For obivious reasons, Utah law requires that a record be kept of people arrested for or convicted of a crime Unfortunately, the computerized system isn't working.
If judges, or police or government agencies about to hire someone want to know if a person has a criminal record, the chances are only about 50-50 that the information is available, even if the person has been convicted. And for any cases originating in the past two years, there is no information at all.This disastrous state of affairs was disclosed this week in a report issued by State Auditor Tom L. Allen after a study of the state Criminal History File kept by the state Bureau of Criminal Identification.
As the audit bluntly says, the file is not a complete history of criminal information and users should not rely on it for such information.
Any system that gives incomplete or inaccurate information is in many ways, almost worse than no system at all. For example, what happens if the system tells a school district that a prospective teacher has no criminal record - when he actuall does - and that person is hired and subsequently commits another crime? The legal liability could be staggering.
The Criminal Histroy File is supposed to reflect the arrest of a person (1) through fingerprinting and booking at jails, and (2) the disposition of the case through the courts.
Unfortunately, the system tends to break down in both cases. In addition, it does not include information when a person becomes involved in the judicial system through a sumons without being booked in jail. Neither does it account for cases where a person is released without prosecution and the case never gets into court.
When a person is arrested and booked into jail, the case file is supposed to be given a CDR number - Criminal Disposition Record. When the case is handled in courts, that same CDR number is to be used. The case is then supposed to go into the Criminal History File tagged with that same number.
But the identification number is missing in some cases or is wrong. If a mistake is made and the number provided by the court system doesn't match, the court information is discarded. Information without CDR numbers also is discarded. Jail officers and court clerks often are too casual or careless about accurate transmission of such information.
The court history system has been undergoing modification the past two years and, incredibly, no provisions the Criminal History File during that time.
Further, each agency involved in putting information in the file uses its own abbreviations for law enforcement agencies and legal codes. They sometimes use the same letters for different things.
Not only is the system suprisingly incomplete, there is no clear-cut line of authority as to who is responsible for tha accuracy of this file. The BCI has no control over the information.
Clearly, the entire system needs an urgent overhaul from the ground up. The BCI says it has plans to revamp the Criminal History File during 1991. But all agencies, from police to courts to jails, must cooperate more fully in making athe information accurate and a high-priority task.
Until then, Utah's criminal files are incomplete, ineffective and a burden instead of a help.