Bill aims to squash mistaken identities

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ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – More than two years ago, Albuquerque city officials promised Connor Otero that the mistake would be fixed, that an online search would no longer name him as the offender in a crime he had witnessed, not committed. Otero’s name, the officials promised, would be wiped from online court databases.

But that still hasn’t happened.

Otero isn’t the only New Mexican to be wrongly identified in online court records. And now, lawmakers hope they finally have the fix for setting the record straight online.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Belen) is expected to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would expunge criminal charges from public databases for identity theft victims who get stuck with crimes they didn’t commit. Past bills Sanchez has proposed also went a step further, calling for arrest records and convictions of criminals who have been found guilty of certain misdemeanors and felonies to disappear after some passage of time.

A draft of the 2014 version of Sanchez’s arrest records bill obtained by KRQE News 13 also contains proposals related to expunging legitimate charges.

“If you’ve done something wrong and you’ve paid your debt to society, why should you continually have to be punished along the way?” Sanchez said.

Sanchez and Sen. Antonio “Mo” Maestas (D-Albuquerque), both criminal defense attorneys, also support clearing records when people are charged with a crime but not convicted.

“Texas has expungement, Arizona has expungement. There is no mechanism in law to expunge a record off the internet,” Maestas said.

States with Expungements>>

Sanchez has tried to get an expungement bill passed several times before.

“I think probably six or eight, I can’t remember exactly how many,” he said.

The Legislature passed previous bills only to be vetoed both by former Gov. Bill Richardson and twice by Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor. She says past bills were too easy on convicted criminals.

“I, as a person in the public, should know who lives in my neighborhood or who is going to babysit my child and the person who lives there has been convicted of domestic violence,” Martinez said.

Sanchez expects the bill to fail again this year, so he has another idea. He’s thinking of trying to put the issue directly to voters through a ballot initiative.

There are mechanisms in place to limit mistaken identities in online court records. For example: some jails take fingerprints to identify a person immediately. New Mexico State Police has a pilot program that takes prints at the time of arrest.

The Governor points out that there’s already a 2009 expungement law on the books that deletes charges in certain, limited cases. But it takes time, and it’s expensive to hire a lawyer and petition a judge.

Just ask Connor Otero. He’s been living the nightmare.

“I really just asked for my record to be clear just to be reimbursed for what’s going on,” he told KRQE News 13 in November 2011.

His problems started in March of that year. Albuquerque Police officer Keith Newbill arrested a shoplifting suspect at Coronado Mall. Otero was a risk prevention officer who helped catch the guy. But the computer that generated the police report in the case added Otero’s name as the suspect instead of the witness.

“Somehow when I was printing it out, I should have caught it, it’s not whatever happened’s fault, it’s my fault,” Newbill said at the time.

Officer Newbill tried to get the shoplifting charged cleared from Otero’s record. Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy vowed she would take care of it, removing it from any searches. A judge did dismiss the charge. But a search of online court records this week still showed Otero as the offender in the old shoplifting case.

Otero was able to fulfill his dream and just became a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy, but it took some explaining about that old charge.

 

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