Many of the people who arrived at the Wayne County Courthouse on June 3 last year hoping to have their criminal records expunged came away empty handed, as the event was only for young people who had graduated from the teen court program.
This year is different. On June 30, the Young Lawyers division of the Wayne County Bar Association will host another expunction clinic that is open to all qualifying people in Wayne County.
Tracy Moore, a member of the local bar association and one of the event's coordinators, said that this year's event is intended to fill the gaps left last year.
"Last year, we did the teen court expunction clinic, and we actually received a lot of feedback and a lot of people came to the courthouse thinking it was for the general population of Wayne County, and unfortunately it wasnt," Moore said. "I was approached this year by a community member who asked were we going to do it this year, and would it be just for teen court graduates? I said 'we'll try and get it done for the entire community.'"
Getting that done is an admittedly lofty goal, Moore said, and has taken the time and hard work of several people since February. The goal of the young lawyers -- young either in age or in practice -- is to provide resources to underserved or impoverished people in the community.
Applicants will need to fit a set of specific criteria to qualify for expunction.
"Generally it's if you've committed one offense, and you've done everything you needed to do as far as probation, paid all your court fees, done everything that the court requires," she said. "And, a specific time period has to be completed, so five, 10, 15 years depending on the conviction."
Most of the eligible offenses fall under the category of non-violent misdemeanors, such as minor drug offenses and larceny. Violent crimes, sex-related charges and traffic charges are not eligible.
Those restrictions do not apply to people who have had charges against them dismissed, said BreAnna VanHook, teen court director with Communities Supporting Schools of Wayne County.
No DWI convictions will be expunged, but anyone with DWI charges that were dismissed can have those charges removed.
Moore, a prosecutor with the District Attorney's Office, said that people can often have a difficult time finding employment with even minor convictions on their record.
"We prosecute people if they've done wrong, but I feel like once people have paid their debts to society, and they've met all the requirements that the legislature has imposed, it's really difficult to move forward with their life if their convictions, dismissals, whatever are still on their record," she said. "A lot of people have gone on to get their high school diplomas, college degrees and decent jobs, but it's still very difficult when they want to move further in life."
VanHook said that people who incurred even minor charges in their youth often find those mistakes coming back to haunt them as adults.
"Even in teen court, when I have kids charged with larceny, even though the charge is dismissed it still shows up on their record," she said. "They have a difficult time finding jobs, even though they were never convicted."
For anyone looking to have their records expunged, Moore and VanHook had a few pieces of advice. First, and most importantly, is to have your application filled out before you arrive at the clinic. Applications are available online at https://burnsie1004.wufoo.com/forms/expunctions-clinic-eligibility-form/, or in PDF and word document form from VanHook by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without a completed application, getting you through the expunction process will be much more difficult, if not impossible, so make sure to do your paperwork.
The expunctions themselves will take place on the second floor of the Wayne County Courthouse in courtrooms two and three, beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing until 4 p.m. Those with completed applications will be given time slots in order to move them along further.
For more information, call Charles Raiford at 919-394-2213.