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Cleaning a Criminal Record Can Be Accomplished

Careers Today: Joyce Lain Kennedy

Dear Joyce: Your column, “Will Felony Background Haunt Her Forever?” and your later one mentioning “expungement” as a record-cleaner was excellent. All of us are grateful to companies that give these young people who have made mistakes a break. Job changes are hauntingly difficult. Could you expand on what procedure must be followed for expungement?

, R.M.L.

Few topics in this column have caught fire this year as has expungement of criminal records. Although the concept of a legal fresh start has been around for more than 30 years, interest in the topic is heating as more youthful offenders grow up.

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Questions from readers appear to represent 20-something adults (and their parents, spouses and friends) whose criminal record traces to a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor, such as drug or property offenses. A few comments:

“My medical assistant wife, 26, has been unable to find work for five years.” “I can’t afford to pay $750 in lawyer’s fees, but I can’t live without a job, and I keep getting turned away; at 27, I’ve got a lot of time left to work.” “My 24-year-old son , on probation for heroin possession , got caught using six times and narrowly avoided prison and a ruinous criminal record by entering a long-term treatment facility.”

Can’t these young job-seekers who have had a brush with the law hope to slip through employment screens and get hired? Chances are slimmer than ever now that employers can search online databanks of criminal records to find every flaw in a person’s background. Even individuals who were acquitted or whose case was dismissed find themselves stigmatized.

If you or someone you care about has a criminal record, go all out to achieve an expungement if one can be granted. Tips:

– Clean Up A Record

Expungement , sealing, destroying or erasing , of a record allows a job applicant to answer “no” to the question:

Have you ever been arrested and convicted of a crime? Expunged records are off limits to all except criminal justice system personnel.

– Get An Experienced Lawyer

Some resources claim a layperson can handle an expungement. Maybe, but it’s a complex paper trail with lots of room for error. The best bet: Hire an experienced lawyer who knows the track , typically a criminal defense attorney. If money’s a problem, contact a public defender’s office; if local defenders don’t do expungements, ask for a referral to a competent expungement facilitator who will help for a modest fee. A probation officer or court clerk may have suggestions. Look for programs that help ex-offenders, such as former mayor Ed Koch’s “Second Chance” in New York City.

A 1997 book, “How to Seal Your Juvenile & Criminal Records: Legal Remedies to Clean Up Your Past” (publisher: www.nolo.com) is helpful to California residents. (I found a new book and Web site online but couldn’t track down the publisher’s management.)

The rules about who is eligible for expungement and the effect of sealing records vary from state to state. And each case is different. You can get an idea of the diversity by following the links for four states on Law.com (www.law.com; click on search and use “expungement” as the key word). Internet search engines also produce leads for lawyers who do expungements (attorney costs seem to range from about $500 to $1,000).

– Learn General Points

People have to apply in writing; arrest and conviction records aren’t automatically expunged after a period of years. Not all convictions qualify for erasure; in many states defendants can’t erase felony convictions or those involving sex offenses.

Acquittals and dismissals may be sealed right away; after convictions, the required waiting time may be from one to 10 years.

E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to Kennedy at (jlk@sunfeatures.com).

& #352;1999, Los Angeles Times Sy

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