Tens of millions of Americans have a criminal record of some kind, and about a million young people acquire a juvenile record each year. Whether through background checks or public access to court records online, records of past entanglements with the law endure. State lawmakers have increasingly recognized that long-lasting collateral consequences of conviction can hinder access to employment, housing, education, and other opportunities that are essential to establishing a successful life after justice system involvement. This recognition has fueled a national trend toward making it easier to seal, restrict, or expunge these records. (Because state laws use several terms for removing a record from public access, the general term “record clearance” is used here.) In light of this development, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges must now take record clearance provisions into account, even while a case is pending.
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