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Opinion: As a rabbi and former lawyer, I see reforming Colorado’s system for sealing arrest records as a moral imperative

When I see a system that perpetually punishes people for years on end even after they’ve served their time and paid their just penalty, I feel immense concern.

Colorado will debate whether to raise the criminal prosecution age from 10 to 13. (Photo by Bill Oxford via Unsplash)

As a spiritual leader of B’nai Havurah, the Denver Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, I have a moral obligation to support efforts that advance second chances and create greater equity and opportunity for all people. I am particularly moved to protect those most harmed by injustice and marginalization. 

That is why I strongly support House Bill 1214, titled “Record Sealing Collateral Consequences Reduction,” in the Colorado legislature, sponsored by state Reps. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, and Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver.  

Rabbi Evette Lutman

The bill seeks to reduce the collateral consequences of arrest (without charge), and low-level conviction records, by improving Colorado’s current record sealing procedures. The bill also creates a process to automatically seal certain drug offenses, which is essential in shifting the public narrative of how we deal with addiction.

My experience with this issue is guided not only by my faith, but by my real-world experience. Prior to rabbinical school I was a lawyer, and in my final 10 years I was a Referee at the Friend of the Court for Washtenaw County, Michigan. 

As referees we aided the judges by hearing certain matters and by making recommendations concerning special or complicated issues. In dealing with child support and custodial issues, I saw first hand the devastating effects of unemployability on parents dealing with custody and child support cases.

Whenever a justice procedure looks like it is skewed in favor of those who can afford an attorney, and skewed against those who cannot, my antennae go up. When I see a system that perpetually punishes people for years on end even after they’ve served their time and paid their just penalty, I feel immense concern. 

Colorado’s current system for clearing arrest and conviction records does just that, which is why it needs to be reformed.

We must also consider that there are times when an individual is arrested and released without ever being charged. That arrest record then follows that person despite the fact that they were never even accused of a crime. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Employers frequently pull credit reports on prospective employees. An arrest record will show up on the credit report, and employment will often be denied on these grounds. Landlords, too, pull credit reports on potential tenants. That arrest record may then be used to deny a family a place to live.

Someone with financial means can hire an attorney to seal that arrest record — a simple task for any lawyer. However, without a lawyer, the process is confusing, intimidating and burdensome. And many don’t even know that a process for sealing arrest records exists, making it impossible for them to get the relief from collateral arrest damages that they are entitled to by law. 

One might think that the Public Defender’s office would be able to assist lower income people clear these records. However, since the PD’s office isn’t involved in the legal process until a case is opened, and a case doesn’t get opened until charges are filed, indigent people who have been arrested and released without charge, have never become the clients of the defenders office, and therefore cannot be represented by the PD’s office in the record clearance process.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

In Judaism, and in the scriptures of many faiths, we are directed not to place a stumbling block before the blind. But for the arrested-and-released indigent person, Colorado’s veiled and inaccessible record clearance process has placed not just a stumbling block, but a giant boulder in that person’s way. 

By allowing for automatic sealing of these arrest records, HB 1214 would unblock the path and allow for self-driven economic relief. Especially during this time of unprecedented housing instability, unemployment, and a life-threatening health crisis, we as a society should do everything within our power to help individuals help themselves. 

You can’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you have none.  We should give individuals a fair chance to put a roof over their family’s heads and food in their children’s mouths. It’s not just the civil thing to do. It’s a moral imperative.


Rabbi Evette Lutman came to Denver’s B’nai Havurah in 2010. She received her rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Ohio University, and a juris doctorate from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.


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