Refining open access to criminal records database proves difficultRep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, says he will rewrite his bill that restricts public access to the state's online criminal records website, following criticism of the proposal.
By: Gilman Halsted, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, says he will rewrite his bill that restricts public access to the state's online criminal records website, following criticism of the proposal.
Open records advocates say they're opposed to any effort to keep court records secret.
Goyke says he's abandoned as too costly a plan that would have created several separate websites with limited access for police and journalists.
At a committee hearing last week, Goyke said instead he'll push to create a streamlined process for people who've been found innocent to petition a judge to have that record expunged. Right now, that option is only available to people who were convicted.
“A guilty person may have their record wiped clean but an innocent person cannot, and I hope that you all can agree that this is not fair and this needs to be addressed,” Goyke said.
Also testifying at the hearing was Tracy Olkwitz, who was acquitted of a child sexual assault charge in 1993. The case still appears on the state court website with a statement in bold letters that she was found innocent of the charge. But, Olkwitz says, employers and landlords have ignored that message.
“I am on the sex offenders list. I'm on the unofficial one, the one that your neighbors used, the people you work with use, the 18-year-old kid down the road,” Olkwitz said. “And I'm stuck on there and I didn't even do it.”
But Bill Lueders, of the Freedom of Information Council, says most people who use the state's circuit court website are intelligent enough to understand the disclaimer that identifies who was convicted and who wasn't.
“I think they can make rational judgments. They can see a website that says this person is presumed innocent and they can understand what that means,” Leuders said. “They don't need the information to be taken away so that they behave.”
Still, the director of state courts is backing the plan that would make it easier for people who were not convicted to have their records expunged.