An expanded Georgia law took effect January 1, 2021, giving residents with past criminal convictions a “Second Chance” and opening up employment opportunities to would-be workers with a criminal record. Find out what the new version of Georgia’s Second Chance bill means for you, and what you can do to get your record expunged.
You have completed your sentence, satisfied all your probation requirements, and been discharged from supervision. You’re once again a free citizen, able to interact with society as a whole. But with a misdemeanor or felony conviction on your record, you may find it harder to get back to life as usual. Many employers and even some landlords require background checks before entering into a contract. A conviction on your record could keep you from getting a job or finding a place to live.
The lasting consequences of criminal convictions mean that many rehabilitated individuals have a hard time making ends meet after their conviction. Employment and housing trouble can lead to homelessness, aggravate substance dependency issues, and drive up the chances they will commit a new crime (called recidivism). Because a criminal record is permanent, these effects can follow you long after you have served your sentence.
In response to this trend, the Georgia Justice Project and other reintegration advocacy groups, have been fighting for a way to allow those with a past history of contact with the criminal justice system to clear their record and step into gainful employment. In 2013, Georgia revised its expungement law to allow individuals to petition to remove non-convictions (such as arrests where the case was later dismissed, or completion of diversionary programs) from their record. Now, the law is taking another step forward.
The Second Chance Act of 2020 is designed to expand Georgia record restriction law to include certain misdemeanor and felony convictions. It also created incentives for employers to hire those whose convictions had been expunged. Last year’s SB 288 was authored by Sen. Tonya Anderson (D-Lithonia) and sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens). It received unanimous support in both the House and the Senate. On August 5, 2020, Governor Brian Kemp signed the legislation into law, effective January 1, 2021.
Now that the New Year has passed, second chance record restriction is available to residents with convictions across the state of Georgia. If you have been convicted of a single misdemeanor, or a series of misdemeanors relating to a single incident, you may qualify for expungement if:
Those excluded offenses include:
If you have a felony conviction, you may also be eligible for a second chance under the law if you have received a pardon from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles and your conviction was not for a serious violent felony or sex offense.
The law also expands the options for young adults (under age 21) facing criminal charges for purchasing alcohol or presenting fake IDs to try to purchase alcohol. The newly expanded law allows first-time minors in possession to request record restrictions at the time of sentencing. The Court can defer the case while the defendant completes rehabilitation probation (up to three years) and then dismiss the proceedings. This avoids the entry of a conviction and protects the young person from the consequences that come with a misdemeanor conviction. If you (or your child) are facing alcohol-related charges, be sure to talk to your attorney about record restrictions before you decide to enter a plea.
The process outlined in the Second Chance Act is casually called “expungement,” but officially, the record of conviction does not go away. Instead it becomes restricted and sealed. This means it is not included in standard background checks and not visible to the general public, including employers and landlords. However, even after a record has been sealed, the conviction will still be visible to police and prosecutors, and some convictions will be disclosed to certain employers who serve vulnerable populations such as the elderly or children.
Even under the Second Chance Act, expungement is not automatic. If you want your record restricted you will need to file a petition with the court where the original conviction happened, and make your case for why the record should be sealed. This is an emerging area of the law, and you only get two chances to file a petition to expunge a misdemeanor conviction in your lifetime. If you decide to file a petition for record restriction, you should do so with an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side to advocate on your behalf and help you get a second chance at a clean record.
As a Georgia resident, you have the right to a Second Chance. Don’t take it alone. At the McCoy Law Firm, LLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to petition the courts to expunge criminal histories including convictions and non-conviction records. If you have misdemeanors or felonies on your record and want a second chance to clear your record, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.