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The Source: The Eternal Criminal Record

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Ryan Loyd
TPR News

Update: Many listeners took issue with our guest, James Jacobs', view on both the impact of marijuana possession charges and the process of getting criminal convictions expunged in Texas. He is a national expert.  We wanted to include some local commentary from our Interim Chief Public Defender.

A misdemeanor marijuana conviction will cause your driving privileges to be suspended for 6 months, disqualify you from federally backed student loans, cause you and your family to be evicted from Section 8 (low income) housing.  Texas has no “automatic purge” of criminal convictions. You have to hire a lawyer and petition for expunction. - Richard Dulaney, Interim Chief Public Defender

65 million Americans, or 25% of the population, have a criminal record. Less than 9% of those are felony convictions. This means more than half were either a misdemeanor or just being arrested. Regardless of the disposition of the case, the incidents are public record.

The United States is one of only a few countries that believes police and court records should be available to the public. While this has been the case for decades going back to the Vietnam era, the variety of the records, the way in which they are used, and the ease at which people can access them has changed dramatically since 9/11. 

Suspected gang members, organized crime members, and suspected terrorists are all on lists of varying degree of accessibility. Erroneous findings are hard dispute. Activists say certain communities are over policed resulting in disproportionate prosecutions. There are a myriad of problems with these expansive lists, and not a lot of solutions for the people on them.

A criminal record can change the trajectory of a life for good. What value do we have for moving past a criminal act? How should society better ensure public safety but look after the rights of those with criminal records?


  • James B. Jacobs, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts, and Director of Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University. He is author of the new book (Harvard University Press 2015) "The Eternal Criminal Record."
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