Legislation Assembly Democrats Craig Coughlin, Shavonda Sumter and Grace Spencer sponsored to help those found not guilty of charges start to rebuild their lives and reputations was advanced by an Assembly committee on Thursday.
For all indictments by the state and prosecutions by the attorney general of an individual who was later acquitted of charges, the bill (A-1945) would require the attorney general to inform the public that the charges were dismissed via, at minimum, a press release on the Office of the Attorney General’s website. Similarly, in the case of indictments and prosecutions by county prosecutors, the county prosecutor shall inform the public that charges were dismissed via, at minimum, a press release on the county prosecutor’s website.
“The American justice system is built on the rock solid foundation of innocent-until-proven guilty, but while charges can be dismissed and people acquitted, the Internet is forever,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “This requirement won’t solve every problem for a person looking to rebuild their lives and reputation, but it’s a common sense step government can take to make it a bit easier.”
Furthermore, the attorney general or the county prosecutor, whichever is appropriate, must provide a letter to every person who was indicted or prosecuted and thereafter acquitted or had charges dismissed, certifying that the person was acquitted of, or that there was a dismissal of, all charges arising from the indictment or prosecution.
“The Internet enables things to live on in perpetuity so a person who is later found to be innocent can be haunted by unsubstantiated charges forever,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This change would at least bring a modicum of closure to the innocent to help them move on and clear their name.”
“No one should be punished forever for something he or she did not do,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “This bill will help restore the presumption of innocence to which people who are not convicted of wrongdoing are entitled.”
The bill was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.