Sandy is a middle-class American success story. She holds a good-paying job. She owns her own home. She pays her taxes. You’d never know she has a criminal record — unless you checked.
About 25 years ago, she was convicted of forgery after signing her estranged husband’s name to a check. For that crime, she spent four years in prison. But like many former Colorado felons, Sandy is finding that a single criminal act — even non-violent ones — can carry a life sentence.
Sandy is one of tens of thousands of Coloradans whose lives were impacted by a 1988 law that aimed to “get tough on crime” by making criminal records permanently public. Lauded as a way keep the public informed, it’s had some unintended consequences, making it harder for those who’ve committed crimes to move forward with their lives.
But a bill making its way through the state legislature aims to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the right to privacy for those who’ve paid their debt to society. If passed, House Bill 1082, sponsored by Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, would enable people convicted of a very narrow list of crimes to petition the courts to have their criminal record sealed after living crime-free for at least 10 years.
The controversial bill is similar to a bill Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, vetoed last year and has drawn criticism from editorialists who believe that the public’s right to know outweighs the rights of people who’ve committed crimes, even when those people have turned their lives around.
Proponents of the bill say that the result of that approach is unintended hardship.
“It’s in the best interests of the public to allow people to become productive members of society following a conviction,” says Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, which supports the bill.
But Sandy, whose name has been changed to protect her job, knows exactly what the bill would mean for her.
“What it would mean for me is freedom,” she says.