Saturday, August 23, 2008

Failure to update state crime database affects employment options for the unconvicted

Texas' statewide crime database is woefully incomplete, containing no information at all about outcomes on more than 30% of cases, reports the Dallas News ("Counties fail to update cases in state crime database," Aug. 23):

The state's criminal database, riddled with holes four years ago, has just as many gaps today.

Although officials in Dallas and other poorly reporting counties promised in 2004 to do better, the Department of Public Safety says counties in the most recent assessment submitted outcomes on just 69 percent of criminal charges – the same percentage as before.

"That's astonishing. That's leaving a substantial total number of criminals unreported in the system," said John Bradley, Williamson County district attorney. "That's the biggest threat to public safety that you can imagine, particularly in a post-9/11 time when we rely on databases to protect the public."

Angie Klein, manager of the DPS criminal history records bureau, attributed the counties' lack of progress to slow resolution of many felony cases, and glitches in big urban counties, which can bring down statewide compliance rates.

"It's hard to keep trained personnel," she said.

Failure to update the database has real-world consequences because it's used for employment screenings:

The DPS database also is used to screen schoolteachers and volunteers who work with children, and caregivers for the sick and frail. Gaps can affect background checks run by employers on job applicants and landlords checking on prospective tenants. Everyone from job applicants to people trying to adopt children or buy guns can be affected, Ms. Klein said. No one knows how many Texans didn't get a job because an acquittal or dismissal wasn't in the system, she said.

An increasing number, though, are venting. A surge of complaints from people, mostly job seekers frustrated that their acquittals or charge dismissals don't appear in the database, has forced DPS to double the size of an error resolution unit, to 20 employees, Ms. Klein said.

Reading that, one is reminded of the Rothgery case considered by the US Supreme Court this Spring out of Kerr Gillespie County. Rothgery's original detention was for being a felon in possession of a handgun, but he wasn't really a felon - the crime database failed to report the updated outcome that the charge had been dropped to a misdemeanor (see the comments). And so began a years long-journey that led Mr. Rothgery all the way to SCOTUS. But it ironically could all have been avoided with better record keeping.

One notices there's no lack of enthusiasm for the system to record every arrest and initial charge - the recalcitrance comes, apparently, in updating when charges are reduced or cases are dismissed. E.g., "DPS has only half of Dallas County's "dispositions" – what happens to a charge after prosecutors and courts step in – for 2001 and 2002, and two-thirds for 2003." So while the original charges are recorded and that data routinely stored, many counties aren't updating it when case outcomes favor the defendant instead of the state. No wonder people are upset and suing when the database later wrongly accuses them and keeps them from getting a job.


Anonymous said...

The Rothgery case is against Gillespie County, not Kerr, and the original CA felony charge against Rothgery was dismissed outright -- not reduced to a misdemeanor. AM

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks for the correction; I fixed it in the text.

Anonymous said...

Texas law allows for expunction of records. When local courts sign off on expunction orders, nothing happens.

The individual attempting to get his record cleared has to hound the DPS to correct the database.

Agencies that received expunction orders routinely ignore them!

Anonymous said...

If Rothgery goes on to win a million dollars in his civil case it won't take too many more of these mistakes for the government to get the message.

Anonymous said...

Most deferred adjudication defendants also assume that their status will at least be updated at the end of their probation when the criminal case is dismissed. Instead, courts are waiting until the waiting period is completed and non-disclosure petitions are filed.

Anonymous said...

I had a delivery of methamphetine charge dismissed through deferred adjudication back in the late 1970s. My memory is quite fuzzy about all the details now but I distinctly remember being told that it wouldn't be on my record. For years I kept a copy of the judge's order of dismissal.

I didn't know there was a difference between dismissal and expungement. I never listed the incident on job applications through the years and there was never a problem until became routine to do background checks for persons in my line of work.

One day my boss called me in and pointed out that I had lied on the job application and fired me for it. I was quite shocked.

I visited the archives at the district clerk's office and was able to review and copy the entire case file, which shattered another fallacy I had been living under for decades; that criminal records are not available to the public in Texas.

An attorney told me that I could not get the record expunged without an executive pardon. This was particularly troubling at the time because I was struggling to pay child support, unemployment for even a week was a frightening thought.

I felt it was outrageous that on one had the state was demanding that I pay most of a minimum wage level income ($500) in child support while fairly ensuring no possiblity of higher income with the other.

On a side note: one of the benefits of being a Grits reader is that I learned (from Rothgery) I can own a fire arm with impunity. All these years I thought I would be subject to felon in possession of a fire arm charge because I had been given faulty information by law enforcement. Not that it matters, I have no disire to own a gun anyway. But it's good to know. Thanks Scott.

Anonymous said...

This proves a good point. The courts are not doing their jobs and DPS is not doing their job. First and foremost a Deferred Adjudication is not a conviction. And once the qualifications have been met, they should be removed from a person's file and expunged. All persons getting a DA are told this, but this is not what is being done. This does come back to hurt innocent people who in their youth or in another situation were in the wrong place at the wrong time and received a DA, the courts should be forced by the Legislators to follow the law and remove them from the DPS data screen with the order given to the person who receives the DA stating this that once the conditions are met, the case will be discharged and will not show up on their record. Well, guess what, the law is not being followed by the courts, who can gain financially by making a person pay court costs from $28.00 to $218.00 whatever the court requests and then have to pay to hire an attorney to get the case removed from their record but not expunged as the law states!!People make your Legislators do their job, the law is there, tell them to get some balls and make this happen!