Jonathan Kraut | Erasing the Convictions from Memory

Jonathan Kraut

A Los Angeles newspaper reports that a few days ago, Tony Tyron Lee Stewart, 22, of Highland, California, was sentenced for 52 smash-and-grab robberies of cellphone stores. One would think that Stewart would receive a significant sentence that would keep him off the streets for years and years. 

But lo, while the punishment for each smash-and-grab is two to five years, Stewart received just five years in federal prison. 

This sentence accounts for the first crime but ignores the subsequent 51 robberies.  

Unless there is a miracle, Stewart will likely be back at it at age 28.  

This under-sentence is an example of how our courts, Legislature and governor respond to criminal misconduct in a way that just drives me nutty.  

It is almost like the worst possible way to address an issue is exactly how our officials go about “protecting the public.”  

Instead of removing habitual criminals from preying on the public, our elected officials and the courts invent ways to perpetuate criminal conduct and enable an endless flow of crime. 

Senate Bill 731 was just signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom at the end of September.  

This new law makes it easier for felons convicted of non-violent crimes to be eligible to become school teachers and to hold other state certification. 

In other words, SB731 removes restrictions from those convicted of felony misconduct and encourages their access of our most vulnerable and precious populations.  

“This bill would prohibit the record of a conviction for possession of specified controlled substances that is more than 5 years old and for which relief was granted from being presented to the committee or from being used to deny a credential.” 

This way, a person who has not been in trouble for about five years since the completion of a sentence is somewhat exonerated.  

To be clear, SB731 also hides non-violent offenses besides drug use to include drug trafficking, embezzlement, commercial burglary, grand theft and human trafficking. 

Hiding convictions from consideration are attempts to obscure someone’s sordid past. Fortunately, sex offenders and violent offenders are still forbidden from working in our schools. 

Essentially, this law automatically removes after five years from the public record felony non-violent convictions from the mostly worthless California Live Scan system.  

First, why is the state Live Scan system almost worthless?  

California Live Scan only checks for state convictions in California and not of any other state.  

Every felon knows he or she can just move to new state and start over with a clean record. The exception is if a private investigation agency is used to do a background check. 

Unlike Live Scan, investigation firms check records in every appropriate state, not just the one that a person happens to be in right now. 

It is estimated there are thousands of teaching positions unfilled. Ostensibly, this new law was enacted to address this looming teacher shortage and to offer “rehabilitated” offenders a second chance.  

The terrible reality is that the governor and Legislature spent our valuable taxes on finding ways to hide criminal acts and misconduct from being known. This way the public will have a less certain picture of whom to hire and whom to trust.   

This twisted line of thinking implies that if a felon has a job, he or she will suddenly become law-abiding.  

This is the same asinine philosophy applied by our officials regarding curing homelessness — that once a drug-addicted and mentally ill person is housed, he or she suddenly transforms into a productive, drug-free, competent and coherent member of society.   

The good news: SB731 has almost no impact on public safety. It is pure window dressing and a waste of 89 pages of new legislation. 

Are you wondering how many convicted felons have teaching credentials and now want to teach? Maybe we are talking about a dozen or two? Most of whom in this population could have already had their records expunged anyway after five to seven years of clean living at a cost of $85. 

To recap, SB731 automatically removes a felony conviction from public view for a wanna-be teacher who could have the same records sealed after five years of clean living by spending $85 for an expungement. 

Unfortunately, SB731 also could be applied to conceal felony convictions from those who apply for other state licenses.  

These could include caregivers for the elderly, pre-school teachers, unarmed security officers, CPAs, and possibly medical doctors.  

Lord knows we don’t need more convicted felons in these vital and most trusted roles. 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the CFO of an accredited acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.  

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