The Minnesota Supreme Court appears poised to move forward with a plan to put the majority of court records online.
Currently, if you want to view a person’s criminal complaints or pending lawsuits, you have to go down to the courthouse, and you typically have to pay money to get a printout of the document. The Minnesota Supreme Court wants to move these documents online in hopes of making past criminal convictions more transparent.
The move to put criminal cases online wouldn’t be revolutionary, as many states have already made these records accessible online. One such state is Wisconsin, who has a relatively easy and extensive database of statewide circuit court cases.
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said the court will issue its decision “in due course,” but also noted the law should aspire for openness and transparency.
Not All Agree
Not surprisingly, not everyone is on board with making past convictions available online. Joshua Esmay, director of public policy and advocacy for the Council of Crime and Justice, said that the online records would make it more difficult for people to put a past mistake behind them.
“The vast majority of people make mistakes,” Esmay said. “We don’t need to know constantly about them.”
Esmay’s group runs a monthly “expungement seminar” where they teach individuals how to erase or seal evidence of past criminal convictions. He says about 40 people show up each month in an effort to erase the “collateral consequences” of the past.
“The real point is, we don’t know how it will be used,” Esmay said of the proposed online database.
That said, Esmay understands that keeping all the information hidden can be just as damaging as having it out in the open. Esmay noted that if the Minnesota Supreme Court plans to go forward with their proposal, he hopes they’ll ensure the public can get the full picture of a past incident, and not just an abbreviated record. That way prospective employers or landlords can fully understand an incident instead of making a decision based on limited information and half-truths.
It seems likely that the Minnesota Supreme Court will move forward with online court access in the near future, especially since the state has already passed the Ban the Box law, which helps protect applicants from being denied an interview because of a past conviction.
Related source: Star-Tribune