'The stigma of a criminal record' Conviction voided: Judge's action spurs anger, raises questions about justice vs. mercy.

February 07, 1997

PLENTY OF people convicted of crimes later come to understand the full meaning of "the stigma of a criminal record" that a Baltimore County man had erased by Circuit Judge Thomas C. Bollinger. Many of them serve their time in prison, paying their debt to society and, upon release, find that no matter how much they regret their crimes, society is slow to forgive. Ask any ex-prisoner who tries to convince an employer that he is worthy of holding a job.

Consider the case of Charles E. Weiner, who had been convicted of battering the head of his estranged wife into a tile floor. Mr. Weiner, like many other first-time offenders, took advantage of a common procedure in requesting removal of a conviction from his record. In exchange, he will have two additional years of probation which, as Judge Bollinger noted, gives authorities a longer period in which to monitor his behavior.

The procedure Mr. Weiner used may be commonplace, but reports of this case raise more questions about the justice system's approach to domestic violence, in part because it involves a judge who in 1994 got a rare reprimand from the judicial disabilities commission for comments insensitive to crimes against women. The Weiner case should stir more debate about whether Maryland law and some judges are too lenient in dealing with domestic violence.

Does a person who inflicts dangerous injuries on a spouse deserve a clean record? Where does society impose justice and when should it show mercy? Those are never easy questions; that's why judging is hard work. But the public has good reason to question why a man can wipe his record clean after attacking his wife so brutally.

Intimate relationships always engender passionate feelings, and

those passions can go awry in dangerous ways. When one person attacks another with potentially deadly force, regardless of the provocation, he or she is committing a serious crime for which there should be consequences -- including a social stigma.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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