Will Your Criminal Charges become Public Knowledge?
Interviewer: Now one thing that obviously your clients are very concerned with is how public their situation’s going to be. Will their employer find out and their friends and family? How private is a situation like this prior to even a conviction?
Before the Advent of the Internet, the Discovery of Criminal Charges Required a Trip to the Courthouse
Paul: That is a really emerging area of concern for all of us. Certainly the fact or the record of an arrest or a charge is a matter of public record. But before the days of the Internet, someone would need to have reason to suspect or believe that a friend or a neighbor or a co-worker was in trouble. Then that person would have to physically go down to the courthouse in the jurisdiction where the case was pending in order to look at the court file or the record of proceedings.
I think that the physical requirements of yester-year to go down and physically review the file gave many people a great deal of privacy that they no longer enjoy. Certainly the record is open public record, but there just weren’t many people physically marching down to the courthouse to snoop through it. Now that all these public records are available online, the event and the details of these cases are unfortunately available and there is very little that counsel can do to prevent that.
Currently, Most Public Records Including the Filing of Criminal Charges Are Available Online
Even after filing a formal petition in order for actual expungement from the court record, we find that a lot of these private information sources online have already incorporated information from the case or the mug shot or the charging photo on their website.
Even after a Criminal Record Has Been Expunged, Certain Companies Retain the Record on Their Website
It’s very difficult to get the information pulled from private websites even after you’ve formally had the information closed from the court’s side. I do think that public access to these criminal records is an area that’s very up in the air right now, and an area of legitimate concern for people.
Information about Criminal Charges Can Be Published Online Even Prior to a Verdict
Interviewer: Can these companies publish information about an individual before a conviction? It doesn’t have to be that they’re necessarily proven guilty. They can just take whatever information’s available on the case and put it on their websites and so forth.
Paul: That is absolutely correct. It’s very disconcerting. There’s no doubt about that.
Because the Information Is Considered Public Record, It Is Almost Impossible to Have It Removed Once Published Online
Interviewer: Then it’s a matter of basically the attorney, I guess very difficult to go forward to get that information taken down off of those websites. That’s something that’s probably not going to happen too often.
Paul: It is extremely difficult since that information is initially deemed to be a matter of public records, public documents, and open to the general public. It’s difficult, if not impossible to think that we can remove matter of public record from the public.
Interviewer: It seems that it’s no longer you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty scenario. I would think some clients look at it like that, “Hey, I’m already online. I’m automatically going to be convicted in the public’s eye.”
Paul: Those are very legitimate concern, and one that I’m afraid no lawyer has a really great answer for.
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