Fast forward nearly 50 years. Eggers, a Vietnam Vet, has been working for the past seven years in a $29,795/year customer service job for Wells Fargo in Des Moines, Iowa. Out of the blue, his bosses at Wells Fargo inform him that he’s been fired because of the fake-dime conviction on his record.
Eggers’ employment was terminated as a result of new FDIC regulations which forbid banking institutions to employ anyone convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, breach of trust or money laundering. The laws were created as an attempt to combat mid-level and executive fraud in the wake of the devastating 2008 financial crisis. Members of the media and public have expressed outrage that thousands of low-level bank workers with minor arrests have been fired since the regulations were enacted. As a result of Eggers’ public campaign, he received a fast-tracked waiver from the FDIC to return to work at Wells Fargo. He refused to return, however, until Wells Fargo agrees to make changes to its background check process.
Although Eggers’ case has been highly publicized, there are countless other individuals across the country who are being denied employment due to increasingly used and increasingly stringent background checks. In addition to the banking industry, employers in many other fields (such as public schools and hospitals) are bound by law to conduct background checks. Many other private-sector companies choose to screen applicants with criminal records as a simple filter in a competitive job market. For ex-offenders who now live crime-free, productive lives, the imposing presence of background checks can seem like a permanent roadblock between them and their future success. However, that roadblock can be removed if a person is eligible under guidelines in his state to clear his record through an expungement, sealing or a Govenor’s pardon.
In Iowa, where Eggers lives, most adult criminal convictions are not eligible to be expunged from a person’s record. The only exceptions are for certain alcohol-related offenses, such as public intoxication, or for deferred judgments. The only option for all other offenses is to request a Governor’s pardon. However, in Iowa a pardon is only a state-sanctioned forgiveness for a crime; it does not carry with it a right to expunge the case from the petitioner’s criminal record. The mark remains on the ex-offender’s record forever.
Alternatively, if Eggers’s crime had occurred in Illinois, he would have the option to petition the Governor for executive clemency (pardon) which, if granted, would carry with it a right to expunge. Eggers would be a very good candidate for a pardon: this is the only case on his record and he has spent the following 50 years as a law-abiding, responsible citizen. The pardon petitioners I represent often have similar backgrounds. They made a mistake in their youth, but have since had many years without any incidents. These individuals have worked hard to rehabilitate themselves and contribute to society, yet their criminal past is keeping them from certain jobs, loans, housing, and other opportunities.
It’s also possible that if Eggers’s crime had occurred in Illinois and it was a misdeameanor, he would be eligible to seal the crime from his record (depending on the specific facts of his case, which I have not reviewed). When a record is sealed, it is closed off from the public, but is not physically destroyed as when it is expunged. Nonetheless, it is a simpler and faster process than requesting a Governor’s pardon. It’s possible that a sealing would be sufficient for Eggers’s situation.