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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    January 18, 2023

    Will 2023 Be the Year of Expungement Reform in Wisconsin?

    The State Bar of Wiscconsin's Board of Governors believes in expanding eligibility for expungement for single, lower-level, non-violent criminal offenses. To make change happen, lawmakers need to hear the voices of their constituents in the legal community.

    Devin Martin

    Gavel on document that says "Criminal Record Expungement"

    Jan. 18, 2023 – Too often, instead of punishment ending with the completion of a sentence, ex-offenders find themselves caught in a never-ending cycle of under-employment and homelessness. In Wisconsin, nearly 1.4 million adults have a criminal record, including 42% of Milwaukee’s job seekers.

    Research has shown that the consequences of a criminal record can be a life-long barrier to success. Having the opportunity for a judge to expunge a criminal record can help alleviate workforce shortages, discourage re-offending, and increase personal income to help individuals and families become financially secure and free from government assistance.1

    Devin Martin Devin Martin is grassroots outreach coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    Employers and workforce leaders recognize that expungement can reduce overall taxpayer costs and improve the labor market and life outcomes for people with criminal records. To get there, Wisconsin’s laws need reform.

    Wisconsin’s system is unique and overly restrictive compared to the rest of the nation (Wis. Stat. section 973.015).

    Ours is the only state in the nation that:

    • Requires judges to determine eligibility when somebody is sentenced, instead of when they are released.

    • Does not permit expungement for closed cases, even if they meet all other criteria.

    Wisconsin is one of only a couple states that:

    • Limits expungement eligibility to offenses that occur before age 25.

    What You Can Do: State Bar of Wisconsin Advocacy Network

    Advocacy Network

    Get involved in the effort today by going to the Advocacy Network and sending a message of support for expungement reform to your lawmakers. Pre-written email messages are editable to suit your own thoughts and opinions, and will help to demonstrate the breadth of support for expanding access to expungement within the legal community. It only takes a minute of your time but makes a big impact!

    Don't forget to subscribe to the Rotunda Report and follow us on Twitter to stay informed and get involved in the legislative process.

    On January 3, 2023, a bipartisan group of legislators including Rep. David Steffen (R - Green Bay), Rep. Paul Tittl (R - Manitowoc), Rep. Evan Goyke (D - Milwaukee), Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R - Appleton), Sen. Eric Wimberger (R - Green Bay), and Sen. Kelda Roys (D - Madison) circulated for co-sponsorship LRB 0955/1, a proposal to reform Wisconsin's expungement law.

    This proposed bill would remove the arbitrary age limit associated with expungement reform, and also allow a court to consider eligibility for expungement after a sentence is completed, rather than at the time of sentencing.

    LRB 0955/1 is identical to the amended version of 2021 Assembly Bill 69, which passed the Assembly with near unanimous support and passed out of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. The bill builds on past efforts in previous legislative sessions.

    There is broad, bipartisan support for common-sense reforms to Wisconsin’s expungement system, especially for one-time, non-violent ex-offenders. In the last three legislative cycles, expungement reform bills passed the Assembly with an overwhelming majority voice vote, and enjoyed the support of a majority of State Senators. Unfortunately, these bills were never placed on the floor of the Senate for a full vote.

    The State Bar Board of Governors believes it is time to reform our state's laws on expungement – ​people's ability to clear their record of a single, lower level, non-violent criminal offense if they haven't had any other run-ins with the law. But to make legislative change happen, lawmakers need to hear the voices of their constituents in the legal community.


    1 Wisconsin Policy Forum, “A Fresh Start: Wisconsin's Atypical Expungement Law and Options for Reform,” June 2018.

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