Records Expungement Isn’t Really Expunged

The State of North Carolina recently introduced House Bill 863 that would bar convicted felons from running for the office of Sheriff. It seems like a no-brainer if one only reads the title. However, the fine print in the legislation mandates explicitly and clarifies that even if a conviction is expunged, the individual is still a felon. Why? Because the Governor has not pardoned the felony.

A pardon is a government decision to allow a person to be absolved of guilt for an alleged crime or other legal offense, as if the act never occurred. The pardon may be granted before or after conviction for the crime, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction.

Okay. That seems fair right? Perhaps. However, I would argue that if a conviction has been expunged, then shouldn’t that also indicate that the criminal record is no longer valid? I only bring up this particular issue because if Second Chance laws are passed around the nation to expunge criminal convictions does that imply that criminal records are indeed expunged? According to the North Carolina General Assembly that answer may be a short “no” and a concern for the validity of Second Chance laws across this nation.

A very real distinction exists between an expungement and a pardon. When an expungement is granted, the person whose record is expunged may, for most purposes, treat the event as if it never occurred. A pardon (also called “executive clemency”) does not “erase” the event; rather, it constitutes forgiveness.

A particular question to be addressed is, “why is it the business of the legislature to determine who can or cannot be elected as a citizen?” It isn’t as if the people of North Carolina suddenly rose up in protest to voice a person shouldn’t be able to become Sheriff. After all, the office and duty of Sheriff is an elected position by the people. It is highly unlikely in a YouTube and Twitter world that the most skilled reporter or journalist wouldn’t vet any person seeking a political office. However, the more profound concern is that such laws creeping into policy will eventually make anyone ever convicted of a crime, even if it is erased, unable to seek political office. It seems like a law for the elite rather than for the will of the people.

On July 1, 2010, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 1307 that allowed the voters to decide on an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution (N.C. Const. art. VII, § 2). This amendment was passed by the voters in November 2010, officially amending the North Carolina Constitution (Attachment 1). Until this amendment, there was no constitutional provision prohibiting a convicted felon from being elected or appointed sheriff. This amendment prohibits anyone that has been convicted of a felony from serving as sheriff, which applies to both a sheriff elected or appointed. Also, the individual does not have to be convicted of the felony in North Carolina, rather any conviction, anywhere qualifies.

Personally, I am concerned about the passing of this bill. On the one hand, we have our constitution that allows people to govern and seems to have been working for hundreds of years. On the other hand, we are beginning to micromanage, who is constitutionally protected and applicable for a position that has been around for centuries. Legislatures should be in the business of fixing government for the people rather than breaking it. It appears that the unnecessary micro details are easier to perform than the macro duties we elected them to settle in the first place.

In the common law legal system, an expungement proceeding is a type of lawsuit in which a first time offender of a prior criminal conviction seeks that the records of that earlier process be sealed, making the records unavailable through the state or Federal repositories

Congress Does Not Forgive

Many tow the party line over redemption or values.

Regardless of your personal political compass watching the congressional appearance of Michael Cohen may present a valuable argument that when it comes to politics and justice there are many that tow the party line over redemption. This isn’t to suggest that Mr. Cohen is a saint or to shift the blame towards anyone else. Instead, the testimony appeared to become an issue to continually beat a person while he was down. Additionally, it provided a change of evidence opporunity towards the opposition. 

I couldn’t help be reminded of how those either found guilty by the courts or exiting the prison system are viewed by either lawmakers or the public eye.  I think we all collectively witnessed how a piece of new evidence or perspective could overturn or change an outcome typically used against the accused. For example, if an individual convicted of a sex crime had new evidence that could turn an issue, there will ultimately be others that habitually lay claim towards absolute guilt rather than trying to understand or apply new evidence. Perhaps people are stubborn enough to still think the earth is flat because they want to exercise methods to go against the grain to prove a political point.

There is plenty of data and evidence suggesting that prosecutors, defendants, investigators, and even juries have tainted viewpoints. These groups attempt to look beyond personal or political issue in discovery between truths or evidence because they have an agenda to tow a particular line. Credibility, while a formidable part of justice has its flawed issues too. But it is when distrusted or those convicted capable of providing facts, data, and a path towards redemption are consistently met with opposition to be silenced and unheard. It begs to question, when is credibility restored or allowed to reenter as a moving forward moment? If we wonder why society won’t become involved in remedy towards complex situations is perhaps because there are those in power to exclude others based on guilt or association. Proof that christians claim to be forgiving, but sometimes have another agenda at hand.

