WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the eligibility for expungement of a first-time simple federal drug possession offense. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3607, expungement is currently available to first-time drug users meeting certain requirements, but only if the individual is under the age of 21. The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act would remove this age requirement, allowing judges to give more low-level drug offenders a second chance. Criminal records create significant barriers to finding work, housing and access to education, which are key for individuals to make a new start and avoid subsequent criminal activity. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Van Taylor (R-Texas).
“No one should be defined by a single one of their mistakes. No matter their age, first-time drug offenders deserve a second chance to pursue a productive life without the burden of a criminal record,” said Senator Coons. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation that will provide a path forward for Americans across the country to turn their lives around and give back to their communities, and I’m grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their support.”
“Part of criminal justice reform is ensuring that rehabilitated individuals are able to move on with their lives and get a second chance,” said Senator Cornyn. “Those who successfully complete court-imposed probation for low-level possession should be able to have their records cleared, and this legislation would do just that.”
“When we saddle low-level, first-time drug offenders with a criminal record, our criminal justice system feeds the cycle of recidivism and distress that harms our communities. Formerly incarcerated individuals should have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and turn toward a brighter,” said Senator Durbin. “Kenneth Thompson was a district attorney who saw the value in a second chance. I’m proud to join my colleagues in continuing that legacy by helping returning citizens begin again.”
“First-time, non-violent drug possession offenses should not impede the ability for individuals who have reformed themselves to find jobs, housing, and education their whole lives,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to co-introduce the bipartisan legislation that would remove the age restriction for expungement so we can give non-violent, productive members of our community a second chance at a successful life.”
“Prosecutors across the country continue to support reasonable approaches to criminal justice reform that build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Meaningful second chances are vital to the successful reentry of individuals into communities and the bipartisan Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act strikes the right balance between public safety and expanding common sense expungement measures,” said Nelson Bunn, the Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association.
“Under current law, an individual can have a federal simple possession offense expunged from their record if they meet stringent criteria and were 21 or younger at the time of the offense. However, when looking at the criteria as a whole, it becomes clear that this age limit is an arbitrary cutoff. The Begin Again Act will address this shortcoming by removing the age requirement currently in statute. The MCCA thanks Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Coons for their continued dedication to making our criminal justice system fairer and more equitable,” said Chief Art Acevedo, Chief of the Miami Police Department and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
“NACDL proudly supports the Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act,” said Martín Antonio Sabelli, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Individuals and families should not have their lives destroyed by nonviolent, low-level, first-time, simple possession offenses especially after successful completion of court probation. Offering a chance for a clean slate makes sense and will keep families together, allow people to contribute to society, and strengthen communities, many of which have been overpoliced.”
“For far too many Americans and their families, a first-time, non-violent drug offense creates irrevocable barriers that are nearly impossible to overcome—making it hard to find and hold down a job, put a roof over their heads, or become an active community member. The Begin Again Act is an important step toward overcoming those barriers and providing deserving individuals with a second chance at life. Americans for Prosperity applauds Senators Coons and Cornyn for carrying forth Representatives Jeffries and Van Taylor’s Begin Again Act into the Senate. Our activists across the country look forward to encouraging their Senators to support this meaningful step toward real second chances,” said Mark Holden, Board Chairman of Americans for Prosperity.
The text of the bill is available here. The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Due Process Institute, Fair and Just Prosecution, National District Attorneys Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, FreedomWorks, Justice Action Network, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Prison Fellowship, and the Safer Foundation.