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High-profile case highlights police access to arrest records

Missouri is reportedly one of 25 American states to share a common attribute concerning a singular criminal law topic.

That is this, as noted in a recent national media piece: Police officers across the state have easy access to “dismissed or otherwise sealed records” that they can use to target select individuals in criminal investigations.

Specifically, they can scan information from databases and other sources relevant to prior cases that were either dismissed by prosecutors or did not yield convictions. The nonprofit journalism group Marshall Project stresses that continued access to such files enables them to investigate people “based on criminal histories that shouldn’t even exist.”

Half of all states have laws that require expunging or sealing arrest records not ultimately linked with convictions. A recent national report reveals that Missouri and 24 other states are not among them. The Marshall Report notes that cops in those states can “profile you based on past allegations that no judge or jury ever found you guilty of.”

That is a big deal, obviously, and a matter that is currently spotlighted in a lawsuit against New York City and its police department. The litigation is reportedly the first such suit to ever be filed in the country. It is understandably being followed closely by criminal justice authorities and commentators nationally.

Reform proponents voice hopes that individuals elsewhere will follow the lead of the New York plaintiffs (the case could ultimately secure class action status) and push for greater clamps on arrest records in their states.

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