Understanding Georgia’s New Expungement Law

In the past, if you have been convicted of a crime in Georgia it has been very difficult if not impossible to remove these convictions from your background and criminal history. This has caused problems for countless people, especially for those seeking employment, housing, professional licensing, and more.

One important exception has been First Offender and Conditional Discharge, but these laws usually deal with felonies and can only be used once. If an individual has used first offender and is convicted of a felony thereafter, that felony is essentially there for life.

Several years ago, Georgia passed a retroactive first offender statute, which allows those with a felony conviction, who could have been sentenced as first offenders had they known about it, to petition the court retroactively to receive first offender status. Today Bill SB 288 expands expungement opportunities for many people with criminal history.

The New Law

Adding to these criminal justice reforms, late last year Governor Kemp signed into law SB 288. This act provides potential record expungement for qualifying misdemeanor and felony convictions. Effective January 1, 2021, many misdemeanor and some felony convictions are eligible for record restriction and sealing, effectively removing them from public and private background checks.

For qualifying misdemeanor convictions, a person can petition the Court to restrict up to two convictions four years after the sentence is complete. A sentence is fully complete when all jail time has been served and probation has been terminated. This law applies to all misdemeanors except for those specifically listed under O.C.G.A. 35-3-37(j)(4), which includes traffic offenses (such as DUI), family violence battery, sexual crimes, and more.

For felony convictions, a person must apply for and receive a pardon for the offense before he or she is eligible to petition the court for expungement. This step obviously makes the process more difficult, but a large amount of felony offenses are still available for expungement, excluding crimes such as murder, armed robbery, rape, child molestation, sexual exploitation of a minor, and more.

Bottom Line

SB 288 is a large step forward for criminal justice reform in the State of Georgia and greatly expands expungement relief for many with a criminal histories. If you have questions about whether you are eligible for relief under the new expungement law, give our office a call today and schedule a free consultation.