Skip to main content

Hundreds of Coloradans apply to have criminal records sealed

Email share

DENVER — Alemayehu Teshome is a new person. He works in accounting, has a degree from Colorado State University and has dreams of directing an accounting firm.

But at 17 years old, Teshome was convicted of several felonies after a shootout between himself, several friends and Denver police officers. The shootout then prompted a high-speed chase, and Teshome was tried and convicted as an adult, Colorado court records show. 

Despite climbing the corporate ladder and making his hopes of a better life a reality, Teshome said his criminal record continues to create problems in his life, with unnecessary obstacles to employment and missed opportunities.

On Saturday, Teshome was one of several hundred people attending a clinic hosted by Expunge Colorado — a nonprofit helping those with criminal records get them sealed — with hopes of putting his convictions behind him.

“From here, it’s hopefully living the life I’ve always dreamed of,” Teshome said.

Expunge Colorado has held a clinic each year for the past five years. The organization has dozens of volunteers and attorneys to help people determine whether or not their case is eligible to be sealed. Most convictions are eligible for dismissal after up to five years. Ineligible records include domestic violence, driving under the influence, unlawful sexual behavior and child abuse.

Criminal convictions can result in being barred from housing, losing employment opportunities and combatting stigmas and stereotypes.

“They might like you,” said Jose Cruz, a Denver resident awaiting a sealed record. “But once they do the background check, they never call you back.”

Most participants at Saturday’s gathering were people of color, which Expunge Colorado Executive Director Rosalie Flores said is a result of institutional racism in the criminal justice system.

“We know that communities of color have been unjustly targeted, over-policed, underfunded, divested from and criminalized,” Flores said. “The impacts of these records affect multiple generations. It affects their children and their children's children.”

As of July 2021, the United States led the world with the highest number of incarcerated residents per capita. According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons released on Oct. 8, 38.4% of the incarcerated population is Black, despite Black people making up less than 15% of the U.S. population.

“There’s a trend,” Flores added. “It’s obvious.”

Colorado passed a bill in 2022 automatically sealing non-violent convictions for those who have completed their sentences, waited during a required period and have not committed other offenses, but the bill does not take effect until 2024, which is why Expunge Colorado is still helping community members in the interim.

“If it’s eligible to seal a record, these people can have a fresh start and move with dignity,” said Melanie Rose Rodgers, a volunteer with Expunge Colorado. “That person can get gainful employment for themselves, their children, their families and generations to come after them.”

Rodgers said the process for petitioning expungement is difficult to navigate without legal counsel, which is why the annual gathering includes attorneys to help clients determine whether or not their case is eligible for petition. If the case is ineligible, the volunteer attorneys help clients determine what other options are available.

If the case is eligible, lawyers walk those with convictions through the entire process of petitioning. 

“Due to systematic racism, the war on drugs, the war on being poor. There are so many reasons why people are arrested, and what we’re doing today is we’re providing relief so that people can move forward with their lives,” Rodgers said. “People deserve to have a fresh start.”

Many filling out petitions on Saturday felt their convictions did not reflect who they are and wanted their record sealed so they had a chance to prove their good qualities over a mistake in their past.

“It affects everything in life and is always coming back to haunt me,” said April Coahran.

Coahran was convicted of felony criminal mischief after kicking her boyfriend’s car door, causing $10,000 in damage. Coahran told the judge that she was acting in self-defense, but prosecutors argued self-defense laws only apply to people, not property, court records show. 

Since the conviction, Coahran hoped to foster an animal in her home but was denied the opportunity. She also dreams of working as a caretaker for adults with disabilities, but is worried her record could bar her from such employment. 

Still, Coahran has faith in the process and believes an expungement will give her a second chance at life.

“I’m patiently waiting to get it taken care of and turn a new page,” Cohran said. “I’m hopeful.”

Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

Related Story

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!