Chuck still pushing to widen expungement net
JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck, who has over the last three years led the thrust to have more Jamaican ex-convicts get their records wiped, says the application of a certain level of caution is the reason Parliament has not yet been approached to widen the category of offences for which convicts can receive expungement.
Expungement is having a conviction removed from one’s criminal or police record after a specific period of time has elapsed and after certain requirements have been met.
The statute which authorises the expungement of criminal records is the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, 1988. The principle underlying this provision is that a person who has made a sincere and successful attempt to be law-abiding should be given the opportunity to start afresh without being haunted by an unfortunate past.
In September last year Chuck confirmed indications, then, by two Cabinet members that the Government would be expanding the category of offences.
In providing the Jamaica Observer with an update on those efforts last Friday the justice minister said, “We are still working it out. We really would like more persons who have been convicted — and have in many ways rehabilitated because they have spent in excess of 10 years in their communities without further conviction — that they should be given the opportunity to have their sentences expunged. It is a process that I am working on.
“The truth of the matter is that I have been working on it over the last three years, and I have to be careful about which of the more serious offences are actually expungable. And that is why, even though I have made presentations to Cabinet, we have not signed off as yet on how many of these serious offences — where the parties have had fairly lengthy sentences — that their convictions should be expunged — because before I take it to Parliament, Cabinet has to sign off.”
He said while many applicants for expungement have been denied because they committed serious offences and served in excess of five years behind bars, many other applicants have shown that they are on the straight path.
“And many of them would like to get on with their lives and are begging for a second chance, and I hope that I will be able to convince the Parliament that we should widen or remove some of the restrictions in the Third Schedule,” he stated.
In May last year Chuck, in making his contribution to the 2023/24 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, said the Ministry of Justice received 2,322 applications for the expungement of criminal records in 2022. He said of that amount, the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Board approved 1,200 applications.
Updated figures provided by the Ministry to the Observer showed that for the period January 2023 to September 2023, there were 1,878 new applications for expungement of which 1, 590 were processed.
Persons who would like their records to be expunged may make an application through the Ministry of Justice, to be reviewed by the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Board.
To qualify for expungement the offence in question must be one that attracts a non-custodial sentence or sentence of imprisonment not exceeding five years.
The person in question must also not have had any other convictions during a specified period of time, referred to as the rehabilitation period.
The rehabilitation period defines the length of time a person must wait before an application can be made for the expungement of a conviction. This period varies according to the sentence imposed by the court and ranges from a minimum of three years for non-custodial sentences to a maximum of 10 years for custodial sentences. The rehabilitation period is calculated from the date of the expiration of the term of imprisonment (in the case of custodial sentences), and in other cases upon the satisfaction of the court’s sentence.
An offender cannot apply for an expungement until the relevant rehabilitation period has expired. The sentence imposed by the court will determine the rehabilitation period that must elapse.
Offences such as the import and export of narcotics, eg cocaine and marijuana; murder, rape, and some offences under the Malicious Destruction of Property Act, such as arson, cannot be expunged under the current law.