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Plan could allow innocent to have slate wiped clean

A legislative committee is working on a new law that would allow people who have been acquitted of a crime to have their court records expunged. Last year, Governor Doyle approved a change in the law allowing people to petition a judge to expunge...

A legislative committee is working on a new law that would allow people who have been acquitted of a crime to have their court records expunged.

Last year, Governor Doyle approved a change in the law allowing people to petition a judge to expunge criminal records for non-violent crimes committed before the age of 25. This year there's an effort to allow expungement of cases that ended in acquittal or where charges were dismissed.

Attorney Tim Costello represents employers when they are accused of discriminating against job applicants based on their past crimes. He says employers wouldn't oppose such a change. Costello says from an employer's perspective, if someone is acquitted or the charge is just dismissed, it's a non-event, "so if we lost that information we shouldn't have it anyway."

But anecdotal information indicates some businesses do use the state's online court records -- known as CCAP -- simply to find the applicant's name and don't bother to read further to see how the case ended. Last year, the state Employee Relations Division handled 316 complaints from people claiming they were fired or denied employment based on their past crimes. Only 67 of the cases ever went to trial. Costello says most employers use the records responsibly.

The effort to expand the ability of people to have acquittal records removed from public view faces stiff opposition from reporters and some prosecutors who say once a record is made it should remain in the public domain.

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