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A second chance at life: Hundreds seek to clear criminal record on Expungement Day

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Applying for a job or an apartment may be a simple task for some. But for those with a criminal history, the process can be daunting even years after their last offense. That’s why hundreds of Utahns lined up Wednesday for a second chance at life and the opportunity to clear their record on Expungement Day.

Jake Wood is one of those individuals who wanted to start a new chapter in his life. After conquering drug addiction this year, he said it was difficult to get back on his feet.

“For anyone who has charges, getting a place to stay or a job is tough,” he said. “I’m not the person I was last year. People can change. Something from four or five years ago shouldn’t be affecting me now.”

Wood has two children, who he said has been his motivation to do better. 

“I want to be a positive influence on them. I want to do good for them, so they can have a better life than I did,” said Wood.

He and his family arrived at the Utah Law and Justice Center around 8:30 a.m. and joined hundreds of people in line. It wasn’t until a little after 11 a.m. before he was finally called inside. Officials said people began showing up around 5 a.m.

Wood met with one of 60 attorneys, who volunteered their time and services thanks to a grant from the Utah Commission of Criminal and Juvenile Justice for Salt Lake County’s second annual Expungement Day event.

“A criminal record creates many barriers for individuals, including an inability to access housing, employment and educational opportunities. The road to self-reliance and independence is often blocked by past crimes that show up in routine background and credit checks. As a county, we need to help individuals move past the stain of a criminal record,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.

The expungement process can be lengthy and pricey, depending on how many charges an individual wants to clear. Noella Sudbury, director of the Criminal Justice Advisory Council said last year, the average cost was $275.00 per person in certificate fees. The average time from start to finish is 18 months, if nothing goes wrong. The process entails:

  • Submitting an application to the Bureau of Criminal Identification (each application is $65.00)
  • Wait four to six months to receive determination of expungement eligibility
  • Purchase certificate(s) of eligibility needed to file with the court(s) for expungement (each certificate is $65.00)
  • File paperwork with the court(s). Some may hire an attorney because of the complicated process. Pay filing fee of $135.00 for each court, unless court determines fee can be waived due to inability to pay
  • Hand-deliver court orders to every agency with your criminal record (law enforcement, jails etc.)

According to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, one in four Utahns have a criminal record. Commissioner Jess Anderson said the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) receives 700,000 criminal history inquires during a 24-hour period through an eight-state regional network. 

Between May 2018 and May 2019, BCI received 5,040 applications for expungement. Out of those applications, they identified 7,000 criminal or traffic offenses that were eligible for expungement.

While some applicants may not be eligible for expungement, officials said the event allows legal counseling and education to individuals on how to reduce their charges or seek alternative options.

After last year’s event, officials said attendants who participated in a survey said they were able to get better jobs, higher wages, promotions, and housing after their record was clear. All of the participants reported feeling less stressed, more hopeful and positive about life.

“Our whole notion of the criminal justice system is premised on the notion of rehabilitation. On the premise that when you pay your debt to society, we welcome you back into our community to be an equal partner and an equal contributor to the success of our society. Expungement Day is us delivering on that promise,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Wood walked out of the event with a big smile on his face.

“The attorney told me more than half of my charges are eligible for expungement,” he said. “I’m so happy right now. I’m having a good day.”

Mayor Wilson said a new Utah law that was passed will allow for automatic expungement. But the implementation process will take some time. In the meantime, the county has received a grant to hire an “expungement navigator” to assist applicants year-round.

The county will hold a second Expungement Day in October to help Wednesday’s applicants proceed to the next step in their expungement process.


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