Legislation Assembly Democrats Craig Coughlin, Shavonda Sumter and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to help those found not guilty of charges start to rebuild their lives and reputations recently gained final legislative approval.
The bill (A-1945) now heads to the governor’s desk.
“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 his or her life and reputation, but it’s a common-sense step government can take to make it a bit easier.”
For all indictments and prosecutions by the attorney general of an individual who was later acquitted of criminal charges, the bill would require the attorney general, upon the person’s request, to remove from the attorney general’s website any press release or other published information that includes the individual’s name or inform the public on the website that the person was acquitted of the charges or that the charges were dismissed. Similarly, in the case of indictments and prosecutions by county prosecutors, the county prosecutor would be required to remove related press releases from the office’s website or inform the public that the person was acquitted or that the charges were dismissed.
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, 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.”
“Innocent parties have an absolute right to be free of the consequences reserved for criminals,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Helping those who were wrongfully accused or convicted restore their lives is just the right thing to do.”
The bill gained Assembly approval 73-2-2.