KU Law students to offer free help to get criminal records expunged
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
Even if criminal convictions don’t result in life sentences, they can still affect people for the rest of their lives.
It’s possible to get your criminal record expunged on your own, but it’s not necessarily easy.
“Sometimes the practice of law is complicated, and you have to do everything correctly,” Chief Assistant Douglas County District Attorney C.J. Rieg said. “You have to give notice to certain parties, law enforcement, the victims, things like that. So that’s why it’s always nice to have an attorney to help you do that.”
But it’s not exactly cheap to hire a lawyer. The third-year students of the University of Kansas School of Law will be on hand in a Douglas County courtroom on Friday, Feb. 7, to provide free legal assistance.
Anyone who has a criminal conviction in Douglas County District Court or Lawrence Municipal Court can stop by. One of the students will help determine whether your conviction is expungeable. If it is, they can help to get the paperwork started and filed; if it’s not, they can advise about if or when it could be.
Last year, the clinic assisted 45 people, according to a news release from the law school; students also advised 20 people who weren’t yet eligible for expungement. This year’s will be the fourth clinic the law school has offered and the second in which the Douglas County district attorney’s office has been involved.
Rieg said having a conviction or even just an arrest in your background could prevent people from getting some of the “more lucrative jobs.” But when employers do background checks after a case or arrest has been expunged, the criminal matter won’t show up, she said, and people can answer on job applications that they don’t have any recent convictions.
Rieg beamed as she told the Journal-World about “a gentleman” involved in one of last year’s expungement cases.
“He had a fairly lengthy criminal history, but all city cases or maybe drug cases and some low-level felonies — nothing that was nonexpungeable, … but he’d been in and out of prison,” Rieg said.
“He had so turned his life around and he came to court with his pastor and his family,” she continued. “… He got up and addressed the court, and it was just so powerful. He explained to the court how he had just hit rock bottom and had finally lifted himself up, and he was on a path and he was pursuing educational interests.”
She said it was a case where “you get a tear in your eye.”
“This is why we do our jobs,” she said.
State statutes do dictate that some offenses are not expungeable, including first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, various sex crimes and abuse of a child, for example. There are also laws regarding what types of offenses can be expunged after three years and which require a five-year wait time.
In addition to the students, Rieg said, several KU law professors will be around to answer questions and help out. Rieg said she’s not privy to any of the confidential attorney-client information, but she will be there to help answer logistical questions and run names to find people’s case numbers to determine criminal histories.
After Friday, the law students will file paperwork as needed and be in touch with those they’re helping. Victims and law enforcement officials have to be notified and will have an opportunity to object.
If there are objections, Rieg said, people may need to come back to the courthouse on April 10 for a final hearing. In most cases, though, she said the students will inform the defendants that there were no objections and the judge will most likely order the expungement. They can come to the hearing if they want, but they won’t be required to show up in person.
“It’s just a great opportunity for the citizens that have had some stumbles in their past to clean that slate so they can move on with their productive life as a citizen here,” Rieg said.
Students will provide free legal services for people with an income of up to 250% of the federal poverty level. That’s about $5,460 per month or $65,500 annual income for a household of four, or $2,657 a month, $31,900 annually for an individual. People may also be eligible for a waiver of the expungement filing fee, and that will be determined by a judge. Those who aren’t eligible for the waiver will have to pay $197 per expungement case, but the students’ services are still free, according to information provided by Ashley Golledge, communications specialist for the law school.
An expungement does not eliminate convictions for the purposes of criminal history checks if someone does reoffend, Rieg said.
The Clean Slate Expungement Clinic will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Division 6 courtroom on the main floor of the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St. Individuals who can’t make it to the Friday clinic can call the KU Legal Aid Clinic at 785-864-5564 to begin the process.
–Editor’s note: Information in this article about income eligibility has been corrected.
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