The head of an American Bar Association panel is defending its proposal to seal records of criminal cases that do not result in convictions, reports the Associated Press. George Washington University law Prof. Stephen Saltzburg says landlords and employers who have easy access to court files through records-checking services sometimes unfairly refuse to hire or rent to people who have not been arrested or convicted. Saltzburg, is co-chairman of the ABA Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions, said the panel spent two years looking at ways “to improve the chances of people who have criminal records getting jobs and balancing re-entry versus safety.” More than 70 million people have criminal records, the ABA said, citing Justice Department statistics.
The proposal urges governments to seal files immediately in cases of people who were arrested but never convicted or whose convictions were later set aside. O.J. Simpson, the Los Angeles police officers accused of assaulting motorist Rodney King and actor Robert Blake, acquitted of murdering his wife, are among those whose state court records would be sealed in California if the state adopted a law closing records on criminal acquittals. News media organizations as well as ABA committees on the First Amendment and the media are lobbying against the proposal. “They’re asking to dramatically rewrite the law in terms of access to public records,” said Kelli L. Sager, a Los Angeles lawyer who co-chairs an ABA First Amendment group.