One of the barriers to a productive life and a successful career might not be as much of a barrier as it once was.
Criminal background checks and sometimes even simple Google searches can turn up old arrest records, which often can be all it takes for a potential employer to take a hard pass.
When minor arrests block employment opportunities, it could lead a person to stop seeking legal ways to meet their financial needs.
A 2014 law allows Alabama residents to get their past criminal records expunged, and dozens of Calhoun County residents have taken advantage of the law, according to an article by The Star’s Tim Lockette.
In some states, expungements have long been allowed for arrests that do not lead to conviction, and some of those states also allow expungements for misdemeanors even if the defendant is convicted.
Before 2014, neither was the case in Alabama. Even if a person was not convicted, even if the charges were dropped, and even if the grand jury refused to prosecute, the case would continue to show up on the person’s arrest record.
Now Alabama residents can apply to have those arrests cleared from their public records, and in Calhoun County those requests land on the desk of District Attorney Brian McVeigh, who said he’s only turned down one request for expungement since the law passed.
In 2014, there were 10 expungements in Calhoun County courts. In 2016, there were 44.
The law applies primarily to misdemeanors, and it doesn’t allow for violent crimes like rape and murder to be considered for expungement.
Most of the expungement cases are charges of prescription drug possession or theft or receiving stolen property, and are often a matter of misunderstandings, according to McVeigh.
A person charged with prescription drug possession, he said, might later be able to produce the prescription; or a person charged with theft might have kept a relative’s borrowed car for too long.
Preventing such cases from interfering with or hindering altogether a person’s ability in the future to get a job or a loan is why the expungement law was passed.
“In court, we can’t use a prior arrest that’s more than 10 years old,” McVeigh told Lockette. “If you can’t use it in court, maybe they shouldn’t have to talk about it in a job interview.”
The increasing use of the expungement law bodes well for the state of Alabama and its residents. While it’s ideal to avoid legal trouble at all costs, if someone finds themselves on the wrong side of the law for a minor offense, it’s good to know that it doesn’t have to be held against them for the rest of their lives.