History should never be deleted, especially as we’re still writing it.
That’s what a bill moving through the Alaska House of Representatives would do by removing court records for cases that have been dismissed or acquitted.
House Bill 11, sponsored by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-Fairbanks, would restrict certain criminal records from being published on the Internet. HB11 would remove information on dismissed or acquitted cases from Courtview, the searchable Alaska Court System database, in cases where charges were dismissed or acquitted.
A similar piece of legislation reached former Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk in 2014. Fortunately, he vetoed it. During a past interview with the Empire, Parnell said he shot down the legislation because he believed the public had a right to know. We agreed then and still do.
The problem with HB11 is its across-the-board removal of documents. It doesn’t discriminate between when charges are dismissed because victims refuse to testify in court or when evidence was either tampered with or unlawfully obtained. In either scenario, it would be like the initial offense never happened. In essence, history would be deleted.
Those who at one point found themselves in trouble with the law will likely do backflips over HB11. The rest of us should cringe.
What HB11 threatens to eliminate are patterns of behavior. If domestic violence charges were dismissed because the victim refuses to testify — which in Alaska is far too common — then in the public’s eyes it would be as though the incident never existed. If the same suspect were to be charged with a similar crime in future years, it would appear as though it was the first offense of that nature.
We understand all too well that charges aren’t the same as verdicts, and sometimes good people are falsely accused. Those incidences tend to be the exception, not the rule. What is more likely to happen is many individuals who should have a criminal record (or a longer one, at least) will have the slate wiped clean.
Alaskans have the right to know what their neighbors, coworkers, employees, kids’ teachers and more have been accused of, not just what they were convicted of. It matters.
The Empire recently updated a past article because a gun charge against a man resulted in an appeal and acquittal over a technicality two years after the initial charges. Those records should not disappear entirely. The indictment and guilty verdict reported on at the time were accurate. The story happened to play out longer than expected. That’s not to say the man and the gun never existed.
If Wilson’s bill becomes law, we’ll be rewriting history. Sure, they’re parts of history that those involved would sooner forget, but that doesn’t mean the events never happened — or that they couldn’t happen again.
— Juneau Empire,