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Sen. Dyson: Parnell's veto undercuts Alaskans' civil liberties

Sen. Fred Dyson

This week Alaskans saw their civil liberties wrecked on the rock of “political correctness” when Gov. Parnell vetoed Senate Bill 108.  In this era of “group rights” at the expense of individual liberties, and the almost complete abandonment of our maxim of jurisprudence that we are to be considered “innocent until proven guilty,” it is still shocking to see this state administration kill the most significant civil liberties bill in a decade. Under existing law, there is no effective way for an innocent citizen to get their name off the public arrest record. Unfortunately, Parnell and his staff have not proposed any solution to this specific problem.

While Parnell has worked hard to raise the awareness of sexual abuse and domestic violence, he seems profoundly disinterested in the victimization of over 60,000 largely innocent Alaskans whose non-conviction arrest records are easily available on the Alaska Court System website's CourtView search tool. 

For the past two years I and other legislators, educators and criminal justice practitioners have been contacted by a whole class of unintended victims of our justice system -- those who have been charged, but never convicted, yet suffer from a lack of closure and privacy due to arrest records being posted online by the court system. Sadly, these persons suffer with a stigma and public shaming just as if they had been convicted.

SB 108 was crafted over a several-month period with extensive input and testimony from Parnell’s administration -- the Department of Law, the Department of Health and Social Services, and Department of Administration. I accepted all amendments offered by the administration in an effort to achieve the proper balance of protecting the privacy of persons who have never been convicted, with the need of public safety and those charged with caring for vulnerable adults and children to have access to non-conviction records.  Those amendments were: 1) extending the timeframe from 90 to 120 days for a charge/arrest record to be made confidential after acquittal or dismissal; 2) allowing only charges dismissed by the prosecuting authority to be made confidential; 3) preclude dismissals from being confidential if they were a result of a plea agreement in a separate criminal case; and 4) provide for certain authorized vulnerable persons protection personnel to have access to confidential records for public safety reasons.

I personally begged the Parnell administration to take over the leadership on this bill and use their training and experience to craft the best legislation to solve the existing trampling of civil liberties. It is, at best, disingenuous for the governor to have raised his largely spurious objections now after having ignored his opportunity to address his concerns during the legislative session.

The final piece of legislation was modest in its approach. SB 108 narrowly addressed only those individuals who had all charges in a criminal case dismissed, or were acquitted of all charges. The bill passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan 18 to 1 vote, and a 23 to 16 vote in the House, which did not have as much time to understand the bill due to the waning days of the session and press of legislation. The governor’s office did not contact my office one time since session adjournment on this bill. I believe he fundamentally does not trust our justice system, or the conclusions of our judges and citizen juries. His statement to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner explaining his veto was that a jury acquittal is based on such a high standard of evidence that it is wrong to assume someone is innocent, and inferring such persons should remain on court system website forever in the name of keeping us all safe.

Parnell seems to believe that persons charged with a criminal offense, even though acquitted or dismissed by our justice system, should have to forever wear the “scarlet letter” because of the accusation alone. God forbid this governor or anyone should be presumed guilty of everything they have been accused of.

We all know that some guilty crooks get off because of a lack of evidence and we do not want that to happen, but we must always protect our right to be considered “innocent until proven guilty.” Sadly, Parnell does not honor that precious civil liberty.

Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, has served in the Alaska Senate since 2003, and before that served three terms in the state House. 

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com