The Uniform Criminal Records Accuracy Act

by Brian Lewis — Friday, June 30, 2017

Uniform Law Commission Acts and Projects

Part 3

The Uniform Criminal Records Accuracy Act

Many developments concerning criminal records have occurred over the past twenty years, including the creation of the National Criminal Background Check System in 1993, the establishment of criminal history repositories in all states, and the increasing use of criminal record checks in connection with eligibility for employment, professional and occupational licenses, credit worthiness, and other non-criminal justice purposes.  Recent studies have demonstrated that criminal records accessed for these purposes may be inaccurate or incomplete.  Some of the causes of inaccuracy or incompleteness are:  lack of information on dispositions after an arrest or other charge has been entered in a database; data entry errors (resulting, e.g., in an incorrect listing of the offense, or multiple listings of the same offense, or attribution of an offense to a wrong individual); criminal identity theft (when an arrested person gives another person’s identifying information); and searches for criminal record information resulting in one person’s criminal record information appearing in search results initiated for a different individual.  In response to these concerns, raised by the American Bar Association, as well as other experts, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) approved a drafting committee that seeks to improve criminal records accuracy.

The Uniform Criminal Records Accuracy Act is in its second year of drafting.  During this process, the drafting committee has been assisted by key outside stakeholders.  The act is premised on three principles:

  1. Society at large has a vital interest in the accuracy of criminal history record information.
  2. Subjects are entitled to have the information kept about them under this [act] be accurate criminal history record information.
  3. The government has an obligation to collect, maintain, store, and disseminate accurate criminal history record information.

The draft act provides for multiple points of data collection and reporting, widely distributing responsibilities for capturing and reporting relevant information, including biometric (typically fingerprints) and disposition information.  To fully implement the multiple points of data collection strategy, the act provides that the courts are included in the definition of “contributing justice agency” which must collect and report relevant data, while also giving consideration to separation of powers concerns. As such, we provided a legislative note which gives guidance to those jurisdictions which want to exempt their courts or give their courts the option to opt out.  Additionally, the draft act proactively addresses mistaken identity by proposing the creation of a voluntary mistaken identity prevention registry that is modeled on identity theft-specific registries managed by several states and the federal government.  The registry proposed in this draft is designed to prevent mistaken arrests, confusion of one individual with another with another during criminal history record information searches, and the creation or perpetuation of inaccurate criminal history record information.  The draft act uses a check and balances approach to provide for several oversight functions, such as prescribing rules and conducting regular audits.  Moreover, the drafting committee considered the cost of implementing the draft act by focusing on increasing accuracy as economically as possible.

The uniform act will be due for final approval before the ULC commissioners at the ULC Annual Meeting next month in San Diego, California.  There the act will undergo a line by line reading and floor debate amongst the commissioners.  For more information about the Uniform Criminal Records Accuracy Act, please visit the drafting committee website at: http://uniformlaws.org/Committee.aspx?title=Criminal Records Accuracy or contact ULC Legislative Counsel, Brian Lewis, at (312) 450-6619 or via email at blewis@uniformlaws.org.

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About Brian Lewis

Brian Lewis serves as Legislative Counsel for the Uniform Law Commission, a national non-profit whose purpose is to draft state legislation in areas in which uniformity is practical and desirable. Brian works with uniform acts regarding unincorporated business entities, criminal law, and military law. Before joining the Uniform Law Commission, Brian practiced personal injury and criminal law at the Law Office of Tamela T. Walla, PA and served on U.S. Congressman G. K. Butterfield’s congressional staff as Executive Assistant and Grants Manager. Brian is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University School of Law. Brian is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and is also an active member of the American Bar Association Business Law Section and Criminal Justice Section.

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