Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn
“If you need a copy of a criminal record from the Sonoma County Superior Court to dispute a background check or get information on a relative’s case, you’ll be told to fill out a request form and wait a week or longer,” according to a report by The Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa, California.
The Press Democrat reported that “Court officials gave conflicting explanations for the holdup in providing criminal court documents, some calling it a result of administrative challenges caused by the pandemic and others denying the policy exists or saying it has long been this way.”
The Press Democrat reported that people who want copies of records must submit a form to the criminal clerk’s office at the Hall of Justice and “wait seven to 10 days (or more) before the records are produced. Customers can look up cases online on computers in the clerk’s office computers, but they cannot print them out.”
Defense attorneys and First Amendment say the delays are more than an inconvenience and are “hindering people’s efforts to move past convictions, obtain jobs and housing, understand their own cases or the cases of loved ones, and receive adequate legal representation,” The Press Democrat reported.
A person applying for a job or professional license is “relying on an accurate court record so they can explain why there may be some incident that comes up on a background check,” and now, “they can’t get it in time,” a Santa Rosa defense attorney explained to The Press Democrat.
“It is a freaking nightmare,” another local defense attorney told The Press Democrat. “Where in the past all you had to do is give them a case number and they charge you 25 cents (per page) and you’re done … now, being told it’ll be days and weeks, that’s absurd.”
In addition, a longtime North Bay defense attorney said some of his clients were experiencing impacts from the record delays because they needed specific information to apply for expungement, such as a man convicted of a crime decades ago who was trying to clear his record and get a new job.
However, a Court Executive Officer told The Press Democrat that a “swift course-correction in the clerk’s office expecting that criminal documents will soon — again — be available by verbal request” and that “the media and the public will see immediate improvement in access to criminal documents.”
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