Second Chance for Nonviolent Offenders

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas (PRWEB) March 31, 2009

A recent study of the records of 14,000 people who used a 2003 law to have their criminal records sealed offered several surprises to criminal justice experts, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Approximately 10 percent of the Texas offenders were charged with new crimes, according to the Department of Public Safety data the Morning News obtained.

Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton called the 2003 seal law an enormous success. He said it enables offenders to get a second chance.

“In the age of the Internet, where accusations cling on people the same way the scarlet letter did 300 years ago, these nondisclosures are really, really significant,” said Hampton, chair of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s legislative committee.

The law allows certain offenders to ask a court to order law enforcement agencies to keep criminal offenses under wraps. Those convicted of violent or dangerous offenses are not eligible.

Sen. Royce West, the law’s author, said in the past background checks scared potential employers and landlords away from an offender “even if he’s kept his nose clean.”

Under the seal law, “law enforcement still has the right to look under that seal,” said West, who is a former prosecutor.

According to the Morning News, West believes the law helps nonviolent offenders get jobs and housing without endangering the public. “It’s sound public policy to give people a second chance,” he said.

Not everyone is pleased, however. Told of the 10 percent rate of repeat offenders, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said, “Wow, that’s a pretty high level of recidivism.”


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