The “Tough on Crime” era that began in the ‘80s was intended to keep citizens safer by increasing spending on and devotion to stricter law enforcement and, subsequently, increasing convictions.
In 2015, state and local governments spent $181 billion1 on law enforcement endeavors. The criminal justice budget isn’t the only thing that has increased since changes in legislation. From the 1970’s to 1987, there were 7.1 million arrests, on average. From 1990 to 2017, that number shot up to 11.6 million2.
You may be wondering, “Aren’t these good statistics? Shouldn’t we want more criminals behind bars?”
What many citizens fail to realize is that most states do not require charges of juveniles to be erased from public record. Most states allow employers to deny jobs to anyone with a criminal record, regardless of how long ago it was or the individual’s work history and personal circumstances. This means that a petty shoplifting charge at age 13 or a “harmless” Minor in Possession charge as a freshman in college are subject to scrutiny.
In a study conducted by the University of South Carolina3, over 40 percent of men and 20 percent of women have been arrested at least once by the young age of 23. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of the arrests4 end in non-convictions or case dismissals. Almost a quarter of those arrested were never even formally charged.
No hard conviction equals “no harm, no foul,” right? Think again. Contrary to popular belief, a record of arrest and court appearance is still a matter of public record.
Moving out and trying to rent an apartment? Many landlords now require a full criminal background check prior to leasing. Application to higher education institutions and occupations may be denied due to a record of arrest, even for minor crimes or non-convictions.
Or maybe you’re planning to work for yourself. Most professional certificates also require a completely clean record. In some cases, a history with the law can prevent you from obtaining insurance policies or qualify you for a hefty increase your deductible payment. A brief run-in with the law could even prevent you from volunteering with organizations like Boy Scouts of America and Little League associations5. You might as well have “liability” tattooed across your forehead.
Luckily, the expungement process in South Carolina makes it possible to permanently remove records involving arrest. South Carolina’s Code of Law 22-5-930 (E)6 says “After the expungement, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is required to keep a nonpublic record of the offense and the date of expungement to ensure that no person takes advantage of the rights of this section more than once. This nonpublic record is not subject to release pursuant to Section 34-11-95, the Freedom of Information Act, or any other provision of law except to those authorized law or court officials who need to know this information in order to prevent the rights afforded by this section from being taken advantage of more than once.”
Even if word of your arrest or expungement makes its way to an employer, they are legally prohibited by the South Carolina’s Code of Law 17-22-9607 from using that information against you at any time.
The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates judgment and executes decision-making, remains underdeveloped until age 258. Adolescence and early adulthood are filled with challenging choices and temptations, and we are bound to make mistakes. It’s important we don’t let these mistakes hinder us from our potential as well-functioning benefits to our community.
For more information about your options and the expungement process, contact one of our qualified attorneys.