Saturday, April 28, 2012

Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

In Georgia, simply having undergone an investigation once can haunt you indefinitely. This is because even if a suspect is cleared by law enforcers, his records unfortunately are not. What happens is, when he tries to go on with his life, he finds it difficult to do so, for the simple reason that this part of his past keeps surfacing in background checks by prospective employers, for example, hindering the former suspect’s ability to get a job. It can also restrict his access to housing, and even his access to the schools his children attend.
A woman named Theresa is one such example. For 13 long years, she had been haunted by the ghost of a child abuse investigation, even if she had been cleared by the police. The probe stemmed from the welts and bruises that appeared on her daughter’s body, which turned out to be an allergic reaction to antibiotics. Of her going to her daughter’s school, she says, “I used to have to call ahead and let them know I was coming. I always had to get a clearance if I wanted to participate in certain activities.” Finally, late last year, the record of her investigation was cleared from public criminal records. This was achieved with the aid of Ashley Deadwyler, a Georgia Justice Project (GJP) attorney. GJP is a non-profit advocacy group that provides criminal defense for the indigent.
Now, legislators have advanced a bill that seeks to ensure Georgians will never have to endure this kind of torment again.
GJP Executive Director Doug Ammar said many Georgians still have to undergo Theresa’s ordeal, given that the state allows district attorneys to decide whether to restrict the investigation records of suspects or not, even if there never was a resulting conviction. Ammar says, "They're the ones who often prosecute the cases. They're the ones who often lose the cases. And then they get to decide whether or not it comes off your record so that you can go on with your life.”
Republican Congressman Jay Neal sponsored a bill in the Georgia House that aims to restrict law enforcers from disclosing records of dismissed charges to employers and other non-law enforcement parties. If approved, Neal says it would remove a double standard.

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