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Remedying unfairness: Expungement's offer of a fresh start

Commentators on criminal law sometimes note the sad reality that persons arrested and convicted on criminal charges continue to pay a penalty long after they have duly served their sentences.

That penalty encompasses a number of limitations that can restrict opportunity and a fair chance for the rest of a person’s life. An arrest record and conviction can be a heavy anchor when it comes to applying for new jobs. A criminal record can rule out military service, involvement in many educational programs and the securing of a passport.

And, of course, there is an enduring stigma associated with a criminal conviction generally.

In many cases, that heavy weight continues to bear down even for persons who were one-time offenders convicted of offenses not involving violence (e.g., certain fraud charges, a DUI). Sometimes a criminal record follows a person even though he or she was never charged with a crime following arrest.

Such stories readily reveal why expungement (destroying or sealing from public scrutiny a criminal record) exists in certain cases as a legal tool that provides for a fresh start and disallows the law from perpetually punishing a person unfairly.

A recent story focusing on an expungement program in California reveals the program’s strong popularity, as well as its key importance for people who have worked hard to live exemplary lives following an adverse interaction with the criminal justice system.

Similar programs exist in many states, including Missouri, with statutory law addressing eligibility and procedural requirements.

Expungement of a criminal record is obviously a technical matter and a process that closely focuses upon the unique facts of every petition. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide further information.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, "Reformed offenders earn fresh starts," Mike Aldax, Sept. 29, 2013

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