By Todd Richmond
Wisconsin court clerks must post all dismissed charges in CCAP, the committee that manages the database has decided.
Clerks in some counties have been wiping out charges dropped in plea deals from the system. The decision means database users will get the complete picture of the charges in a case from their desktops without driving to courthouses and poring through case files.
But Milwaukee County Clerk of Court John Barrett, a committee member, questioned whether listing all charges in a case would exacerbate what he called “the Scarlet Letter factor.”
“If every crazy charge is out there, are we somehow being unfair to people?” Barrett said. “Does this adversely impact individuals?”
Jean Bousquet, the database’s chief information officer, told the committee she feels the state should adopt a uniform policy and that keeping dismissed charges out of the system makes it look like officials are hiding something. She said that committee staff plans to “bury” dismissed charges by forcing a viewer to click through multiple links to get to them.
CCAP gets more than a million hits a day.
Sara Ward-Cassady, a state court advisor, wrote in a memo to Bousquet that the problem stems from the state court system’s policies on how to handle new charges in a case.
Essentially, if a district attorney files an amended charging document, clerks renumber the charges online as they appear on the new documents and erase the old charges from public view.
But prosecutors also amend charges orally. In those instances, the clerk doesn’t renumber them and the original counts are preserved.
The policies were meant to give a clearer picture of legally relevant counts, Ward-Cassady wrote.
A legislative study committee and the state Supreme Court are considering whether to remove online records of cases that are dismissed or in which a defendant is acquitted. Privacy supporters insist employers and landlords use the database to discriminate against innocent people and mean neighbors use it to gather dirt on their enemies.
But Vernon County Circuit Judge Michael Rosborough, another committee member, disputed that. He said there’s no evidence anyone hasn’t been hired because an employer looked up their criminal record on the database.
Jackson County Clerk of Courts Claudia Singleton argued that more information gives the public a better understanding of the case. She said she could envision someone calling her office demanding to know what happened to murder charges against a defendant.
Barrett finally agreed that more information is better, but said he wanted to include disclaimers on the case sites explaining why charges were amended. Bousquet asked him if he would help draft such language.
He agreed and in the end the committee voted unanimously to list all the charges.