South Carolina Navigates Sharp Disagreements Over Expungement

By Michael Klazema on 11/1/2018

A criminal conviction, even one from decades ago, can have a lasting impact on an individual's life. In most jurisdictions, convictions remain a permanent part of an offenders’ record. Only expungement can hide the records from view when an employer or other third party conducts a background check. As a result, those with convictions often continue to experience consequences and intense scrutiny long after closing the account on their societal debt. 

A recent story in the Greenville News highlighted an instance of these problems through the story of Jerry Blassingame, a local PTA president. After the school completed a routine background check for those involved with the organization, they discovered Mr Blassingame had criminal convictions from several decades ago. While nothing came of the discovery due to his subsequent clean record and history of valuable service to the PTA, it's a clear example of how even old convictions can continue to have an impact.

Mr Blassingame's case also highlights an ongoing controversy in South Carolinian politics. He received state pardons for all the crimes on his record. Advocates argue a pardon should come complete with automatic expungement to ensure it is not a pardon in name only.

These calls for action come on the heels of recent legislative efforts to expand expungement opportunities for additional types of convictions that ultimately saw the governor's veto overridden. In the wake of that fight, victims' rights advocates see the latest requests as a step too far. When the governor vetoed the new legislation, he compared the efforts to erasing history. Those who agree fear broad expungement opportunities rob the public of a right to know and prevent employers from making informed decisions. Since some with convictions have found work, they contend, the system is already working as intended.

For now, no additional legislative action is expected, though concerns about what expungement would mean for the pardon process have arisen. South Carolina pardons a high percentage of those who become eligible each year. Some officials expressed worries that including expungement with a pardon would place a greater burden of scrutiny on the process, reducing the number of individuals granted a second chance. 

Striking a balance between public safety and fair opportunities for individuals with criminal histories continues to pose a challenge for state governments nationwide. While it isn't clear what next steps South Carolina will take, recent changes represent a big shift toward long-term opportunities for criminal rehabilitation. has created an independent service, MyClearStart, with the purpose of helping individuals with criminal records assess their eligibility for expungement based on their state's laws. With MyClearStart, you can explore the next steps on the road to restoring access to fresh opportunities.

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