In 41 states, people accused or convicted of crimes have the legal right to have their criminal records expunged, and in theory that means that all traces of their encounters with the justice system will disappear. But commercial databases are fast undoing the societal bargain of expungement, one that used to give people who had committed minor crimes a clean slate, reports the New York Times.
Expungement is becoming hard to accomplish in the electronic age. Records once held only in paper by law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections departments are now routinely digitized and sold to the private sector. Some commercial databases now contain more than 100 million criminal records. Expunged records often turn up in criminal background checks by employers and landlords. Private database companies say they are diligent in updating their records to reflect expungements. But lawyers, judges and experts say evidence indicates otherwise.