Criminal records should remain permanent

The Albuquerque Journal

Every few years, it seems, there is a move in the Legislature to get various criminal records expunged.

In 2007, it was sold as a way to protect victims of identity theft who were wrongly arrested.

In fact it went much further, allowing for the removal of any reference to a misdemeanor or felony arrest from public documents if the defendant was acquitted, the charges were dropped, or he/she entered a pre-prosecution program.

Then-Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed it.

In 2009 it was sold as a way to protect individuals from being branded criminals for life for the mistakes of youthful impulsiveness or passion.

In fact it went much further, with the original version wiping the slate clean for people convicted of drunken driving or some violent felonies, and the final version not providing a public notation there had even been an expungement.

That was particularly worrying to employers doing background checks on potential hires for jobs in child care and nursing homes.

Richardson again vetoed it.

In 2012 it was sold as a way to help people move on from petty crimes committed years earlier and to keep false accusations from tarnishing the reputations of the wrongfully accused.

Again it went much further, allowing felony charges — including domestic violence — to be deleted from public view if there was no conviction.

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it last week.

Even the most forgiving members of society know innocence is not the only reason a case is dismissed; if it were, the term “beat the rap” would not be ingrained in our lexicon.

Likewise many misdemeanor convictions start out as felony charges. Ex-offenders can petition for pardon or clemency to clear their names. And while a revision to the status quo may be warranted, in no way shape or form should a criminal record magically and completely disappear.

After all, records are supposed to be records.

Going this far, as the Legislature has done three times now, removes the public’s ability to fully examine a candidate’s past, impedes prospective employers’ ability to do thorough criminal background checks, and invalidates victims’ personal experiences with a state-sanctioned revision of history.

That leaves the public in the dark — and at risk.

Thankfully, Martinez and Richardson — who don’t agree on a lot — realized that.