Tough Justice vs Right to be Let Alone

For decades now, Texas and in particular Harris County has held the mantra “tough on crime”. Political candidates have built their foundation on being tough on crime. It even sounds good to most voters. Who doesn’t want murderers and rapists in prison? But what has it gotten us? At what cost?

No, this is not a blog about the “economic cost” of the justice system. Rather, it is the true cost: personal cost, personal harm.

Over the years as a defense attorney, I have met with many parents: parents of young children caught up in the juvenile system, parents of young adults who found themselves in a bad situation, and parents of older adults who enter the system for the first time. The reaction is always the same: why don’t they believe him? Why are they being so tough?

From outside the system, it sounds great: tough on crime means criminals in prison. But what about the first offender? Does he or she need prison or jail? Does he or she deserve a second chance? Is he or she actually innocent?

With more and more people being arrested, our children and our neighbors have “records”. These records keep them from getting into colleges, renting apartments, finding or keeping jobs.

When “deferred adjudication” was created the idea was great. Offenders would get a second chance and not have a conviction on their record if they performed community service. Add the internet and records are available at the touch of a button online. Deferred adjudication is treated by most as a conviction even though it isn’t.

This has become the real cost to us. Our society can no longer move on. A one time young offender can no longer pay his debt to society and move on. He will forever be marked in electronic records as a criminal.

Yes, there are some instances where the record is made non-public but that is a minority of the records. Even when eligible, not all know how to get it accomplished. Not all can afford to pay the fees associated with having the record made non-public.

Should we have a right to privacy from online records? That was the topic that got me thinking maybe we should. I saw an online article on the “right to be let alone” and started wondering when would we let someone move on. When? Under what circumstances? I don’t have the answer but in an age of seemingly infinite online storage, more and more records are kept.

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