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Proposal would restrict on-line court records

UNDATED (WRN)  Legislation being circulated at the Capitol could drastically reduce the number of court records that appear on a popular online database. The bill from Republican lawmakers would require records to be removed from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, or CCAP, website, if someone was found not guilty, the charges were dropped, or a conviction was overturned on appeal.

Sponsors of the bill argue the change is needed to keep someone from being discriminated against because of a crime they did not commit, but Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Leuders says lawmakers are not giving the public enough credit. He believes “the vast majority of our citizens are smart enough, that when they look at the record and it says that a charge was dismissed or a person was found guilty, that they can process that information without flying into some funk where they can’t understand what they’re seeing and feel they need to discriminate against someone for no particular reason.”

Leuders argues the change would actually weaken the database by limiting the ability of the public to review important information about the court system. Leuders says every prosecutor in the state would have a 100 percent conviction rate and only including the names of guilty parties means “it’s no longer going to be useful as a resource about what our courts are doing. It’s just going to be a big scarlet letter.”

Leuders also notes that removing those records from the state’s online database would not keep that information from being available through other channels. Local court clerks would still have copies, and he says employers, landlords, and even the general public could just check court records through one of several paid services, which may not be as accurate as CCAP.

Previous efforts to limit the records available on CCAP have failed to gain much traction at the Capitol. However, Leuders notes that those bills were largely backed by Democratic lawmakers. The current version is coming from Republicans, which could increase its chances of success this spring.

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