In Our Opinion: Proposed expungement laws demand proper deliberation

South Carolina’s General Assembly is again mulling over establishing a system to expunge minor, non-violent crimes from public record, a notion vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley only two years ago.

Legislators’ goal is to construct a consistent legal program for clearing minor criminal records as a means of providing equal legal opportunity to those guilty of petty crimes. In essence, they want to level the playing field between the minor caught in possession who has a family that can afford a connected lawyer, and the minor caught in possession whose mistake will mar their life for an inordinately long time because they come from a less well-off family.

The proposed law might seem simple and benevolent in nature: They don’t want petty crime stunting anyone’s potential and their chance at a promising career, among other opportunities.

Clearing records, however, is a sensitive and controversial subject that is bound to have some up in arms, and representatives of victims rights groups and the state press association (of which The Daily Gamecock is a member) have already raised concerns.

Those concerned might agree that young adults don’t deserve a lifetime of continued punishment, but what if there are problems with the system? What if it still favors the rich, not the poor?
We’ll never be able to answer those questions if the records disappear quickly.

Expunging records immediately upon conviction is mildly unnerving, but consistent probationary periods of, say, a few years as a corrective measure is certainly fair. That way, young people aren’t unduly punished for a one-time mistake, and the public’s right to know is still maintained.

Thankfully, the General Assembly is looking at a committee to iron out the details and conduct the due diligence that such a reform would demand. We hope they’ll consider seriously a buffer period before expungement.

By no means should South Carolina soften up on threatening criminals, but sometimes blind justice fails to consider the proper circumstances surrounding the type of petty crime often associated with adolescence through young adulthood.

South Carolina would be wise to grant its well-meaning citizens a bona fide second chance, and this proposed system could do just that, assuming its lawmakers stay considerate of both young people’s futures and the public’s right to know.


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