Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Plan Expunges Some Criminal Charges

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Plan Expunges Some Criminal Charges

Article excerpt

Four years ago, defense attorney Joel Sogol represented a man who was accused of rape.

His client had been going through a break-up with a girlfriend who later admitted to police that she had lied about being raped by the client.

The case went to trial, and a jury found the man not guilty. But years later, anyone who plugs the client's name into the court system's database will still see "first-degree rape" listed by his name.

Sogol said he has several former clients who were never prosecuted, who participated in a diversion program or were found not guilty of the charges against them. But the charges are still listed on their records.

"They have lifetime arrest records," he said. "These come back to them when they're applying for jobs, for housing or other situations. The more severe the offense, the bigger the problem."

Sogol supports an effort to get the Legislature to pass a bill that would allow such charges to be expunged from people's criminal records. State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, has introduced legislation every year since he took office in 2006 to do that.

Similar bills in previous years died in committee, except for one in 2008 that was pocket-vetoed by then-Gov. Bob Riley.

Legislation that could make an elected official appear to be "soft on crime" is often unpopular with lawmakers. But England feels strongly about the issue and said he will continue to pursue it.

He said that he will introduce a bill in the next session that would allow a criminal charge to be expunged only for people who were not convicted. Previous bills allowed for expungements for minor offenses and under certain other circumstances.

"There has been discussion about whether or not to expunge a conviction, and I understand that. But there should not be a question if the case was dismissed, was never prosecuted, and especially if someone was found not guilty," he said.

Alabama is one of a handful of states without a provision to allow expungements, he said.

"Most states have something," he said. "We have one that's impossible to use, but it's only used to clear up mistakes in records. I've heard of two people try to use it and they weren't successful. …

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