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Even with many of the states offering online public access to criminal records, the idea is still a hot debate topic for Pennsylvanians. In 2004, a group of state employees has been meeting for months quietly and behind closed doors. The issue is deciding whether or not online public access to criminal records ought to be adopted to make Pennsylvania criminal court information readily available to state citizens.
The state has introduced a computerized public access case-management system and database of criminal records and criminal court information. However, this new system has no accompanying policy on public information. Now, the Public Access Ad Hoc Committee, members of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, is meeting to determine what that policy would be and how it would affect access to criminal records.
A spokesman for the AOPC indicated that it was likely that not all public information are going to be available for public access in the criminal records database. Once a policy is approved, certain public records will continue to be withheld from an online database of criminal court information and criminal records.
In December of the year prior to that, the AOPC let out what is intended to become a statewide database of criminal court information and criminal records available for public access. However, installation of the system was halted when 20 of the state’s 60 judicial districts denied approval of its use in March. The denial was spurred on after users, ranging from judges to docketing clerks, filed several thousand complaints about the system. As of last month, the help line of the AOPC had received more than 13,000 individual calls about the Common Pleas Case Management System.
The system set off at a rocky start and court officials are ready to admit this. Throughout the process, public access criminal records were on a tight rein. Information identifying specific criminal defendants and convicts has been tightly restricted. For instance, information like a convicted criminal’s age and street address – details that help to distinguish between two people with the same name – are not included in the online public access criminal records database. This is only one of the minor flaws that many a critic has pointed out about the system.
Today, the system now includes public access to address and date of birth in criminal records. However, access is only limited to judges, probation officers, and other court employees. Some critics maintain that online public access to criminal records is of questionable worth. They say that it could lead to confusion about an individual’s identity as records are not complete, thus leading to several false negatives. A person who has never been charged with an offense may be depicted as having an arrest or conviction record due to the fact somebody with the same name has one.
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