Punishment without the Crime

Our criminal justice system provides each defendant the guarantee that they cannot be convicted of a crime without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime they are charged with. However, in this new information age, where court records are available publicly online, and everything from jobs to volunteering for your children’s school trip requires a background check, criminal charges, even when dismissed for lack of evidence, can still be as detrimental to a person as a conviction.

Dismissed fraud charges can easily disqualify a qualified candidate from a whole range of profitable jobs. Most times an employer will not give an applicant a chance to explain the matter. Dismissed sexual misconduct charges can also disqualify an applicant from many jobs, volunteer activities, and in some cases even access to your children’s school events. No amount of proof that you did not commit these charged crimes can overcome the jumps to conclusion made by a community or employer.

Minnesota statute provides that when a county has voluntarily dismissed all charges against a defendant, the court shall grant the expungement, unless the county or another state agency establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the interests of the public and public safety outweigh the disadvantages to the petitioner of not sealing the record. But what are the interests of the public or public safety, and when do they outweigh the disadvantages to a person? That is something the legislature and courts have never defined.

Imagine the frustration of being falsely accused of a crime, you fight, and finally the county has had to dismiss charges against you because there is insufficient evidence to convict you, or exonerating evidence proves you are not guilty. You won’t be falsely convicted of that crime, but the charges against you still remain on your record. Even then, the county or a state agency could still stop your expungement, not because they can prove you did it, but by showing that it is somehow better for the public to know of these charges. The county and state agencies are starting to use this loophole to their advantage to blacklist charged defendants even when they lack the evidence to convict them of any crime.

The most prevalent use of this appears to be sexual misconduct charges, the scarlet letter of our time. Counties are becoming more bold in opposing expungement of these dismissed charges on the claim that a vague public safety interest outweighs the black mark these innocent defendants suffer. The prosecutors now understand the charges will be used by every state and county agency, as well as numerous other people, effectively labeling the charged individual as a sex offender without ever having to prove guilt. It is an effective bypass of our constitutional right to innocent until proven guilty.

If you have been charged with crimes and had them dismissed, or if you have other questions about an expungement for other past criminal convictions, you need an advocate that will fight to clear your name and your record. Call Zajac Law Firm today to find out more about your rights.