The Iowa legislature has voted to make it easier for those wrongly accused of crimes in Iowa to get their records cleared. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, says people would be surprised how many Iowans are going to be affected.
“Probably every day in Iowa somebody is mistakenly accused of a crime that they didn’t commit and after going through the system, sometimes spending thousands of dollars on attorneys, they’re eventually either found not guilty or the charges are dismissed,” Wolfe says. “And under current law, that case file — all the information in it, all the untrue allegations — stays on their record forever.”
The bill sets up a process for those wrongly accused of a crime to have the court records “expunged” — a legal term that means erased. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, says this will help a woman in her area who was charged with a drug crime, but police soon determined it was a case of “totally mistaken identity” and they were looking for someone else.
“Well, then, you’d think it would be over, but for her it was not over,” Steckman says. “She has a degree as a medical assistant…she goes to apply for a job and the first thing they see on her records is that she was charged with dealing in meth…She can’t get a job anywhere because of the fact she can’t get it taken off Iowa Courts Online.”
Representative Chris Hagenow, a Republican from Windsor Heights, says it’s an example of bipartisan agreement — since the bill passed both the House and Senate without a dissenting vote.
“It’s just simply the right thing to do to make sure that people’s fundamental rights are protected,” Hagenow says, “that they do not have a lingering penalty or societal black mark for a crime for which they’ve been found not guilty.”
The bill got final approval in the House Tuesday. Senators gave it a final vote today and it’s headed to the governor for his review.