Today’s guest post was written by Tali Wendrow. She and her husband Julian, the parents of an autistic daughter, were put through a legal ordeal unlike anything you’ve likely ever heard of. In her essay, Tali contrasts their own experience with the favorable treatment that Alan Gocha, Jr. recently received when Gov. Rick Snyder issued a rare pardon for Gocha, expunging his record of his drunk driving arrest in 2007.
The Wendrows won a court case last fall but, as she describes, the case is still under appeal. In the meantime, they are treated as criminals while Gocha, a man who admittedly endangered others by his actions, is heralded by Gov. Snyder as someone who deserves a second chance.
Here is Tali’s essay.
Alan Gocha, Jr. applied for pardon from his 2007 drunk driving conviction because, in part, it interfered with “international travel.” My family can totally relate to what it’s like to have your ability to freely travel impeded by the government, but we’re not likely to be granted a pardon.
When Mr. Gocha, Jr., one of 11 people Governor Rick Snyder pardoned during his tenure as Governor, was stopped for drunk driving on December 21, 2007, my husband, Julian, was in jail for a non-existent crime while I remained on house arrest with a tether for which I had to pay. I stopped putting money in my son’s college fund in order to pay that $365.00/month tether fee. Oh, and for good measure, December 21, 2007 was our 21st wedding anniversary. We had planned to take a family vacation to South Africa, where my husband grew up, in order to celebrate our anniversary and attend a dear friend’s daughter’s wedding.
In late 2007, our family suffered a nightmare of enormous proportion as my husband was charged with the worst sort of crime, sexual abuse of our disabled daughter. I was accused of ignoring the crime(s) occurring under my roof. Our non-verbal, autistic daughter allegedly made the statements through facilitated communication, a controversial (to say the least) method of communication we had been using with her. While fact after fact demonstrated that no such abuse occurred, the police and prosecutors proceeded full speed ahead. The criminal charges were ultimately dropped. Our family brought civil claims against the police and prosecutors and others in the fall of 2008 (the civil matter is still not fully resolved as prosecutors seek to appeal a jury verdict in favor of our family and against the former prosecutor, David Gorcyca and his Chief Deputy, Deborah Carley.)
In March 2008, the Prosecutor’s office dropped the criminal charges and also dropped the separate charges seeking to terminate our parental rights. Subsequently, in 2009, we asked Judge Marc Barron of the 48th District Court to have the fingerprints and arrest cards destroyed consistent with the law at the time. Judge Barron surprisingly denied our request and Judge Nanci Grant of the Oakland County Circuit Court surprisingly upheld that denial, in spite of the fact that the law at the time clearly supported our request to destroy the fingerprints and arrest card. So today, our fingerprints remain in the LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) system for doing nothing illegal. We can’t have the record “expunged” because there is no conviction to expunge. We can’t ask the Governor to pardon us because there is no conviction to pardon (although we would have zero chance of Governor Snyder ever granting such a request from us). While Mr. Gocha, who endangered lives by drinking and driving, has his slate wiped clean, we continue to live with this cloud hanging over us seven years after the criminal charges were dropped.
Governor Snyder pardoned Alan Gocha, Jr. because the Governor doesn’t want the conviction to impede Mr. Gocha’s economic advantages. Fair enough. I believe in second chances but here’s the irony: Mr. Gocha, who actually committed a crime gets a second chance while Julian and I have to travel with copies of the dismissal order with us because EVERY TIME we enter the country (after leaving to visit family or friends who live in other countries), Julian is detained.
Yes, the existence of our names in the system – where they never belonged – interferes with our travel abroad. This is what Mr. Gocha and I have in common. But that’s where the commonality ends. In our case, there’s nothing to expunge or pardon but there remain fingerprints and arrest cards that come up every time the TSA runs my husband’s fingerprints through the system – followed by a one or two hour delay as they confirm that there is no currently pending arrest requiring them to detain him further. There is something fundamentally un-American about a process where people who should never have been arrested and fingerprinted in the first place remain in a database of criminals while a politically connected, wealthy person who admittedly committed a crime – and one where he endangered the lives of others – is able to remove himself from such a database.