Could Nevada be the next state to adopt automatic criminal record sealing?
Nevada Democratic lawmakers are hoping to help rehabilitated people convicted of a crime to begin their lives again through creation of a statewide automatic record sealing process, but court workers say efforts circumvent their authority to grant clearance.
Under AB160, sponsored by Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas), the state would be required to set up a process keeping track of people who are eligible for automatic record sealing and submitting requests for record sealing when applicable.
Nevada law generally allows courts to order the sealing of criminal records if certain conditions, such as time elapsed (between 1 to 10 years depending on the severity of the crime) and the individual avoiding other convictions, are met. Certain crimes, such as DUIs that result in an injury or fatality, sex offenses and crimes against children are not eligible to be sealed.
But the sealing of criminal records requires individual action and filing a petition in court — something that Miller’s bill would instead automate, once the normal conditions for record-sealing are met.
“Being cleared by our statutes that already exist, that says you should be eligible to have your record sealed,” Miller said during the hearing on Tuesday. “We want that process to automatically start to not create any additional barriers for those folks.”
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Beth Schmidt testified in opposition, stating the department could go from sealing 1,600 records a year to upwards of 48,000 a year under the proposal. She said although the agency wants to work with Miller, department officials have concerns about meeting the automatic sealing threshold.
“We do not believe that we would meet the implementation deadlines set forth in this bill,” Schmidt said. “Without a complete restructure of how we seal records in Nevada, we believe this approach adds layers on top of an already cumbersome process.”
Under an amendment submitted by Miller on Tuesday, the bill would require the state Department of Public Safety’s records department to develop a process to automatically identify and record the criminal records of individuals eligible to have their records sealed, starting in 2028. The department would then transmit that list of eligible convictions to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the administrative arm of the Nevada Judiciary.
That office would serve as a clearinghouse and be charged with transmitted eligible convictions to individual courts. There, courts would be required to follow existing state law establishing a “rebuttable presumption” that criminal records should be sealed, but would still be required to notify prosecuting attorneys of individual convictions up to be sealing and allow them an opportunity to dispute the sealing.
The bill also calls for a task force to help advise and implement the bill’s requirements, which could include hiring a vendor or consultant to help with research. A similar bill requiring the automatic sealing of marijuana-related convictions passed in 2019 and is still being implemented.
Under the proposal, those eligible for record sealing may file a written request with the courts to verify and receive documentation that their criminal history was sealed.
The office of the attorney general submitted an amendment allowing for people with wrongful convictions and who received a certificate of innocence to be included in the automatic sealing process.
Several municipalities and law enforcement agencies opposed the bill. The City of Las Vegas testified in opposition because of the potential for increased workload and a lack of state funding. The Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and the Nevada District Attorneys Association all opposed the bill for the automatic mandate.
“There are not enough prosecutors to review [every eligible person], so our ability to object will be rendered effectively meaningless…” Nevada District Attorney Association lobbyist Jennifer Noble said. “Hearings that should be occurring will not occur, and we believe that victims and the people of Nevada deserve consideration as well.”
Editor’s Note: Assistant Editor Michelle Rindels is the President of the Nevada Open Government Coalition, which submitted testimony in opposition to this bill. She was not involved with the reporting or editing of this story.
The Nevada Independent is raising $200,000 by Dec. 31 to support coverage of the 2024 election.
Tax-deductible donations from readers like you fund this critical work.
If you give today,your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar.