In the age of the internet and national media, being accused of a crime can be just as damaging as being convicted of one. We have posted many times about the damages which result from wrongful convictions, but even wrongful accusations can seriously impair a person's reputation and job prospects.
Even when a person is acquitted of a crime and records are supposedly expunged, charges such as drug possession and DUI can still show up in background checks. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that 73 percent of organizations perform background checks for all new applicants.
Recently, a 22-year-old Pennsylvania man found himself facing charges of armed robbery. He was accused of robbing a 7-Eleven at knife-point and making off with $571 in cash.
Though the young man was innocent, he happened to be staying at a hotel near the robbed store. Police dogs tracked the scent of the real robber back to the same hotel, and the young man appeared to match an eyewitness's description of the robber.
The only substantial evidence linking him to the crime was that a witness picked him out of a line-up and identified him again at trial. As we have said in the past, eyewitness accounts are often very unreliable.
The jury took only one hour to decide that the young man was innocent of all charges. However, the acquittal has not restored his reputation.
The man is now ready to enter the professional workforce and he is worried that the record of charges against him will prevent employers from hiring him. The records were expunged, but they could still easily show up other places.
The man's attorney notes that "expungements are not as valuable as they were, given everyone's access to the Internet and social media."
It is unfortunate that the media and the public often lose interest in a story unless it ends in conviction. News reporters may spend lots of time convicting someone in the court of public opinion, but they may not even report a real acquittal.
All things considered, this young man was lucky. His reputation has been damaged but his freedom is intact. Still, he must likely spend the rest of his life wondering if his past will come back to haunt him.
Source: poconorecord.com, "Acquitted, but not completely cleared," Ben Finley, 25 April 2011