Expungement in Delaware – Where Do We Stand?

Smart Justice Means Second Chances

If you do the crime, then do your time, you should be able to move on with your life, right? Not exactly.

For most people with a juvenile or adult criminal record in Delaware, moving past a conviction is a life-long fight with endless barriers to education, employment, housing, credit and other opportunities. These roadblocks after an arrest or conviction can be detrimental to a person’s ability to be a productive, contributing member of society—which can often lead to a continuum of incarceration for those with convictions on their record.

The simple solution? Give people with convictions and arrest records easier access to second chances.

Expungement works, and the benefits are far greater than any risks involved. A research study done by Michigan Law found that those who are able to obtain expungements have very little risk of recidivism and a significant improvement in their income and ability to secure stable employment.

We need to expand and protect access to expungement and ensure that those who are eligible to clear their records don’t have to stumble over even more road blocks to make it happen.

For children, Delaware courts have long had the option to immediately expunge a misdemeanor or violation arrest if the child was not found delinquent (or guilty). Prior to 2018, however, getting a felony arrest record expunged for a child was a much harder process—even if the child was never convicted.

Adult expungement was in an even worse place. Prior to 2019, Delaware’s extremely narrow adult expungement statute only allowed two paths to clearing a record: where the arrest or charges never led to a conviction, or after a pardon was granted for certain misdemeanor convictions only.

The good news: Over the last two years, we have been able to make some serious, sustainable, and impactful progress toward expanding access to second chances in Delaware.

In 2018, the 149th General Assembly passed a significant juvenile expungement bill (SB 146 w/ SA 1, SA 2) that gives Delaware Family Court the option to immediately expunge a felony arrest record if a child is found not delinquent or the charge is dismissed, eliminating the need for a separate application and proceeding.

In 2019, the 150th General Assembly passed another important expungement bill (SS 1 for SB 37 w/ SA 1) that expands access to second chances for adult Delawareans by creating adult expungement opportunities for most misdemeanors and felonies after a 3-7 year waiting period (depending on the underlying crime) without another conviction.

The work that’s been done to move expungement access in Delaware is an incredible start, but there’s still more work to do.

Moving forward, we need to continue to push for expanded access to second chances. According to Karen Lantz, ACLU-DE Policy Counsel, and Lisa Minutola of the Delaware Office of Defense Services, “Delaware needs to develop a system that seals or expunges juvenile records upon reaching adulthood. It needs to provide easier access to expungement for adults and formulate ways to automatically expunge records that are minor, old or stale.”

If you want to find out if you’re eligible for or need help seeking an expungement, you can reach out to the APEX program through the Department of Labor here: Apex.Delawareworks.com.

To get involved in the fight to expand access to second chances in Delaware, please email Erica Marshall, our Campaign for Smart Justice Manager, at emarshall@aclu-de.org.

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