Witnessing the Cohen testimony I felt as if the whole process was a grandstanding moment for everyone involved. Similar to the behaviors of courtrooms across America where distraction, finger pointing, and perhaps the best tears win the sympathy of living room juries. I am afraid that justice as we once knew it has somewhat disappeared and replaced with theatrics, showmanship, outrageous theory, and a politizied pursuit of maintaining a win not for democracy but for a particular side. I would argue that the side we should choose is for the pursuit of honesty, understanding, and compassion so that society can move forward becoming moral and ethical people where mistakes, misdeeds, and forgiveness can be reintroduced in what was once considered a neighborly and virtuous society. 

One thing I did learn from the Cohen testimony is that justice is indeed a politicized moment than an integrity moment with each side representing its base instead of attempts to discover and understand the truth.

People Are People

There is a time in our lives where meeting someone we may be attracted to leads to some somewhat embarrassing moments. That particular moment is when you approach someone at a bar or social setting and ask them out only to learn that they are gay or lesbian. Immediately the apologies and blushed faces are apparent where the brain exclaims, “I wish there were labels to identify who is who?”  Our obsession with labels or our own personal gaydar has become slightly problematic that when someone hears pansexual, gender non-binary or aromantic. It becomes a lesson defining moment sometimes leaving us more confused than educated. Even for the LGBT community, such labels create a learning moment. At least LGBT members embrace most anything thrown at them to learn and assimilate. It is a shame that same quality isn’t shared in the heterosexual community as a whole.

But when labels transfer away from sexual identity towards registered offenders, those on parole, individuals with criminal records, or just everyday humanity, then the labels become forms of weapons with mass destruction appeal. Often we hear of the stereotypical and somewhat sexist, racist or name-calling tone of “Tyrone, that black dude that looks like he was just released from prison” or “Chris, the guy that looks like a molester.”  There is no basis as to why people enjoy appalling and unpleasant descriptive values when attempting to describe one another. But such sarcasm spills over without defense from humanity to uncomfortably laugh at such descriptors. It is slightly similar to how Nazi’s attempted to label Jewish citizens by nose size, eye and hair color, or particular skull features. It was all hocus-pocus noise however people actually believed it – and some supremacists still do today.  Perhaps our obsession to label is a convenience? Somewhat like unofficial nicknames were given as a child that stuck with us. However, if someone has a criminal record, is a registered offender, or is a member of the LGBT community shouldn’t be the sole basis to stigmatize or label individuals. Doing so is not only wrong and hurtful but is nothing more than adult versions of bullying. The past is the past, but adults should learn to act like responsible adults.

I don’t introduce my friend Martin as, “this is my black friend Martin.” Instead, I introduce as “this is Martin.”   I don’t say, “this is my dike friend Carol.” Instead, I say, “this is Carol.” If an individual wants to learn more about them instead it is an LGBT or perhaps rumor that need put to rest, there are times and appropriate places to continue that conversation as long as it is respectful and allows open dialog.

Recently there was a discussion about how to label registered sex offenders.  This was perhaps a thorny issue to tackle. However, I strongly feel and suggest that all forms of labels that diminish the humanity value offer more harm than good. I suggested, “this is Steve” followed by “someone affected by the registry.” That way the conversation can begin if Steve is a registered offender or if Steve has a family member on the registry. But we will constantly learn that ill winded people will suggest “Steve, that dude that looks like a creeper.”  We see the postings and hear the noise all the time yet do very little to advocate or redirect improved language. Comedy is one thing if you are a skillful comedian. However, there is nothing funny about the misuse of labels and how it stigmatizes others.

Gender may create a bit of an issue for many trying desperately to become politically correct. First of all, there is no political correctness in the LGBT world. It is learned as you go because diversity knows no limits. The term mister goes a long way but can be interpreted as differences between LGBT members. However, straight men shouldn’t begin throwing the enthusiastic term of girlfriend around unless you are sensibly fashionable, have perfect teeth, and can recite all song lyrics by Madonna. I have discovered that titles should be a doctor, professor, queen, princess, mom, dad or other obtainable and qualified appropriate titles. Sure, the LGBT community does occasionally throw the term Miss Thing around, but in a lighthearted joking manner. The LGBT community is one of the communities that embraced people of color, those affected by HIV or AIDS, the homeless, transgendered, convicted, and registered offenders. Why? Because it was those labels and human beings that were shunned and abandoned as a second-class citizen. While the heterosexual community tends to forget its cruel past, the LGBT community continually reminds its members to not forget how we got there and keep moving forward. That is the real gay agenda to allow everyone to become inclusive and break down barriers that divide us.

