Providence, RI, June 19, 2016 --(PR.com
)-- Rhode Island becomes the fourth state to pass #AutoErase legislation which requires that arrest records are automatically erased of innocent individuals wrongfully arrested due to mistaken identity. The bills, HB 7094, and it’s companion bill, SB2421 – "Requires the sealing and destruction of arrest records of persons wrongfully arrested," were introduced and championed by Rep. Carlos Tobon (D-Pawtucket) and Senator Juan Pichardo (D-Providence), respectively. Rhode Island joins North Carolina, Illinois and Colorado in passing a piece of criminal justice reform legislation that was born out of the wrongful arrest of Hollywood independent producer and entertainment industry executive, Charles Belk in August of 2014. #AutoErase legislation has been signed into law in North Carolina, Illinois and Colorado, and is currently pending legislation Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Innocent people in Rhode Island, as well as throughout the country, are wrongfully charged each year with a felony or misdemeanor crime because the charges were issued as the result of mistaken identity (i.e., misidentification by a witness or law enforcement, confusion on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, misinformation provided to law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, or some other mistake on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime), or because someone else used their information. Because the responsibility to remove a wrongful arrest record falls on the charged individual, he or she is burden with the expenses and time required to handle such a task. If a person does not have the erroneous arrest record removed, it can greatly affect his or her ability in the future to get a job, a loan or certain licenses. The Rhode Island legislation requires that any law enforcement agency, subsequent to the arrest of any person, that determines such person was wrongfully or incorrectly arrested as a result of mistaken identity or any other reason or wrongfully fingerprinted, photographed or otherwise has generated any record of arrest for investigatory purposes and as a result of such wrongful arrest, no charges have been filed in any court of the state, seal all such arrest records and destroy all identifying information and indices of arrest. Notwithstanding a veto by the Governor, the new law will take affect on July 1, 2016.
"If someone is wrongful arrested because law enforcement is doing their job, it’s only fair that their record is cleaned up," Representative Tobon said. "Getting a faulty arrest record erased currently is a long and costly process and many people are being harmed by simple background checks."
On August 22, 2014, Charles Belk was mistakenly identified as an armed bank robber because he fit the description of a tall, bald, Black male. He was handcuffed, detained, taken to the police station, booked, denied a phone call, denied being told his charges, denied immediate access to an attorney, jailed for six hours for Armed Bank Robbery and Accessory to Armed Robbery and held under a $100,000 bail. Although he was released later that night and given a Certificate of Detention, which indicated he was only detained and not arrested, an arrest record appeared on the Sheriff’s website and a state legal process had to be followed to get the arrest record sealed and destroyed. Since his arrest, Belk launched a nationwide effort, through the non-profit he founded (fittingthedescription.org) and his #AutoErase Initiative, to educate and inform those about the perils of wrongful arrest records, and engage legislation to alleviate the burden and costs incurred by the innocent to remove those arrest records.
"Since the wrongful arrest incident, I have seen the #AutoErase legislation introduced in 14 states, and Rhode Island was one of those state that I had the opportunity to visit on several different occasion, meeting and talking with community leaders and officials, including Providence NAACP President Jim Vincent, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, and Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King, among many others," said Charles Belk. " This is an incredible piece of legislation for the good people of the great state of Rhode Island, and I’m truly grateful for the support from the community and the state legislators."
Fitting The Description, a 501.c.3, tax exempt, non-profit organization, was established to help build awareness of wrongful detentions and arrests that occur each day because an individual "fit the description." The organization helps educate and inform others about the perils of wrongful arrests records, and advocates for alleviating the burden and costs incurred by the innocent to remove those arrest records.