Wiping criminal records in Vt. through expungement

Published: Apr. 30, 2023 at 8:14 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Since 2011, the criminal charge expungement process has aimed to give convicted Vermonters a second chance.

When a record is expunged, it removes arrests or convictions from a person’s criminal record as if it never happened.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George says making criminal charge expungement an available option for Vermonters is a priority.

“We certainly support it and push for it in a way that other counties might not be,” George said.

Crimes that are eligible for expungement in Vermont include all misdemeanors except for things like violent sex-related offenses, violating a protection order and reckless endangerment. There are also 14 felonies on the list of crimes eligible for expungement, including unlawful mischief, grand larceny and burglary into an unoccupied dwelling.

In order for an individual to be eligible for expungement, they must meet specific criteria.

“Certain time frames that have had to passed, you can’t have committed any further offenses since, in some cases, you can’t have committed any further listed offenses since, and ultimately the expungement of that case has to be in the interest of justice,” George explained.

State’s attorneys use their judgment when deciding whether to expunge or not. George says if they move forward, it goes to the court for a ruling.

Data from the Vermont Judiciary shows that since 2019, more than 42,000 criminal records in the state have been expunged. Chittenden County, the state’s most populous county, had more than 11,000 of those expungements.

According to George’s office, the number of expungements has been up in recent years, from about 2,200 in 2021 to roughly 2,900 last year. Just in the first three months of 2023, they’ve done 958 expungements, on pace for nearly 4,000 by the end of the year.

The trend is keeping with George’s broader philosophy of rehabilitating offenders so they can become functioning members of society.

“The ways in which those convictions hold people back in employment and housing,” George said. “Those types of things could ultimately lead those folks back into criminal behavior because of the ways they’re held back by those convictions.”

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott recently signed H.28; a bill aimed at refining the guidelines for expungement in the state. At a recent news conference, the governor said he’d prefer not to erase the misdeeds from state records.

“I think we could seal them, and then they wouldn’t be open to the general public,” said Scott, R-Vermont. “But we would have them in case there was a recurring issue and then we could look back on that.”

George says in some cases sealing is warranted, but in others, it could contribute to bias.

“Overall there is no reason for us to have access to this information. Historically, police and prosecutors have used this information to weaponize folks to continue to hold them back.” George said.

More information on the expungement process can be found through Vermont Legal Aid.