The Herald Bulletin

March 18, 2013

Editorial: It shouldn't be so difficult to have arrest erased

— Imagine this scenario:

Police show up at your door with a warrant for your arrest on suspicion of child molestation. You are completely innocent of any such accusations, but you are charged by the county prosecutor based on the testimony of a purported witness.

During the pretrial proceedings, the “witness” is discredited and the state’s case falls apart. The case never goes to trial. As you should be, you are exonerated.

This would be a harrowing experience for any citizen. The mere leveling of such accusations casts a public stigma on the accused, a stigma that doesn’t go away even after a not-guilty verdict.

Most of us would do whatever we could to clear our good names and to further distance ourselves from suspicion related to a crime we never committed. So, naturally, you might seek to have your arrest on suspicion of the charge expunged from your record. Otherwise, in this particular case, “arrested for child molestation” would follow you for the rest of your life.

Unfortunately, you would need the best attorneys and a sympathetic judge to have any chance of getting the arrest stricken from the record.

The difficulty of erasing an arrest from the record was highlighted recently by a case involving Skip Ockomon. The Anderson firefighter wants to have his arrest on suspicion of sexual misconduct expunged. Ockomon was indicted by a grand jury, but charges were eventually dropped.

From a detached, objective point of view, you can’t blame Ockomon for asking for the arrest to be expunged. He was never found guilty, so why should the arrest stick to his record?

Well, Indiana Deputy Attorney General Henry Flores Jr. argues that an arrest can be expunged only if one of the following conditions exists: no criminal charges were filed, charges were dropped because of mistaken identity, no offense was committed or there was no probable cause.

Wait a minute: Isn’t our justice system based on the tenet of “innocent until proven guilty”? One of Flores’ criteria, that no offense was committed, seems to place the onus of proving innocence on the accused party.

Whatever you think of the Skip Ockomon case, folks who are charged but never convicted should have more recourse to have the arrest stricken from their record. Not enabling them to do so ensures that the stigma of the arrest — despite the absence of an ensuing conviction — is stamped upon their past like a scarlet letter.