As a rabbi and former lawyer, I see reforming Colorado’s system for sealing arrest data as an ethical crucial

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

For this reason, I strongly support House Bill 1214, entitled Record Sealing Collateral Consequences Consequences, in the Colorado Legislature, sponsored by State Representatives Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, and Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver.

Rabbi Evette Lutman

The bill aims to reduce the collateral consequences of low-level arrests (without charge) and record-keeping of low-level convictions by improving Colorado’s current record-sealing procedures. The bill also provides for a procedure to automatically penalize certain drug offenses. This is important to transform the public image of dealing with addiction.

My experience on this subject is guided not only by my beliefs but also by my real world experience. Before Rabbinical School, I was a lawyer and for my last 10 years I was an arbitrator with the Friend of the Court in Washtenaw County, Michigan.

As arbitrators, we have assisted the judges in hearing specific issues and making recommendations on specific or complicated issues. In addressing alimony and custody issues, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of unemployment on parents dealing with custody and alimony cases.

Whenever a judicial process looks like it is skewed in favor of those who can afford a lawyer and those who cannot, my antennae are raised. When I see a system that punishes people for years even after they have served their time and paid their fair sentence, I am very concerned.

Colorado’s current arrest and conviction clearing system does exactly what it needs to be reformed.

We must also take into account that there are times when a person will be arrested and released without ever being charged. This arrest record then follows this person despite not even having been charged with a crime.

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Employers often pull credit reports from potential employees. An arrest record is displayed on the credit report and employment is often denied for these reasons. Landlords also obtain credit reports from potential tenants. This arrest can then be used to deny residence to a family.

Someone with funds can hire a lawyer to seal this arrest – an easy task for any lawyer. However, without a lawyer, the process is confusing, intimidating, and stressful. And many don’t even realize that there is some method of sealing arrest records that makes it impossible for them to get the collateral liability damage relief to which they are legally entitled.

One might think that the public defender’s office would be able to assist lower-income people with clearing these records. However, since the PD’s office is only involved in the legal process after a case has been opened, and a case is only opened after the indictment has been filed, needy individuals arrested and released without charge have never become clients of Defense Counsel and therefore cannot represented by the office of the PD as part of the file release process.

In Judaism and in the scriptures of many faiths, we are instructed not to pose a stumbling block to the blind. But for the needy person arrested and released, Colorado’s disguised and inaccessible record-sharing process has placed not just a stumbling block but a huge boulder in that person’s path.

By automatically sealing these arrest records, HB 1214 would clear the way and enable self-controlled economic relief. Especially in this time of unprecedented housing instability, unemployment and a life-threatening health crisis, we as a society should do everything in our power to help individuals to help themselves.

You can’t pull yourself up by the boot straps if you don’t have one. We should give individuals a fair chance to put a roof over their families’ heads and food in their children’s mouths. It’s not just the civil thing. It’s a moral imperative.

Rabbi Evette Lutman came to the B’nai Havurah in Denver in 2010. She received her rabbinical ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ohio University and a doctorate in law from Ohio State University Moritz Law School.

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