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Court debt no longer prevents clearing criminal records in California

California Governor Gavin Newsom (center left) delivers remarks during a press conference as Senator Scott Wiener (center right) looks on in San Francisco, California, United States on September 28, 2022. | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Unpaid court fees will no longer prevent people from clearing their criminal records in California under a bill just signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

Currently, outstanding court debt and victim restitution fees blocked expungements for people who couldn’t afford it. 

When the Fresh Start Act goes into effect on Jan. 1, those fees will no longer inhibit the formerly incarcerated from clearing their records. 

Authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the law bars courts from preventing expungement because someone has not paid off their debt.

The new law has set into motion a review process in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. 

“We plan to identify past clients who have been denied solely because they owe victim restitution and re-file their petitions after the change has taken effect,” Deputy Public Defender Kelly Pretzer explained. 

At least 20 people from January through August this year were denied on those grounds, Pretzer said.

The SF District Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, is figuring out how to proceed with expungement requests filed before the law goes into effect in the new year, according to DA spokesperson Randy Quezada.