If you are a Colorado reader perhaps looking for a Latin term deeply relevant to criminal law to highlight your day, here is your can’t-beat-this entry: res judicata.
Granted, it’s a mouthful, and hardly a phrase that dominates daily conversation. Its meaning cuts to the heart of justice, though, and centers directly on notions of criminal sentencing, justice and second chances for individuals accused of wrongdoing.
Res judicata refers to a thing decided and deemed final. In the legal realm, it underscores that, once a claim is settled, it cannot be revisited. What that means for a criminal defendant is that “a matter cannot be raised again, either in the same court or in a different court.”
The importance of that is obvious, right? Imagine what life might be like absent sentencing finality. A defendant once adjudged could be tried again and again.
Actually, that happens repeatedly in American life to persons tried once for alleged wrongdoing and seeking thereafter to reintegrate back into their communities and live productive lives. Despite the expectation that their criminal matter will never again be raised in a court, it in fact is: They are perpetually judged and continuously punished in the court of public opinion.
How some Colorado residents are denied a fresh start
Imagine that you’re an individual who has duly complied with all criminal sentencing requirements and are told that you’re now free to get on with your life.
You try to secure housing, but prospective landlords repeatedly toss your rental application. You give your best shot in job interviews, but someone else always gets the employment offer. You apply for a bank loan, but to no avail. A number of potentially attractive educational/training opportunities seem to dissolve whenever you pursue them.
What’s going on?
The answer is likely obvious. You are continuing to be judged on alleged prior misconduct. And that persists despite your due compliance with all sentencing mandates and the promise that you are again able to live life unfettered by repercussions tied to a past scrape with the law.
Why criminal record expungement is so important
Many Coloradans and legions of other Americans have duly completed sentencing requirements linked with criminal activity of a nonviolent petty nature. They made a mistake and paid for it. They don’t want to be forever judged and punished for the rest of their lives, nor should they be.
Select individuals who committed crimes are eligible to apply for expungement. An in-depth Colorado legal piece on expungement notes that it “is a process enabling applicants who secure its benefits to realize fair outcomes following criminal sentencing completion.”
Expungement allows for the sealing/erasure of a past criminal record, which materially promotes a meaningful second chance for offenders deemed eligible to apply for it.
As stated, the expungement process cannot automatically be invoked. Moreover, and despite recent liberalization, it continues to be complex and replete with requirements that must be precisely tracked and adhered to. An experienced criminal defense legal team can answer questions and help a client negotiate its mandates and secure its benefits.