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Close criminal records

February 12, 2003
By: India R. Williams
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - When Steve Cook was 17, he committed a crime. He paid a fine and was informed by a judge that if he "kept his nose clean" the offense would not haunt him. He joined the Army and received a college education. 14 years later when he applied for a job, his background check notified human resources that there was an arrest on his record.

Cook testified to the Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee that he was treated with indignity and accused of lying.

"I lived up to my end of the bargain and I expect the state to live up to its end," Cook added.

Cook was testifying on a measure that would allow a judge to seal a first-time offender's criminal record if no other offenses were committeed for ten years.

The bill would seal the criminal records from the public and leave those records available to law enforcement officials. It would exclude those convicted of violent felonies, serious drug offenses and sexoffenses.

Supporters of the bill say it would provide an incentive for former criminals to go straight and stay straight.

"Let's give them a chance to wipe the slate clean and move forward," said the bill's sponsor -- Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County.

The Missouri Catholic Conference testified in support of the bill, saying that second chances for upstanding citizens speak to the concept of restorative justice which entails accountability, rehabilitation, and restoration.

"Under this bill the offender has been held accountable; he has shown efforts of improving himself and we believe if he continues to be a law-abiding citizen he should be restored to the community," said Rita Linhardt, Research Associate for the Missouri Catholic Conference.

Doug Crews, Executive Director of the Missouri Press Association expressed their opposition to the bill.

Crews said that employers want to know the past records of their employees.

When asked by Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, whether or not Crews did a background check on his employees, however, Crews said that he did not.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, asked Crews if the closing records could be seen as an incentive for past offenders to not "reoffend."

"Maybe. I don't have an answer to that," Crews responded.

Missouri's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, indicated to the committee it would not object if the bill did not remove the current state tracking system for drunk drivers.

Don Otto, the state executive director of MADD, said that the bill as it is now written. creates a loophole for drunk drives to have their records expunged even if they have committed other alcohol-related offenses.

He said the chapter believes this is an "inadvertent change" and is completely willing to work with legislators to ensure this loophole is closed.

Loudon, said he will make any necessary changes to the bill.

"Their concern is a very easy fix...I have zero tolerance for drunk driving and I will absolutely make sure that that's taken care of."