Court Matters: Minor counts on criminal record can haunt for years

It seems to me that the majority of people asking to have their records expunged are young people looking for their first “real” job. Too often I find young people in court on relatively minor crimes; theft by shoplifting, underage consumption, etc. Unfortunately these young people often do not consider the long-term consequences of their behaviors. A misdemeanor charge of theft by shoplifting may be quickly resolved with a $200 fine, but it may constantly haunt them by popping up on employment background checks.

I recently had a young woman in my courtroom asking to have her criminal record expunged. She was a single mom attempting to find a higher paying job to better support her young child. She was also studying to be a nurse. She was well-dressed and well-spoken. She had applied at multiple banks and large retail stores. She was offered a job at a bank, but lost the opportunity after her criminal background check showed a misdemeanor theft charge. She had resolved that case by pleading guilty to a petty misdemeanor and paying a fine.

She was frustrated because she had been told by her attorney that a petty misdemeanor was not a crime and would not be on her criminal record. Her attorney was correct – a petty misdemeanor is not a crime and will not be on a criminal record. The problem is that the original charge of a misdemeanor theft never goes away.

A request such as this creates an interesting dilemma for a judge. On the one hand, if the crime is relatively minor and a one-time occurrence such a request might be reasonable. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they are young. On the other hand, we have all been taught from an early age that we must learn from our mistakes and deal with the consequences.

Even if I wanted to help her, which many times I do, my powers are limited. I can expunge her judicial record but I cannot expunge records kept by other governmental agencies; such as police records, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension records, prosecution records or jail records.

That may seem harsh but nowadays with the internet and technology anyone, including potential employers, can find out lots of information about you; incorrect information, outdated infor- mation, information you wish would disappear.

An expungement is an extraordinary request and rarely granted. For that reason it is important for everyone to realize that there are consequences to our behavior which go beyond a ticket or a fine.

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