03/31/05 — Collar color: Some crooks may get an advantage over others

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Collar color: Some crooks may get an advantage over others

If a man got caught breaking into a produce market at night to steal something to feed his hungry children, the record of his larceny would follow him forever.

On the other hand, if a well-heeled lawyer juggled the books and stole $10,000 from the trust account of an elderly widow, he could eventually make the record of his crime disappear under a bill pending in the Legislature.

The bill wouldn’t help the pathetic fellow with the hungry children, just the white-collar crook.

This bill lists several conditions under which a record could be expunged, such as 10 years of good behavior, payment of any restitution ordered by the courts, two witnesses who were willing to swear that the beneficiary of the expunging is of good character.

Still, this act, called “Expunge White-Collar Criminal Convictions,” is contemptible.

Records of court actions involving an adult should be available to anyone who is contemplating a relationship with the person, business or personal. If the crime was 10 years ago, it might not matter to the person doing the checking. But it might, and he has a right to know. The state has no business hiding the information.

Furthermore, the bill is blatantly discriminatory.

It lists about a dozen offenses for which records could be erased, including computer-related crimes, embezzlement, counterfeiting, forgery and fraud. These are mostly crimes that might be committed by a thief wearing a white collar, one who is a cut above your everyday thief stealing something for supper.

The presumption underpinning this bill is that a white-collared person is more likely than a regular guy to be able — and inclined — to reform. In truth, a person’s character can’t be judged by the color of his collar.

Published in Editorials on March 31, 2005 11:48 AM