privacy and public records

Perhaps you’ve had a brush with the law as a juvenile, a youthful indescretion – you exercised poor judgment and maybe did a little time in the slammer for it. After having been an upstanding law-abiding citizen who doesn’t even smoke cigarettes, for so many years, you decided to have the record expunged so that you may have a squeaky clean record.

The burning question is, what if you apply for a job, but you are asked on a questionaire or verbally “have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?” You might answer “No” because afterall, your record has been expunged, meaning it’s only available to law enforcement – off limits to everyone else, but later on, your boss calls you into his office and says “You earlier answered no to that question, but upon running an employee background check we found that not to be the case. You were not being truthful.”

The problem is during the period your criminal record was public, it was captured by, or possibly sold to (and many courts do sell them), a commercial database enterprize, essentially making expungment a mute point. What used to be public record at the Clerk of The Court’s records department, but no longer is, has ended up out of their hands, and has come back years later to haunt you, so in a nutshell you’re feeling “I’m S.O.L.!” Your attorney whom you hired at great expense to have it expunged reassured you, that you would have a clean record and a fresh start. In the Internet Age, this is becoming a common problem.

This has raised many ethical questions. What is the best policy? When should public records be kept secret?

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