Retiree’s Half-Century-Old Record Is Expunged

A 1963 encounter with police was still haunting Barbara Ann Finn until this week.

Until Monday, Barbara Ann Finn’s public record said she had been arrested in 1963. The problem? No court nor prosecutor had been able to find the half-century old arrest record and explain what it was about. But it haunted her just the same. So on Monday, a Philadelphia court officially expunged the arrest from the record.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Ms. Finn, who now lives in Worcester County, Md., said in an interview earlier this year that her only contact with authorities was in 1963 when she was with a friend who started shoplifting at a Philadelphia clothing store. Police took both women into custody, she recalled, but Ms. Finn was released by a magistrate without being formally charged. She said she wasn’t contacted about the matter again.

The retiree and great-grandmother said that over the years she had undergone other background checks as a county employee and as a foster parent without any problems.

It wasn’t until Ms. Finn was applying for a part-time job as a school-cafeteria worker in the Maryland county school system when a routine check turned up the arrest record. She didn’t get the job and embarked on a yearlong quest to clear her name.

It’s stories like these, of course, that lend support to “ban the box” efforts to keep employers from questioning applicants about their criminal history. That doesn’t always seem fair to employers, who might reasonably want to know if a potential employee has been locked up for (say) stealing from previous employees.

On the other hand: An arrest in 1963 keeps a little old lady from getting a part-time lunch job in a school? Really?

The Journal reports there are now calls  to automatically seal minor, nonviolent convictions if the arrestee hasn’t been re-arrested within 10 years of conviction — and also suggestions that arrests that don’t lead to a conviction should be automatically sealed or expunged. The latter suggestion makes sense, especially in a case like Finn’s: A conviction is reasonably understood as ajudication of guilt; all an arrest means is that an officer found you suspicious one time. That’s not the kind of thing that should halt the career of a budding lunch lady a half-century later.