Hennepin County PDO’s Expungement Project
As a young man I was convicted of a few misdemeanor crimes. I still clearly remember being denied housing opportunities and retail positions due to my criminal record. I can recall the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness those denials evoked, particularly the housing denials. Not only were my employment options now limited, but psychologically this created a reality where it was difficult not be paralyzed by fear and healthy paranoia of being judged and denied basic opportunities. As far as housing, it is accurate to say that I was funneled towards specific neighborhoods and lower quality housing options. For at least a few years I accepted this other/criminal status. I can only imagine how many of my clients feel.
Armed with expungement law experience I gained as a clerk in law school, I began expunging client’s dismissed cases after my first few months as a Public Defender. My colleague who has been with the office for some time found out what I was doing and asked if we could create an expungement process for the whole Misdemeanor Team. We asked Jill Barreto if she was willing to help us create something that worked well for attorneys and clients and our expungement project was born! Collateral consequences stemming from criminal records can be paralyzing and devastating. The idea that dismissals will always be understood by those looking at records and will not be used to evaluate the person is pure fiction. At least intuitively, I see expungement of dismissed cases as a logical end to the beginning of our representation to clients. In at least one regard I don’t care if my client has fifteen past convictions or zero; if the prosecuting city or county dismisses a case for any reason, justice requires that the dismissal record has no impact on the client’s life. Expungement is the only way to guarantee that.