As 2022 draws to a close, hope came to some individuals with convictions Friday through record expungement clinics around Northern Kentucky.
Parked cars wrapped the Ninth Street block in Covington, where the First Baptist Church sits in between two narrow alleyways. In the basement of the church, representatives from Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, Molina Healthcare, St. Vincent DePaul, and the Northern Kentucky Branch of the NAACP huddled over laptops and application forms, all setting the groundwork for individuals in attendance to get a new lease on life through record expungement.
At the end of the “Wipe Your Record Clean” clinic sponsored by the Northern Kentucky NAACP chapter, an applicant sat at a card table and tapped her pen on the hollow table top as the attorney from Legal Aid of the Bluegrass ran through a series of questions.
“OK, so this’ll sound odd but if you were to take all of your clothing, jewelry kind of personal possessions and add them up here, put that total down there. And you indicated you had a dependent, so I will need their name and age here,” the attorney said, pointing at the sections of the application where information is to be provided.
The applicant scribbled down a name and number, spinning the paper back to the attorney.
“Alright,” the attorney said. “And no checking or savings account?”
The woman shook her head.
“No,” she said.
The attorney continued entering information into the application on his laptop.
“I believe we have it all here now, give me just one more second,” he said.
The applicant squeezed her eyes closed and put her head back, looking to the ceiling.
The attorney then pulled out a blank beige folder, and wrote her name on the tab.
“OK, what this essentially means is we’re going to provide you assistance free of cost,” he said. “We’re only going to be assisting you with this expungement. We can’t guarantee an outcome of your expungement. And also, I need you to just answer this question asking whether or not you’re a citizen. So you can print your name here, sign and date here, here.”
The young mother of one grinned as she finalized the first step to a brighter future for her and her family.
“It’ll just help me get a better job,” she said. “I just want to get this off my record so I can advance. I’ve got people to take care of, and this has just been there on my record. It was dismissed, but it’s just in the way. I am going to be a registered nurse and take care of my family.”
Record expungement is the legal process of removing an arrest, charge, or conviction made against an individual so that it may not be disclosed on background checks. Those with an expunged record can honestly answer “no” on any application inquiring about prior convictions.
Legislation passed in 2016 allowed for certain felony convictions, misdemeanors, and traffic violations to be expunged from one’s record if certain requirements are met. If an individual had been only charged and not convicted or acquitted, the charges could potentially still appear on background checks, thereby creating additional hurdles to job seekers and renters.
Applicants are walked through the application process by a member of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, from initial paperwork to additional community services like healthcare or emergency services they may qualify for stemming from the initial application.
Applicants begin with a Certificate of Eligibility, which is determined by a form outlining the person’s charges, county where the charges occurred, and current residence. A $40 fee is submitted with this to the state, and if approved, a Certificate of Eligibility is returned. The Certification is completed by answering a few more questions and then filed with an expungement document with the county where the original charge was filed.
While the process looks simple from this outline, the types of convictions carry different paperwork and subsequently, different fees associated with them, and a very short window of time to submit fees and forms before the application expires. Here is a hypothetical example:
In 2012, a person was convicted with a misdemeanor while living in Kenton County. The fee associated with this application is $100 per case, and will need to be filed with Kenton County. Then in 2015, they moved to Boone County and were charged with a Class D felony. This carries a $500 fee per application and has to be filed in Boone County. Our fictional applicant has $600 in fees across two counties with different forms to complete in a 30-day window.
Many applicants become overwhelmed by the paperwork and price of the process, adding additional barriers to escaping poverty or inadequate housing. Others struggle with the administrative portion of the application, and give up when forms don’t return in time to move on to the next step.
Programs like Clean Slate Kentucky offer aid by way of legal advice and financial assistance, giving applicants an ally in the pursuit to move forward in their lives. Partnering with a variety of nonprofits, the attorneys at Legal Aid of the Bluegrass walk applicants through the process and offer advice along the way.