There was a time where there was a gay club, and a lesbian bar usually separated miles apart from one another (because gay men could figure out where to put the pool table as it would take away from the dance floor). Today, the gay clubs are united dance clubs where people of all backgrounds are free to be themselves and sometimes experience conditions they never thought would be mentally possible. You don’t turn a person gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Just as you don’t make a criminal or sexually deviant. People make mistakes and poor judgments. Pay the price and move on. There are situations no matter how brief that people experience for themselves. Labels create obscurity of learning from one another. But labels are an eerie reminder of the pink triangles during the Holocaust. Never again will LGBT members be labeled and ridiculed by policy.

The musical artist Depeche Mode wrong a song called People Are People. The lyrics are:

People are people so why should it be

You and I should get along so awfully

So we’re different colors

And we’re different creeds

And different people have different needs

It’s obvious you hate me 

Though I’ve done nothing wrong

I never even met you

So what could I have done

I can’t understand

What makes a man

Hate another man

Help me understand

These lyrics from the 1980’s describe a time where racism, religion, sexuality, and only being different created a mound of labels. Perhaps people should learn from those lyrics as to become less obsessed with labels and more driven to become assimilated into a society that embraces and accepts them for face value.

Social Media Detox

I remember a time each Sunday where the newspaper delivery would be bundled like a giant log of firewood with a rubber band at the elasticity breaking point. Within that Sunday edition was coupons, humor sections, public opinion, and segments on what is happening in our neighborhood. Reading the newspaper was perhaps a quiet moment of clarity and solitude. There wasn’t vibrating phone sounds, dings from instant messages, nor random telemarketers interrupting your homemade Sunday coffee moment. It was a quiet time of reflection and absorption of reported credibility of incredible moments.

The weekend also presented a much needed moment to reconnect with family, friends, or neighbors. There were a pen and pad usually near any telephone to write down essential engagements or events. There was a diplomatic methodology as to how to turn down an engagement offer or request. Ringing your parents for some could be a challenge because there seemed to be at least one conflicting moment during the phone conversation. However, we dealt with it and got it over with – until its reintroduction on the next telephone call.

Every home had at least one television, and people knew programming schedules because it was embedded like a stone. The evening news appeared like clockwork at 6PM, and favorite prime-time shows immediately followed. If you missed the show, then you missed it for good. There were no digital recorders or tape players. Those devices came along afterward. There was an intimate feeling around the television as if it were an extended part of the family. Political noise and rhetoric was a part of the television culture. Watching shows such as All In The Family pretty much summed up with its Archie Bunker character of how typical Americans thought. There was no real political correctness. However, there was a decent level of decorum and manners – despite opposing viewpoints.

Today our world is a mobile device that we hardly use to call family, friends or associates. Instead, we choose to text or use smart devices somewhat like a velvet rope deciding who should be allowed to pass. The use of social media seems to be used to popularity club to present an illusion that individuals are connected to an enormous amount of friends. Instead social media in its most potent form is a political spectrum gauge and an obituary identifier. You either learn from social media who like Trump or who died. Nothing more.

The newspaper slowly died because people assumed that smart devices would open opportunities to allow individuals to become more engaged with community events. A $10 a month newspaper subscription turned into an $80 a month smartphone contract, a $60 a month cable account, and $40 a month internet subscription. Yet people wonder where their money is actually going? We subscribe an additional $10 a month to watch movies and wonder why malls, grocery stores, and theaters are rapidly closing. Our weekends are usually spent sleeping in extra hours or ordering online from our favorite provider. We buy lovely homes and decorate accordingly but rarely host a party or invite friends, family, or associates over. The velvet rope has been extended to the house as well.

Our once quiet moment of absorption and tranquility is no longer tranquil. It is a world filled with noise, pings, dings, and reminder alerts as if we are engaged enough to actually take part. American culture has become an internet voting booth without any effectiveness. Our homemade coffee moment is a trek in our SUV’s to the local Starbucks to spend $5 on a cup of coffee and click away on our mobile devices avoiding eye contact as not to strike up a random conversation. Our manners have become self-reliant and self-centered.

It is true that technology and habits do change over a period of time. However, one would think that our habits would become a bit beneficial towards self and others? Society has surrounded itself with smart devices, subscription-based pleasures, and name branded waters that present an illusion that we are sipping in a café in downtown Paris. We tend to think we are living in the moment away from the chaos but are simultaneously living in nothing more than constant turmoil. While society exclaims that youth are at risk for video game obsession or addiction. We too are just as addicted because we have a desire to keep up with the Jones or not to be left behind technologically. To better understand our obsession I challenge you to not use your smart device or other smart gadgets in the house for a month. I dare you!

A lesson learned from my smart device, and social detox was that I was much happier once I turned off all the electronic distractions. My family, friends, associates, and even my cats seemed much more pleased and engaged with me around. We discussed what we read, not what we saw or heard. We become a bit more credible because we were no longer influenced by the noise or distractions. Lastly, I was able to actually smell the roses. I took notice of what was around me and struck up random conversations. I became human again! Again, I dare you to try the same.

