Travis County’s poor performance in criminal history data reporting requirements was in the news a couple of months ago. Now, it stands to lose about 3 million dollars annually in grant money from the state if it doesn’t come into compliance.
Prosecutors are concerned about the issue because they fear that missing criminal history data could cause them to be too lenient on repeat offenders. But arrests usually ARE reported and prosecutors invariably assume that an arrest means that a person is guilty. As a result, missing criminal history data–which includes favorable case dispositions such as dismissals and acquittals, as well as convictions–is more likely to cause prosecutors to treat a person too harshly rather than too leniently.
Even when you can prove that a case was ultimately thrown out, it is often difficult if not impossible to get a prosecutor to back down from whatever position she takes based on her initial impression of a defendant’s criminal history. That fact combined with prosecutors’ tendency to presume guilt means that defendants are generally better served by case dispositions being reported right along with arrests.
It is worth noting, however, that even when a dismissal is reported on a person’s criminal history, it does not get him back to a clean slate. In other words, a criminal history that shows an arrest that resulted in a dismissal is not equivalent to a clean criminal history to a prosecutor, who is likely to assume that the dismissal resulted from a technical defect, an uncooperative victim, or the machinations of a good defense attorney. Thus, the dismissed case may still lead to a harsher punishment recommendation or even just a less flexible position during plea negotiations, which can also lead to a less favorable result. That is one of the reasons that it’s so important to pursue an expunction for eligible charges.