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Volunteer lawyers help Philly offenders clear records and move forward

MAR 08 2018


Nearly one in three Philadelphia residents has a criminal record.

Many of these people were never found guilty of a major wrongdoing, but often that doesn’t make a difference. Just having “a record” is enough to make you ineligible for employment, education, housing and public assistance.

Enter the idea of criminal record expungement — the removal of past convictions from state or federal records. You’re probably out of luck if you have serious felonies on your record, especially if they include violent crimes or sexual offenses, but you can expunge things like:

  • Minor misdemeanors

  • Summary convictions

  • Nonviolent offenses

  • Not guilty charges

  • Dismissed/withdrawn charges

The process isn’t easy, but a group of Philly law organizations, including the Defender Association of Philadelphia, Community Legal Services and the Fox Rothschild Center For Law & Society, have teamed up to help by hosting free clinics throughout the city.

Philadelphians are gratefully taking advantage. After her first time working one of the sessions, paralegal Sherlyn Martinez even got offered free dinner.

Martinez, a paralegal at CLS, met a man who needed past charges cleared from his record. At first, he was touchy, she said. He wasn’t enjoying Martinez asking him personal questions, and he seemed pessimistic that the process would actually work out in his favor. But it did. Months later, Martinez gave him a call to let him know his past criminal charges would be expunged.

“When I told him over the phone, he cried,” Martinez said. “He was like, ‘I want to take you out to eat.'” Martinez politely declined his offer. “Just a thank you was enough.”

Martinez worked for the second time at last week’s clinic, held at the Community College of Philadelphia. Along with other legal workers, she accessed people’s criminal records using a computer database and worked with them to determine the next steps to getting them cleared.

“If people have paid for what they’ve done, why are they still being held back?” said José Loya, the director of communications, digital strategy and community relations for the Defender Association. “This is one way to help people move forward.”

Read full article here.

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