Coincidental Trump Followers

Over a year we have rehashed and overanalyzed the Presidential election of Clinton vs. Trump to the point that the average citizen is sick, tired and wishes to move on. Additionally, there is almost a bizarre method to attempt to get into the mind of voters and dissect why they voted the way they did? What was intended to be a landslide victory for one party took a sudden turn to elect what people describe as a country critically divided and with outside election influence?

While it may be true that the nation is politically and socially divided. There may be some rather obvious reasoning as to why there are Trump supporters? I remember a time where Senator Jesse Helms would win by a landslide in a state where Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans. Yet if you asked any North Carolinian how they voted you wouldn’t hear the name Jesse Helms at all. It is a cryptic and secretive voter scheme to protect the politician that people love to hate. It is somewhat like a Trump rally. You may not know any Trump supporter but are surprised to learn of an unsuspecting individual that attended. This is how and will remain the taciturn election cycle.

But the Trump election is somewhat similar to the Helms scenario. Perhaps Trump supporters are slightly xenophobic, conventionalists, or seek strict societal controls? Trump supporters are far less inclined to care about who is not telling the truth, facts, sexual improprieties, corruption, political correctness, or free press. Sure, these descriptions follow an ethical rule, but to Trump supporters, these issues don’t put food on the table or hold much merit.

I was recently at a Target store and overheard two African American women carrying on a conversation. What made this particular conversation stand out was the two were using colorful words such as fuck, bitch, shit, motherfucker and other expletives somewhat loudly where others could hear – including children. I looked over at other patrons watching body language and facial expressions which ranged from deep glares to curled lips. As the two women walked towards the checkout, I could overhear a woman saying to another man “people like that are the reason our country has so many issues.” It was a stark and loose comment that perhaps Trump supporters may have considerable prejudiced viewpoints mixed with authoritarian aggression such as social manners and common courtesies while in public. However, I wonder what would have happened if the two African American women would have been Caucasian? Would anyone notice or express similar facial expressions? Trump supporters will argue that the ‘N’ word should never be used. Yet pop culture continues to frequently use the ‘N’ word in lyrics and conversation. It fuels the opposite as double standards amplifying a further divisional standard.

This brings me to the Trump allegations of sexual harassment and improprieties. The typical Trump supporter doesn’t give a hoot about Stormy Daniels or the list of Trump sleepovers or issues. Why? Because most Trump or conservatives firmly believe consent between two people is just that. It is the attitude that private matters between two parties are none of our business.  Basically, you can claim to be a virgin one moment but cannot declare a mulligan to reclaim your virginity. It is not up to public inspection. The average conservative politician may voice concern about a sex allegation but usually finds the words, “the victim shouldn’t have allowed herself to become vulnerable” or something closely related to that effect. Conservatives and Trump followers think that sex crimes belong in one category where overwhelming evidence demonstrates the classical rape sequence. Anything beyond that is he said – she said story. Social justice warriors are attempting to change that by challenging judges that don’t rule the way they deem necessary and fair. But time will ultimately tell when Trump styled judges eventually find their way to the bench to dismiss or overturn based on evidence or conditions.

As for facts, free press, and corruption it can be argued that politicians have been violating this for eons and will continue to do so as a right of passage or interpretation. Let’s face facts that lobbyists and dollars run the nation – not politicians. American political corruption has been the core of our institution, and a catalyst for pop culture television shows ever since the introduction of the West Wing. As Americans, we love a scandal so much that the Trump administration has made a complete four-year live television series keeping scandal in news headlines. It is so compelling that we have no idea what legislation has been introduced and passed over the past year. In fact, we can barely name any of the Trump cabinets – unless they are under investigation.

A reason the country is divided may be because of how we have separated the dialog. Our advocates are the press with questions not of the typical American individual – but representing particularly social justice or trending feeds. The average American is not glued to Facebook, Twitter, or other social justice sites. Americans are fighting legal battles, high-interest rates, watching Family Guy, and just barely above water avoiding any mention on social media as it may be the result of not having a job. In contrast, the Trump supporter is engaged with any tactic necessary to introduce or forward anything that appears real, truthful, and conventional. Afterall, that is what typical America seems to want no matter what the cost.

What is a landslide is how we embrace media and television to watch a scandal unfold and change right before our eyes. We are no longer concerned for the poor, homeless, wrongfully convicted, starving, needy, and the impoverished. As long as we have our reality television show filled with distractions and unfounded analysis so will the rhetoric of blended real and fake information.

%d bloggers like this: