Florida’s HB 86 Reveals Ignorance of Its Critics and Irrational Favoritism of the Legislature

The chorus of criticism surrounding the expungement provisions of Florida’s HB 86 reveals how little the critics understand of Florida’s existing record clearing laws. It also provides an excellent example of the how lawmakers selectively target injustice.

If enacted, HB 86 would expand Florida’s expungement law to make eligible cases that are dismissed at trial because the defendant successfully invoked a “stand your ground” defense. The critics, who have mostly been the media themselves, contend that this change would severely impede their ability to report on cases and affect how the law is applied. Those criticisms are not valid.

Allowing Expungement of Dismissed Stand Your Ground Does Not Affect Media Access

The reality is that a person who has their case dismissed at trial can already have their record concealed from the public, including the media, through Florida’s existing record sealing law (Florida Statute 943.059). So HB 86 does not adversely affect the media’s access to criminal records.

What HB 86 does is change the available remedy from record sealing to expungement. This change slightly expands the ability to conceal these records from the very few government entities that have access to sealed records.

Neither expungement nor record sealing pose a threat to the media’s ability to investigate and report. It takes about nine months to seal or expunge a case in Florida, so records would be available for almost an entire year after the case was dismissed. Expungement and record sealing do not affect non-governmental records, so all news accounts and commentary on the case would remain in public view. It should also be noted that many of these cases would remain on the books because the former defendant does not meet the many other requirements of the existing expungement and record sealing laws, or because the former defendant does not want to incur the time or hassle to expunge or seal their record.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sponsored the amendments to the law, said that the point of his bill is “… to ensure that someone who appropriately uses a Stand Your Ground defense doesn’t have their life ruined by the use of that defense.” He is absolutely correct. People who are innocent should not be subjected to the humiliation and discrimination that comes with having a criminal record.

However, the critics of HB 86 are missing the mark. The proper question about HB 86 is why only allow for expungement of cases that are dismissed at trial as a result of a stand your ground defense? Why not expand the right of expungement to other people who have had “their life ruined” after raising other valid defenses? Why not remove the other ridiculous restrictions that make Florida’s record clearing laws among the worst in the country?

Expungement laws can both advance important public policy goals and promote justice. The critics in the media should be asking Florida’s lawmakers to spend time expanding justice beyond their pet defendants.

Mathew Higbee is an attorney, founder of the national expungement law firm RecordGone.com and chairman of the Foundation for Continuing Justice.

Foundation Reaches 50,000 Members

The Foundation for Continuing Justice (FFC) is a non-profit legal foundation that provides free resources for former offenders and information about expungement laws to policymakers and the media.

Membership in the FFCJ is free and all members receive the following benefits for free:

– Expungement law updates in the states they choose
– Information about applying for a pardon in all 50 states on Pardon411.com
– Ability to post expungement related questions on RecordClearing.org where licensed attorneys provide free answers.
– Expedited updates of commercial background checks when court records are expunged – Criminal Record Clearinghouse
– Ability to post stories and comments on the RecordClearing.org blog

The Foundation provides free research and advise to media and law makers. In 2013, the FFCJ provided expert testimony to multiple legislative bodies and policy papers to dozens of lawmakers. With expungement reform finally getting more attention, 2014 looks to be a bigger year for the FFCJ.

Joining the Foundation can be done online at http://www.recordclearing.org/wp-login.php?action=register

Foundation Urges PA House Judiciary to Pass Expungement Bill SB 391

Senate Bill 391, which received unanimous support in the Senate, would provide widespread benefits to the people of Pennsylvania. Twenty-one states, including conservative states like Utah, Indiana Oklahoma and Alabama, have expanded their expungement laws within the past five years. The public policy benefits of expungement are beyond dispute.

Tens of thousands of people in Pennsylvania have had their ability to achieve their potential negatively impacted by decade-old criminal records. These people are now no more likely to offend than any other citizen, yet they are being permanently mislabeled. The result is a tremendous waste of human capital and state resources. A large percentage of these former misdemeanants are very well educated, often at taxpayer expense, and are trained to perform important services, yet they are overlooked or passed over because they are mislabeled and unnecessarily appear risky. The consequences for Pennsylvania range from a less competitive work force to increased unemployment.

Expungement is more than just about saving money and maximizing resources, it is also about encouraging rehabilitation and treating people with dignity by recognizing that people make mistakes, people change, and some people deserve forgiveness, even from the state.

SB 391 strikes the right balance between both the public safety needs that criminal records serve, and the policy objectives of rewarding former misdemeanor offenders who are able to prove their rehabilitation to a judge. The fact that so many district attorneys support SB 391 is testament to the merits of this bill.

Pennsylvania’s current expungement law, which allows for summary offenses to be expunged after 5 years, has proven incredibly successful. It is time to expand expungement to those with non-violent misdemeanors who have been law abiding for more than 7 years.

MN Expungement Bill Gets Bipartisan Support in State House

With the passing of HF 2576, Minnesotans took an important step toward statewide expungement reform. Sponsored by Rep. Carly Melin, the bill was passed by the House via 85-47 vote.

HF 2576 extends expungement rights for people who have been convicted for petty misdemeanors and managed to stay trouble-free for at least five years. In regards to people convicted of non-violent felonies, they would also be eligible for expungement if they stay conviction free for at least eight years. For juvenile cases, the bill would effectively expunge all juvenile arrest charges if the judge deems the action in the best interest of public safety.

The bipartisan efforts of Minnesota’s Expungement Working Group played an important role in getting HF 2576 ample attention. Minnesota legislators responded to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that ruled judges can only expunge court records, resulting in arrest and investigative records surfacing on background checks. In response to the court ruling, legislators have taken measures into their own hands to ensure deserving people get their second chance.

In a recent case, Minnesota man Mahlon Martin was recently fired from his job after a background check revealed erroneous information to his employer. The background check contained a misdemeanor from 1997. Even though Martin served a one year probation without jail time, the background check indicated that he had been jailed for a year which led to his current predicament. Martin’s story is one of many situations that people are facing nationwide.

Senator Bobby Joe Champion, former chair of the Expungement Working Group, will sponsor HF 2576 when the bill heads to the Senate for a vote. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is currently in the process of revising the bill where certain changes of the bill may or may not take place. Minnesotans can count on Senator Champion to continue to champion Minnesota expungement.

Additional provisions of HF 2576 include:

• Expungement could be provided for without the filing of a petition in certain cases where the prosecutor agrees to the sealing of a criminal record
• A business screening service must delete a criminal record from its database if it knows the record has been sealed, expunged or is the subject of a pardon;
• Allowing for exchange of expunged records between criminal justice agencies without a court order
• Allowing eviction records to be sealed