Change Could Wipe Slate Clean on Some Criminal Records

Created: 02/19/2014 10:51 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Currently in Minnesota, juveniles charged as adults and people convicted of certain low-level drug crimes can have their criminal records expunged and wiped clean.

But state legislators are thinking about expanding that in an effort to give others a chance at a clean slate.

Supporters say it would help low-level offenders find both jobs and housing.

Back in 2000, Lori Alexander of Albert Lea was working as a bartender at a local bar and grill.

"I had been bartending for about two weeks, and that's when they first started doing the liquor stings, as they call them,” Alexander recalled. “And I was 'stung.'"

Alexander failed to check the ID of a minor who was working with police, and was then charged with supplying alcohol to a minor, a misdemeanor that's stuck with her ever since.

"It's just an unfortunate situation where I just happen to be paying for it years and years later,” Alexander said.

Alexander has stayed at home since the birth of her daughter Presley five years ago, but will soon be looking for a new job. She said she's worried her very minor record may hurt her chances.

"The job market is tight,” Alexander said. “If it's between me and someone who doesn't have that flaw on their record, then it's possible that they might have the edge and they might get the job over me."

Lawmakers hope to help people like Alexander, and along with expanding the number of people who qualify for expungement, lawmakers are also looking at how those records are kept by different agencies.

"A lot of times you'll have this kind of odd situation where you will have records that have been sealed by the courts, but that still show up on a background check because the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension still has them,” said David Liebow, an attorney with Restovich Braun & Associates in Rochester.

Liebow said often judges feel frustrated that the law prohibits them from helping people who pose no danger to society and simply want to put their past behind them.

Alexander said until the law is changed, she'll just have to hope potential employers don't hold her minor slip-up against her.

"I guess it'll just be a matter of the right job coming along and somebody taking a big chance on the criminal that I am,” Alexander said.

With the legislature not even in session yet, it remains to be seen just how this proposal will turn out.

But legal experts said it's something judges and lawmakers have been looking at for quite some time, adding they think a change is long overdue.