115,000 Kiwis get slate wiped clean
At least 115,000 people have been able to put their criminal past behind them under "clean slate" legislation introduced a decade ago.
The number of Kiwis who qualify for the clean slate regime is likely much higher, the Ministry of Justice says.
The ministry's Criminal Records Unit processes about 450,000 requests a year from New Zealanders wanting to see their records.
Information released to The Press showed 115,508 people who requested a copy of their criminal history between November 2004 and June 2014 were told they "have none" because of their entitlements under the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004.
Of those, the 10 most common offences concealed include driving intoxicated, dangerous or negligent driving, obtain benefit by deception, possessing cannabis and common assault.
The number of Kiwis who qualify for the clean slate regime is likely higher, but there is no central register of people who meet the criteria.
Cathy* got behind the wheel of a car one evening in 2006, after drinking with a friend in central Christchurch, and ended up with a drink-driving conviction.
Police caught her, then aged in her 20s, on Moorhouse Ave and she was convicted in the Christchurch District Court.
"It was just one of those stupid mistakes. Part of me thinks I am glad I got caught, because the alternative is pretty nasty," she said.
More than seven years on, and now in her 30s, the teacher and mother of two may qualify for a "clean slate" under the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004.
Until now, her past has haunted her.
"Most employers do not see it as that big of a deal. It is embarrassing more than anything," she said.
Daniel Murphy, of Gore, was working as a security guard at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) in 2006 when he "uplifted" a laptop and took it home.
Murphy rang his boss a couple of days later to admit the theft, was convicted in the Christchurch District Court and lost his job.
"I just saw [the laptop] there and thought, ‘OK, I will grab it'. I felt horrible [and] pretty disgusted in myself really, because it was a good job," he said.
The 37-year-old thought he qualified for a clean slate, but last time he requested a copy of his criminal history, the conviction was still there.
"It has been really difficult to try and get other employment. [The conviction] has always come and bit me in the bum," he said.
Ministry of Justice sentencing and rehabilitation policy manager Anna Foley said the clean slate regime was designed to allow people with less serious convictions to put their past behind them.
"An eligible individual may answer a question asked of them about their criminal record by stating that they have no criminal record. Furthermore, if a criminal record check is requested it will not show any convictions," Foley said.
In some cases, individuals could apply for a clean slate through the District Court without meeting some of the eligibility criteria, for example when an offence no longer existed, she said.
In 2004, then Justice Minister Phil Goff said the clean slate regime was not "soft on crime" because the seven-year qualifying period was based on statistical evidence that showed people with minor convictions who had not re-offended after seven years were no more likely to re-offend than those without convictions.
Justice Minister Judith Collins told The Press she was satisfied the clean slate regime struck the right balance between the seriousness of offending and offering offenders a chance to move on with their lives.
*Not her real name.
AT A GLANCE
To be eligible for a "clean slate" in New Zealand, a person must have:
No convictions within the last seven years.
Never been sentenced to a custodial sentence including jail or corrective training.
Never been ordered by a court, after a criminal case, to be detained in a hospital because of a mental condition.
Never been convicted of a "specified offence" including sexual offending against children or the mentally impaired.
Paid in full any fine, reparation or costs ordered by a court in a criminal case.
Never been indefinitely disqualified from driving.
Source: Ministry of Justice