Saturday, February 23, 2013

New Mexico Legislature Pursues Expungement, Again

The New Mexico Senate is considering a bill that would allow certain criminal records to be expunged in cases involving identity theft or wrongful arrest. Senate Bill 294 has made it through Senate committees without opposition and is on the Senate floor agenda this week, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican.

There is one problem, Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor vetoed an identical bill last year and when asked if there was anything the legislature could do to the bill that could get her to sign it this year, she answered: “No.”

The bill would allow a person’s public criminal records to be expunged after a hearing before a district judge. The person would have to convince the judge that he or she was a victim of identity theft or wrongful arrest, or that one year has passed after a dismissal or release without conviction on any alleged misdemeanor or felony charge.

According to the New Mexican, Martinez said in her veto message last year that the bill would “fundamentally and negatively alter the New Mexico criminal justice system and place a significant impediment on the public’s and media’s right to know about information relating to convictions, arrests and other criminal proceedings.”

In the message, Martinez wrote that innocence isn’t the only reason someone would be charged but not convicted of a crime. “For example,” she wrote, “people who pressure or intimidate victims or witnesses into not testifying at trial are not always convicted. … Even more concerning is that it also provides for the expungement of convictions for certain crimes, including domestic violence, allowing a court to decide that the public and media no longer deserve to know about an individual’s convictions.

“Employers should not have their access to this information denied, and it would be tragic for a parent to lose their ability to inquire into the background of a potential childcare provider who, hypothetically, had been arrested three times for child abuse or been convicted previously of domestic violence.”

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