Expungement of Criminal Records Becomes a Fiction

The New York Times has an interesting article about how the electronic age has stripped the expungement of criminal records of practical effect.

Before, when courts used paper records, they were destroyed or put in a closet with an "expunged" stamp on them, making them inaccessible to third parties.

Now, courts keep electronic records and companies buy criminal records information. So even if the arrest or conviction is later expunged, the company still has the record of its existence.

Private database companies say they are diligent in updating their records to reflect the later expungement of criminal records. But lawyers, judges and experts in criminal justice say it is common for people to lose jobs and housing over information in databases that courts have ordered expunged.

One judge puts it this way:

Thomas A. Wilder, the district clerk for Tarrant County in Fort Worth, said he had received harsh criticism for refusing, on principle, to sell criminal history records in bulk.

“How the hell do I expunge anything,” Mr. Wilder asked, “if I sell tapes and disks all over the country?”

The reality is this:

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a lawyer in Miami, tells her clients that expungement is a waste of time. “To tell someone their record is gone is essentially to lie to them,” Ms. Rodriguez-Taseff said. “In an electronic age, people should understand that once they have been convicted or arrested that will never go away.”

Some people are suing. But that's a long and expensive road to travel.

Mr. Guevares, now 33, was convicted of disorderly conduct more than a decade ago. New York considers that a violation like a traffic infraction rather than a crime and bars database companies from reporting such offenses to employers.

But Acxiom, a database company, reported the disorderly conduct charges to the Tyco Healthcare Group, which had offered Mr. Guevares a job in 2004. Tyco promptly withdrew the offer, one that would have doubled Mr. Guevares’s salary, to $46,000. It based its decision, his lawsuit says, on its mistaken understanding that he had committed a misdemeanor and had lied on his application about whether he had ever been “convicted of any crime which was not expunged or sealed by a court.”

I agree with Mr. Guevares' attorney:

“They should not have been vacuuming up this information in the first place...."

< The GOP In a Nutshell | Second Poll Shows Dems May Take Back the House >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Re: Expungement of Criminal Records Becomes a Fict (none / 0) (#1)
    by Gabriel Malor on Tue Oct 17, 2006 at 01:41:02 PM EST
    There doesn't seem to be a workable solution here, except maybe a law making it easier for people like Mr. Guevares to sue database companies. Court records are a matter of public record.

    Is it possible to forbid Courts from releasing information on convicted persons which might later be expunged? Is that do-able or desirable?

    As anyone even remotely familiar with the Internet should know, there is no way to put the genie back in the bottle.

    Re: Expungement of Criminal Records (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Tue Oct 17, 2006 at 01:58:10 PM EST
    A simple solution would be to not store criminal records electronically.  It will be more of a record-keeping burden, but well worth the effort.  We are, after all, dealing with people's lives and their ability to find work and housing.

    Re: Expungement of Criminal Records (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jen M on Tue Oct 17, 2006 at 07:52:18 PM EST
    and stay off welfare? and out of jail? maybe saving the taxpayers money?

    Re: Expungement of Criminal Records Becomes a Fict (none / 0) (#3)
    by jazzcattg1 on Tue Oct 17, 2006 at 06:47:32 PM EST
    In Colorado it doesn't make any difference-as NO convictions (less juvenile) are eligible for expungement.

    Re: Expungement of Criminal Records Incomplete (none / 0) (#5)
    by JSN on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 07:38:14 AM EST
    When a person is arrested and jailed the press is provided with their name and other personal information and the list of charges. Some newspapers publish this information and if it is included in the web edition anyone with a data mining program can download it into a database.

    Some jails also post on the web their jail roster including a list of all charges.

    Expunging is appied to court and jail records but not to the material provided to the press or to paper copies distributed to others. As a matter of fact the county attorney, public defender and jail probably have unexpunged paper copies on file.

    I do not think that all copies arrest reports are expunged.

    Expunging gives the person a false sense of security.