Criminals to get records erased?

By: - June 20, 2005 5:24 am

Shelby Star

Barry Smith
Star Raleigh Bureau RALEIGH — No fewer than eight different bills that would erase records of people charged with or convicted of crimes have been filed during the 2005 session of the General Assembly.

The efforts to have records erased cover a wide range of people, from those who were victims of circumstance, such as identity theft, to people who have committed white-collar crimes but have kept themselves clean since being convicted of the crime.

Opposition has arisen to some of the bills, bottling them up in House and Senate committees. Meanwhile, others appear to be advancing and could become law later this year.

“I think folks are drawing the distinction as to why you got the record in the first place,” said Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg.

Clodfelter sponsored a bill designed to protect people from identity theft. His bill contains a provision making it easier for people who had been charged with a crime as a result of having their identity stolen to get their records erased.

“If somebody is using your name, your Social Security number, your credit card, you shouldn’t have a criminal record,” Clodfelter said.

Clodfelter’s bill — along with a similar House bill — has already passed their respective chambers.

Another bill passed by the House, sponsored by Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, would let people who have been found guilty and subsequently receive a pardon of innocence have their criminal records erased.

Under this proposed change, records relating to a person’s apprehension, charge or trial would be expunged from court, police and DMV records.

The bill would also prohibit such a person from being charged with perjury or giving false information if he or she fails to acknowledge such convictions during inquiries.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has also passed the House. It allows a person charged with multiple offenses to have records expunged if the charges are dropped or the person is found not guilty.

“The fact that you’re even charged is going to hurt you in your interview for a job,” Moore said. His bill would change that.

“It should be that way,” said John Glenn, of the proposals for innocent people to get their records erased. Glenn, a retired Burlington police chief, is chairman of the N.C. Criminal Justice Education Training and Standards Commission.

But Glenn said he has qualms with some of the other expunction bills in the General Assembly.

Rep. Alice Bordsen, D-Alamance, sponsored one he has trouble with. Her bill would allow some 16- and 17-year-olds with non-violent felonies to have their records expunged once they complete their sentence, perform community service and keep their subsequent records clean.

The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children, a child advocacy coalition, supports the bill.

“The kinds of things that we’re trying to get expunged are youthful indiscretions that just happened to be punishable as a felony,” said Brian Lewis, the organization’s executive director.

Lewis said such kids, who have proven to the courts that they have turned their lives around, should get a break, especially since North Carolina is one of three states that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to be tried as adults in the first place.

Such records hurt kids when they try to get a job and when they seek financial aid for college, he said.

Three other expunction bills have been introduced:

n Sen. David Weinstein’s, D-Robeson, would allow people convicted of white-collar crimes (such as larceny, counterfeiting, embezzlement and forgery) to have their records expunged after 10 years.

n Sen. Ellie Kinnaird’s, D-Orange, would allow for less-serious, nonviolent felonies to be expunged after 10 years.

n Yet another, introduced by Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, would allow someone convicted of many felonies to seek expunction after one year, or whenever a prison or probation sentence is completed.

Glenn said his problem with such expunctions is that they would prevent police chiefs from knowing the criminal backgrounds of potential officers.

Someone who is convicted of a felony is not eligible to be a police officer, he said.

“You don’t want someone wearing a badge and putting on a uniform working out here on the streets that has committed a felony,” Glenn said.

Lewis disagrees, especially where youthful offenders are concerned.

Such people have “real-world experience” and should be given a chance to rehabilitate and turn their lives around, he said.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066