurred.

Best practices: Massachusetts provides that first-time misdemeanor records can be sealed 10 years following completion of sentence, court supervision, or probation. First-time felony records can be sealed 15 years later if the person has not been found guilty of any criminal offense in any other state in the ensuing 10 years, MASS. GEN. LAWS ch. 276, § 100A. In Indiana, conviction records can be sealed if 15 years have passed since the date of discharge from probation, imprisonment, or parole for the last conviction of a crime, IND. CODE § 35-38-5-5. While these time periods may seem long to the person trying to find employment and become self-supporting, it is important that states adopt these kinds of laws and give careful consideration to how much time must pass before a conviction is no longer relevant.

Recommendation: Given the potential for misuse by employers, landlords, and others, state agencies should not make conviction information publicly accessible on the Internet. Access should be restricted to those agencies, such as law enforcement, that need to retrieve criminal records to perform their duties. Restricting access to this information should not interfere with existing laws that allow states to develop criteria that would make records available on a need-to-know basis. Records would remain available to state agencies and employers via the official state repositories of criminal records.

Best practices: California and Idaho are two of the 16 states that do not post criminal records on the Internet.

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