San Diego Local Community News

When You Expunge a Record, is it Truly Gone?
Expungements do not mean all records disappear. If you had a criminal record expunged, you might think that nobody will ever tell or find out about it. Well, that is incorrect both realistically and legally.
Right now, thousands of candidates are fighting in court over the release of details of their prior convictions. A perfect example is Alan, an IT expert who was arrested on June 2017. Alan has never been put into custody before; therefore, he was surprised when the arresting officers told him that he had missed a court hearing. He was booked and then saw the judge after five days. Later, it was discovered that the summon to show up in court, was sent to his previous address, so Alan did not receive it. Afterwards, the judge suggested expunging the criminal record.
Criminal record sealing and expungement is quickly becoming an easy and straightforward process. This is because it allows people with prior criminal records to move on and have the equality of housing and employment opportunities.
Two months after Alan’s expungement, he was surprised to find his booking details posted with several mugshots when he searched his name on Google. It was a shock to him and was not expected. However, what was more depressing was seeing his photos on the government websites. Usually, the police post information including weekly arrests into their public database. Also, the court roster permits people to look for previous inmates who have been released.
According to Alan, it was embarrassing since it’s a case that ought not to have gone that far. He immediately began contacting the police and site administrators. The police did not respond, but he was lucky to get responses from a few websites and had the criminal record removed. Nevertheless, he also realized that there are businesses that remove records at a fee.
Like millions of arrestees, Alan was horrified by his search results. Consequently, he has stopped dating and networking. He is also expecting a promotion at his place of work, but he is anxious that his company will see the criminal record online. Moreover, he is troubled about the effects of the record on his children.
In reality, Expungements do not seal criminal records; it is possible to have a court agree to seal your records, but you cannot erase the criminal record from history with the cyber age. That means that even if your record is formally expunged, it is lawful for websites and criminal justice authorities to publish records online. In most states, court records, arrest records, and mugshots are categorized as public records.
Also, it is legal to republish public information, provided the government made the info public first. Therefore, forcing websites to remove or denounce public records violates the First Amendment. For most defendants, this means even strong record sealing laws do very little to erase information that is out there.
Moreover, criminal record data in the data market is very marketable; mugshots not only drive advertising revenue but also website traffic to sites. Sometimes, mugshot websites charge takedown fees, only to republish the information on another site. Also, companies that provide teasing background check services depend on a stable flow of unreliable public criminal records. Plus these sites do not get negative responses. Typically, people are afraid of addressing their online criminal records and consequently worsen the problem.
Clean Slate Campaign and Expungement
In November 2018, The Koch Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Center for American Progress supported The Clean Slate crusade, a program that pushes to influence technology for expungement. According to the campaign, automated and data-focused processes are essential to successfully criminal record expungement. As a result, this campaign is asking states to implement strategies that automatically seal different types of convictions and arrests after a given set of time. In other words, the campaign will seal your criminal record rather than requiring you or your expungement attorney to bring a petition to the court.
The expungement process is bureaucratic. Records systems are secretive administrative network, with jails, prisons, and the police all holding different databases of defendants’ records. Additionally, the process is managed manually, which is prone to human error. The record sealing process requires a transformation that affects data specialists and software vendors managing the records.
The campaign in question is based on the concept that there is just one record. However, in reality, there is much information across private and public sources about your conviction or arrest. That means, an automated expungement process only affects databases held by your state and cannot change what is online. This puts most defendants in an awkward situation should they tell their future employer or landlord that they don’t have a criminal record.
As a result, this leads to the question of what is the essence of promising defendants the benefits of expungement, yet any person can find details of their conviction online. This goes back to how criminal record details (that are mostly maintained by courts and police) are released in the first place. Right of entry to government criminal records is vital, but unregulated disclosure of booking photos and arrest records undermine the importance of the process.
There are many ways to rectify the situation. For instance, the police and court can make it hard for data agents to hack their sites for personal criminal record data. Alternatively, states can ask criminal justice authorities to reclassify pre-conviction records. Another remedy is developing policies that control access to record information from the source.
For the campaign in question to function effectively, states should regain their control over data. This will allow defendants to manage their digital criminal history. It also enables the defendants to influence their automatic record sealing process with confidence, instead of spending months and money trying to contact police administrators and mugshot website owners.
Final Thoughts
With much being said and done, it does not mean that expungement is not still a vital process. A successful expungement can help you avoid the stigma that is attached to being convicted of certain offenses. The expungement process is complicated, and a knowledgeable attorney can be crucial in determining the success of the process. An experienced expungement attorney will not only help you navigate the legal system but can also increase the chances of removing your records from all databases.

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