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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

1,500 criminals with sealed records rearrested

About 1,500 convicted criminals who were given a fresh start by getting their court records shielded were arrested again over the past two years, according to a newspaper analysis of state records.

That's around 11 percent of the number of first-time nonviolent convicts granted deferred ajudication under a 2003 sealed records law, The Dallas Morning News reported in Monday's editions. Under the law, the records are sealed from most employers, apartment managers and those not in law enforcement as long as they stayed out of trouble.

"It's sound public policy to give people a second chance," said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the law's author.

At West's request, the Department of Public Safety tracked the behavior of those who invoked the law to determine whether the program was working. The Dallas Morning News obtained the statistics under a state public information law.

DPS reported that of 14,116 offenders granted the "nondisclosure order," 1,544 were charged with new crimes in 2006 and 2007. About 250 of those new crimes were violent, including six murders or manslaughters and 100 family member assaults.

"Wow, that's a pretty high level of recidivism for a category that the Legislature was claiming were rehabilitated and not a danger to society anymore," said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. "I'm surprised that there are so many violent crimes."

But Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney applauded the program, noting that the vast majority of offenders avoided rearrest in the first year or two after they're freed.

"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, who heads the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association's legislative committee. [Mark Godsey]

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