The generally narrow scope of state expungement statutes provides limited opportunity to expunge a criminal record. Most state legislatures have yet to fully appreciate the debilitating effects of a criminal record on nearly all aspects of an individual’s life. Furthermore, the modern information age has created an uphill battle for any efforts to obtain criminal history privacy. Most expungement statutes currently provide forms of relief that predate recent technological advances.
The purpose of this Comment is to explore the legal framework surrounding criminal records, bringing to light necessary elements of expungement law reform. Through an examination of current expungement law, this Comment argues for a holistic approach to expungement that aims to minimize the collateral consequences of contact with the criminal justice system. Expungement law has the potential to chip away at our goliath system of mass incarceration while protecting the overlooked constitutional rights of those branded with a criminal record.
This approach calls for a rehabilitative criminal justice system, rather than one of punishment and retribution. It also requires creating reactive legislation that accounts for the current state of technology and mass digitization of information. However, a complete bar to access of criminal history is fruitless and antagonizes legitimate interests in public safety. Instead, by framing expungement as a tool to turn once-public criminal records into private data, legislatures can help prevent the dissemination of expunged records to an information-hungry public while keeping the records available to law enforcement.