News4 I-Team

DC residents haunted by criminal backgrounds nearly impossible to clear 

The District has some of the most restrictive record-sealing policies in the country, preventing thousands from moving forward from their past. A new law that would improve that passed council but is not fully funded.

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Myron Jones has been fighting for decades to clear his name of a crime he said he didn't commit, and the News4 I-Team found there are likely thousands of others in a similar situation.

Jones owns up to a few run-ins with police in the past, including a 2010 misdemeanor assault charge in Maryland, but he says he’s worked hard to turn his life around and be a role model. But there’s one case connected to his name he can’t move on from.

"It's confusing and it's demotivating … several jobs asked me about it," Jones said.

Including when he applied to be a corrections officer in 2022. He received a denial letter after a background check that said, in part, "As result of their findings, you are not eligible for employment with this agency." Jones said it was another disappointing setback.

"Every time a background check comes, I get that feeling in my stomach type of thing," he said.

The case he thinks is impacting his career appeared on an FBI background check last summer. In order to unravel how this happened to Jones, the I-Team had to go back to Jan. 4, 1998, the night Jones first heard anything about a carjacking tied to him. It happened at a traffic stop when a D.C. police officer ran his name and — to his surprise — came back with an open warrant.

Jones said the police officer told him he was wanted for an armed carjacking.

“That really took me back, because I have never even been armed before," Jones said. 

Myron suspects the mistake was tied to his lost driver’s license and someone possibly using his name.

"So, he handcuffed me, took me to the station, and I left the station, and that was it," Jones said. 

Before he left, Jones was fingerprinted in an arrest report obtained and reviewed by the I-Team. But after that — nothing.  The I-Team found no record of a charge, hearing, trial or any disposition in the case. Just the arrest report that shows up in background checks.  

Questions surrounding accuracy of criminal histories are not as uncommon as people might think. The FBI told the I-Team last year the agency received almost 3,000 challenges to criminal histories. Almost half — 46% — were found to contain incomplete or inaccurate information.

It’s something that can drastically impact lives, said James Lee with the Identity Theft Resource Center.

"There's a whole host of financial and, just, life impacts that this can have on someone, and it is difficult to undo," Lee said. 

Lee said criminal histories not only impact jobs, but housing and insurance and can cause an emotional strain.

"My reputation is impacted. The people who love me look at me differently. All those kinds of impacts that are just as hurtful as the financial side," Lee said.

Attorney John Blake with the Neighborhood Legal Services Program said there are likely tens of thousands of people who have been arrested but weren’t charged in the District yet still carry the arrest on their records.

"If you're arrested, you weren't charged, you never got in front of a judge, it really shouldn't be a record that exists, let alone follow you around everywhere," Blake said.

Getting rid of a criminal record can be difficult and costly, especially in D.C., which as of now has some of the most restrictive record-relief laws in the nation. Blake said expungements where records are completely wiped clean are rare, leaving only “record sealing” as an option. "Sealing just means that the public can't have access to the record, but the government can still see it,” according to Blake.

But some relief could be coming after the D.C. Council passed the Second Chance Amendment Act, which was enacted last March. It would provide automatic expungements and sealing in some cases, but that isn’t expected to start until late 2027 after it’s fully funded. The law does allow for motions to be filed for relief in certain cases later this year.

The I-Team asked the D.C. Council and the mayor’s office about funding for the law. So far, $300,000 has been proposed in the budget for a record consultant with D.C. police to start the process of figuring out the best way to move ahead with this very complicated bill.  

That leaves residents like Jones wondering when a past that doesn't belong to him will ever stop affecting his future.

“I shouldn't have to explain that to professionals or anyone around this, just because they fingerprint me,” he said. “So, in my heart of hearts, I don't feel like no one cares about it. It's not a priority to nobody but me."

Reported by Tracee Wilkins, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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