With the Web, an acquittal doesn’t mean criminal charges are over

Criminal charges have always been part of the public record, but it used to be that finding out whether someone had ever been arrested or charged with a crime was difficult. If the charges were dropped or the person was acquitted at trial, the personal scandal would eventually blow over.

In today’s world, however, public records are very public indeed. In fact, rumors, incomplete stories and personal attacks are not only public but, with the advent of the Internet, essentially permanent. Even if you’re completely innocent of any crime and have been acquitted and exonerated, your “criminal past” may follow you forever.

A young man from Pennsylvania is learning that the hard way. At only 22, he is just about to graduate from college with a degree in business marketing. He isn’t very hopeful about his future, however, because he was accused last year of robbing a 7-Eleven store. He didn’t do it — and a jury agreed, acquitting him of the charge in February.

Nevertheless, if you put his name into a search engine — which potential employers are almost certain to do — you’ll still find his name and photo strung together with the word “robbery” in dozens of archived news stories.

“I’m concerned that I won’t get a job,” Corbett says. “How do you know people won’t think I did do it and just got a really good lawyer?”

‘I can’t expunge Google,’ points out criminal defense lawyer

When an arrest gets media attention, the name of the person arrested is often bandied about the media and blogosphere without much restraint. If the person is acquitted — even if they get a criminal record expungement to delete the false arrest from their public record — those news stories are still out there.

Many media outlets make no effort to follow up on their arrest stories to report that the person was acquitted. Even if the press does report the acquittal or outright exoneration of someone whose arrest they covered, there is little they can do to ensure the information about the acquittal comes up first in a search engine results page.

Unfortunately, the existence of that informal “arrest record” may simply put an end to a job applicant’s prospects.

Many job applications ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime. A person acquitted of criminal charges is being honest when they answer “no.” If a potential employer finds arrest information online, however, they may simply assume the applicant was lying — and reject the applicant without further ado.

An independent human resources consultant interviewed about the young man’s situation said there is hope — if the people doing the hiring rely on professional background checks or take the time to assess the situation.

“My philosophy is you’re always wise being honest,” she said. “And if they say they’re going to do a criminal background check, you should say ‘Look, if this shows up, I’ll be glad to explain it.'”

For the young Pennsylvania man, the jury verdict restored his faith in humanity during a very dark time. Now, as he enters the job market, his faith will be tested again.

Source: Bucks County Courier Times, “Acquitted, but not completely cleared,” Ben Finley, April 25, 2011