A bill backers say would benefit African-Americans in the criminal justice system failed to advance in a Republican-dominated panel in the Iowa House today.
The NAACP favors the bill to expunge the criminal record when charges against a defendant are dropped.
Currently online court records don’t indicate a charge was dropped. So an employer can go online and see only that a job applicant was charged with a crime.
Clinton Democrat and defense attorney Mary Wolfe says she hears from young African-Americans who had unfounded charges dismissed.
“After going to school, getting degrees,” Wolfe says, “they still have to answer why you were convicted for a felony.”
Wolfe says minorities come into contact with the law more often than whites, so it’s likely they’re more affected when charges remain in the online record.
Wolfe says it’s easy to type someone’s name into the online court system, and see whether someone has a record.
“A potential employer or a parent of a girlfriend will assume that the person was guilty of that crime,” Wolfe says.
The Iowa Newspaper Association opposes the bill. The group says it will make it harder to keep track of what charges prosecutors are dismissing and why.
The County Attorneys Association is monitoring the bill.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously. The chair of the three-member House panel says he’s taking the bill under advisement.