Reduced charge more harmful than original?
An earlier post highlighted the dilemma that some young Wisconsin defendants face because of the narrow scope of the law on sealing conviction records. The court can seal the record of certain convictions, but the record of dismissed charges remains accessible to the public in a searchable online database. Therefore, the dismissal can increase the potential for prospective employers to learn of an applicant’s legal troubles.
Now the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has held that the court may not seal the record of a non-criminal violation. Kenosha County v. Frett, 2014AP6 (Wis. Ct. App. Nov. 19, 2014). The appellate court reviewed the statutory language and concluded that references to 1) the maximum term of imprisonment for sealable offenses; 2) “completion of the sentence”; and 3) “certificate of discharge” from the “detaining or probationary authority” showed that the procedure applies only to criminal convictions.
For a young woman cited in 2012 in Kenosha County for underage drinking, now a college student in New York, the decision means that the record of her conviction for the amended charge of littering remains publicly accessible. If she had been convicted of drug possession or fraud she might have been able to close the book on this episode.
Although the Frett case did not involve the reduction of criminal charges, the decision means that some defendants might prefer to have a sealed criminal conviction than to have a public record of a reduced, non-criminal charge (the public record of the reduced charge also shows the original charges).
The Frett decision may be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and policymakers are considering statutory amendments to expand judicial authority to seal records. For now, however, non-criminal dispositions and dismissals are publicly accessible in situations in which some criminal convictions can be sealed.
- Divided Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to extend Padilla to other serious consequences - June 10, 2016
- Wisconsin court rules for non-citizen years after her plea - March 3, 2016
- Wisconsin considering redacting youthful dismissed charges - July 4, 2015
- Professional careers jeopardized by old charges - May 20, 2015
- Is suspension of driving privileges an effective way to collect unpaid fines? - April 21, 2015
- Wisconsin attorneys volunteer to help students facing expulsion - March 3, 2015
- Wisconsin high court holds youthful offenders entitled to “a fresh start” - December 19, 2014
- Reduced charge more harmful than original? - November 24, 2014
- Dismissed charges not always the best outcome? - November 13, 2014