Cohen Reintroduces Bill to Give Non-Violent Offenders a Fresh Start

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) reintroduced his Fresh Start Act–which he originally introduced in 2010–late last week to enable non-violent federal offenders who have served their sentence and are now law-abiding, productive members of society to have their conviction expunged from their records. 

“Today, even if an offender was non-violent, they could very well face a life sentence,” said Congressman Cohen.  “That’s because the stigma of their conviction often follows them for the rest of their life. Employment, education and housing opportunities – the very things necessary to turn a life around – can all be denied because of a past conviction. We should give non-violent offenders who have turned their lives around a real chance to start over again and contribute more fully to society—and my legislation would do just that.”

Under the Fresh Start Act, offenders would be eligible to have their convictions expunged from their records if they have not committed any other state or federal offense and have met all the terms of their sentence. The bill allows offenders to apply for expungement to the court where they were sentenced and allows the U.S. Attorney for that District to submit recommendations to the court.  Applicants who are denied could reapply for expungement once every two years.  After seven years have elapsed since an offender has completed their sentence, expungement would be automatically granted.  The bill would exempt sex offenders and those who commit property crimes or financial crimes worth more than $25,000. 

Finally, the bill would also encourage states to pass their own expungement laws for state offenses.  States that pass a substantially similar law would receive a five percent increase in federal funding for local law enforcement funds (the Byrne/JAG Program) while those that do not would lose five percent of those funds.