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South Carolina Governor Blocks Bills Aimed at Clearing Selected Criminal Records

Governor's veto decision illustration

South Carolina Governor Vetoes Bills Aimed at Expunging Select Criminal Records

Decisions Blurred by Criminal Past Could Remain on Public Record

In an unexpected move, South Carolina Governor, Henry McMaster, vetoed three bills on Tuesday that were set to erase records of people convicted of certain gun, fraudulent check, and underage alcohol sales crimes. These were the only vetoes issued by the Governor out of over 130 bills passed by the General Assembly this year.

The Role of Criminal History

In his veto messages to the lawmakers, Governor McMaster inscribed, “Second chances should be freely given when individuals have made mistakes and paid their debt to society; however, criminal history, like all history, should not be erased.” McMaster, with his past experience as a federal prosecutor, advised employers to use an applicant’s criminal history in a constructive manner rather than eliminating it outright, and advocating for additional information and context when reviewing such histories.

Possibility of a Turnaround

The South Carolina General Assembly, however, has the power to overturn these vetoes. They require a two-thirds vote and will be returned to once they reconvene in June for special sessions.

Particulars of the Vetoed Bills

The first bill vetoed by the Governor was designed to enable anyone convicted of unlawful possession of a handgun before the state passed its open-carry law this year to clear their criminal record. Supporters of the bill were of the opinion that absolving people convicted before the law change, considering that it is now legal to carry a weapon openly, is a matter of justice.

However, Governor McMaster rejected this notion stating, “That distinction misses the critical point that such actions were illegal at the time they were committed,” and characterized the disobedience of law, regardless of personal beliefs about its correctness, as leading invariably to consequences.

The second vetoed bill proposed the expunging of multiple counts of check fraud, given the offender had maintained a clean slate for at least ten years.

Finally, the third bill sought to allow a clerk or server convicted for selling alcohol to an underage customer to automatically have their conviction expunged upon completion of an education program and if they avoid reoffending.

Repercussions of the Vetoes

The vetoes throw into doubt the clean slates of offenders in the aforementioned categories, leaving them potentially at a disadvantage for future employment opportunities.

While the Governor’s stance on valuing criminal history for its instructive potential offers an alternative perspective, the vetoes place a heavier burden on the individuals involved. Only time and the upcoming special assembly session will determine whether a course reversal is in the cards for these bills.


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