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Expungement won't be automatic

Published:Tuesday | July 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

PERSONS, INCLUDING those convicted of minor ganja-related offences, will have to apply for certain convictions to be removed from their record as the country does not have the capacity to undertake expungement automatically.

The upper chamber of the Parliament last Friday passed amendment to the Criminal Records (rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, which will, among other things, allow persons convicted of smoking or other use of ganja and possession of pipes and other utensils under the Dangerous Drugs Act to receive expungement of their records.

Piloting the bill through the Senate, Justice Minister Mark Golding said the criminal records are paper-based and there is currently no searchable database that would enable the expungement of such convictions to be implemented electronically.

"Provisions is, therefore, made for these persons to apply to the Criminal Records Board for expungement without having to wait for the expiration of any period of time," Golding said.

He added: "The board is obliged to issue a direction for the expungement of the record of these convictions unless the board is satisfied that the conviction was not for one of these offences."

If passed by the House of Representatives, persons convicted of certain offences, and have been imprisoned for up to five years, could see their records wiped clear 10 years after conviction, down from a maximum of 20 years.

In addition to the move to redefine the way in which ganja is viewed, Golding said the Criminal Records (rehabilitation of Offenders) Act has been brought to Parliament to cure other problems such as the length of time persons have to wait to qualify for their records to become expunged.

Eligible offenders

The bill allows for the expungement of records for persons convicted of minor offences attracting either non-custodial sentences or custodial sentences up to three years.

Golding said it seeks, among other things, to reduce the damage that minor convictions have in their later life of the employment of and educational prospects for young people.

The bill also increases the upper limit on the terms of imprisonment for convictions eligible for expungement from three years to five years.

The bill bars persons from being eligible for expunged record if they are convicted of crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, treason, murder, and certain sexual and gun-related offences.

However, Marlene Malahoo Forte, an opposition senator, said Jamaica should come to the realisation that even people convicted of murder can be redeemed.