While the laws in 41 states allow those accused or convicted of crimes to have their criminal records expunged, that right is being challenged by the proliferation of large commercial databases. Records that were once only available only to law enforcement agencies, courts, and corrections departments are now being digitized and sold in bulk to the private sector.
The trouble is that these databases are not always updated when someone’s criminal record is expunged, so those arrests or convictions can still show up in criminal background checks requested by employers or landlords. While these database companies claim that they are careful about updating records to reflect expungements, lawyers and other legal experts say that people do lose housing or jobs because of information that should have not expunged and was not.
In fact, a few lawsuits have illuminated this problem. One suit filed in federal court in 2006 involved a 33-year-old man who was convicted of disorderly conduct ten years prior and had a job offer rescinded because of misinformation in his background check.