When an Oregon governor issues a pardon, it can send a powerful message. It can certify that a convicted felon has truly turned his or her life around.
But a pardon doesn’t necessarily mean a crime never occurred. Senate Bill 388 would direct the state to suppress the true, historical record of some felonies. The bill has passed the Senate and is in the House. It should die there.
Oregon governors don’t pardon people haphazardly. Gov. Kate Brown has issued only a few. SB 388 comes about, in part, because of a pardon Brown issued to Dondrae “Choo” Fair in 2018. When Fair was 19 in 1992, he carried out a carjacking, according to the governor’s office. He pleaded guilty to robbery in the first degree, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and theft in the first degree. He served a prison sentence and then went right back to a gang life. He was shot in 2000 when he was leaving a funeral for a friend. After that incident, Fair started to change his life.
In 2009, he began volunteering as a mentor for Community Partners Reinvestment Project for Volunteers of America. That program helps men ages 18 to 25 who are returning to the community after prison get on the right track. Fair was hired full time in 2011 and did other work to help people not make the same mistakes he made. He became so well-regarded that when he applied for a pardon, he got support for his application from the officer who arrested him and Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, whose office prosecuted him.
Fair’s attorney wanted to seal the record of his conviction after the pardon. Sealing the record means it would not show up in a criminal background check. But the attorney found there was no normal procedure in Oregon to seal a pardoned criminal’s felony record. She was actually able to get a hearing and have Fair’s record sealed. Look up Fair in the state’s online criminal database, and his felony conviction does not appear.
Having a felony show up on a background check can make finding a job or housing difficult. There is no question about that. But the solution should not be for the state through SB 388 to suppress the accurate, historical record of a crime.
Rosemary Brewer, the executive director of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center, pointed out in legislative testimony that the law should at least allow victims of crimes to be heard before the record of the harm done to them is sealed. SB 388 doesn’t even do that. The Legislature should reject it.