A criminal conviction carries a stigma in Iowa and elsewhere throughout this country. While jail and prison sentences are the primary punishment for these convictions, anyone convicted of a criminal charge may wear a virtual scarlet letter that may mark them long after their sentence has been completed and they have reentered society.
But the “scarlet letter” of a criminal conviction is not the only potential harm caused by the criminal justice system. The mere charging of a crime also carries a stigma, and many people will remain prejudiced against those whose charges have been dismissed. While the prosecutors may have determined that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, many in the public will believe they must have been guilty.
The police are not infallible, and make far more mistakes in their investigations than are ever recognized. A Iowa Senate bill that would permit those with dismissed charges to obtain an expungement, which eliminates the record of the charge is the only way to remove the cloud that hangs over a person with a dismissal.
For someone to lose out on a job or promotion because of unfair and false assumptions created by a dismissed charge is inherently unfair. In the U.S., the presumption is supposed to be of innocence, not guilt.
While the after effects of an acquittal in a criminal trial are bad enough, in that situation, the prosecutor at least believed they had a case with sufficient evidence. In a dismissal, the prosecution itself recognizes that there is not enough evidence to bring a case to trial.
For those individuals, expungement represents one way they can reclaim their identity and not be trapped in the Kafkaesque world of trying explain dismissed charges or worse, never even being asked the question, because they have already been excluded from consideration.
Desmoinesregister.com, “Editorial ignores real-world impact of dismissed criminal charges,” State Rep. Mary Wolfe, April 24, 2015