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Victims' Rights Groups Feel Blindsided By Bill To Seal Criminal Records

DENVER (CBS4)- An effort to erase the criminal records of thousands of Coloradans has some victims fuming. A bill at the state Capitol would expand the types of crimes eligible to be sealed and lead to an estimated 7,500 more sealed convictions.

Denver Police Badge Generic Crime Tape
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Marsha Willis is among those opposing the. Her life was forever changed the day her son Ethan, her only child, was hit and killed by a reckless driver.

"Hit him at 90 mph and basically his truck fell apart and he landed about a football field away… and he was gone," said Willis.

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Under the bill, she says it would be as if it never happened.

Representatives Mike Weissman and Matt Soper are sponsors of the bill that would allow people convicted of manslaughter, vehicular homicide, arson, burglary, Medicaid fraud, identity theft, false imprisonment and dozens of other crimes to request to have their records sealed within 3-5 years of completing their sentence.

Marsha Willis (credit: CBS)

"I believe then the law ought to allow people a chance to move on, a chance to recover, to reintegrate into society, to gain and hold employment," Weissman, a Democrat representing Arapahoe County, told the House Judiciary Committee.

He and Soper, a Republican representing Mesa and Delta counties, argue criminal records serve as lifelong punishment.

"If you payed your debt to society you should be able to reenter society and be like anyone else," said Soper.

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"What we're speaking of here, I believe, are collateral consequences," said Weissman, "and we know that the shadow can be quite long, in some cases it can be nearly life long."

But victims' rights groups say employers - especially those who work with children, people with disabilities or at risk adults - have a right to know about a person's criminal past.

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"I should know who I'm hiring and they should be able to stand up to me and show me that they're an honest person and one of the ways to do that is to own who they are, what they've what done and where they've come from there," said Willis.

She now goes into prisons to talk to inmates. She says the bill doesn't just erase crimes, but accountability.

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"If you can make my son come back after five years then I say, Let's go for it, let's do it.' But no, you're going to say it didn't happen for this person while it did happen for me for the rest of my life and it did happen for him for the rest of his and how is that helpful to the person who did it?" said Willis.

Typically, lawmakers sit down with those impacted by a bill before introducing it, three victims' rights groups testified that no one talked to them. The sponsors delayed a vote by the Judiciary Committee while they consider amendments offered by those groups.

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