Thousands of criminal records automatically wiped under Utah’s ‘clean slate’ law

Passed in 2019, the automatic expungement law went into effect Thursday.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Amy Daeschel embraces former Rep. Eric Hutchings, sponsor of the "clean slate" bill, following a ceremony at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. The 2019 measure, which automatically expunges certain low-level offenses from criminal records after a period of time, went into effect Thursday. Daesche shared her long and difficult journey to expunge her criminal record and start a new life.

Nearly 500,000 people convicted of nonviolent, low-level crimes in Utah had their records expunged automatically Thursday, as the state’s new “clean slate” law went into effect.

The law, passed in 2019, affects people convicted of class A misdemeanor drug offenses, most class B and C misdemeanor offenses and all infractions. People convicted of felonies or any domestic violence, sexual assault, simple assault or DUI-related charges do not qualify.

Gov. Spencer Cox told dozens of people packed into the Capitol’s old Supreme Court chambers Thursday that he was excited for the law to go into effect.

“We believe in the rule of law and holding people accountable,” he said, “and we believe in second chances.”

Utah is the second state in the country to pass such a law, behind only Pennsylvania.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox is joined by other leaders and advocates of Utah’s Clean Slate Law at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. The 2019 measure, which automatically expunges certain low-level offenses from criminal records after a period of time, went into effect Thursday.

Utah already had a record expungement system in place, but it can be confusing and costly to navigate, so few have done it, officials said.

Under the new law, people convicted of certain low-level crimes don’t have to do anything but wait and not reoffend for five to seven years, depending on the severity of their offense. Those convicted of higher-level offenses can still apply for expungement, but they must wait longer after their conviction, and the process is not automatic.

One woman who stood to have her record automatically expunged, Amy Daeschel, called Thursday a “monumental and transformative” day for the state.

Daeschel has a substance use disorder and was previously convicted of a drug-related offense. She said during the news conference Thursday that society often only sees her for her record.

They don’t see that she woke up at 5:30 a.m. every morning for months to catch the two buses and one train to get to treatment. Or that she showed up to drug court every Wednesday for more than a year, paid for weekly drug testing and struggled to find a good paying job, ultimately accepting a position that only paid $9 an hour.

They also don’t see that she turned 12 applications in to secure a place to live and was denied each time.

“I take full ownership of my actions and my behaviors. I have put in my time,” she said. “However, I cannot fully integrate into society because of my perpetual record. Our system has long defined rehabilitation as obtaining sobriety. However, rehabilitation reaches so far beyond just being sober.”

Daeschel said the clean slate law “bridges that gap between rehabilitation and reintegration,” and will help reduce recidivism by opening up more opportunities for employment and housing.

“Thank you for seeing the individual for not what they’ve done, but for what they’ve overcome,” she said.

As Daeschel hugged Noella Sudbury, the executive director of the nonprofit Clean Slate Utah, spectators in the courtroom stood and clapped.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Amy Daeschel, center right, embraces Noella Sudbury, executive director of Clean Slate Utah, during a ceremony at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.

Sudbury said that Daeschel’s case isn’t unique. People who have had their records cleared are more than 60% more likely to get a job than before their expungement, and their wages also improve afterwards, she said.

“This law is such a huge shift for our system,” she said, “and has made it a more fair, just and equitable system going forward.”

Those who qualify for automatic expungement won’t be notified because, according to a spokesperson, court address data isn’t reliable enough and lawmakers worried sensitive information could be sent to the wrong household.

Instead, people can visit cleanslateutah.org to learn if they qualify and find other resources, including legal support and help to cover fees. A new app from Clean Slate Utah and the company Rasa also will launch in March to streamline the process.

The app costs $15 to use but is free for people who meet certain income requirements. In the meantime, people can schedule appoints with expungement lawyers to see if they qualify for automatic expungement, or visit rasa-legal.com for help navigating the felony expungement process.