Legal advice available to citizens on expunging a criminal record

Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, February 24, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A criminal record expungement clinic will be held today at the Department of Labor in White River Junction.

The event, co-hosted by Vermont Legal Aid, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Windsor County State’s Attorneys Office, will help citizens expedite the process of expunging charges from their criminal record.

As of July 1, 2018, any dismissed case is eligible for expungement. Dismissals, also known as non-convictions, include acquittals at trial and charges that were dropped by either the prosecution or the court.

Mairead O’Reilly, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, said monthly clinics have taken place throughout the state since last spring.

“We at Legal Aid believe that expunging criminal records is a necessary response to the decades of mass prosecution, mass incarceration both in the state and in the country,” O’Reilly said during a phone interview on Sunday. “I believe that Vermont Legal Aid has a really important role to play in mitigating the consequences of criminal charges and convictions.”

Attorneys from all three organizations will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help people file petitions necessary for expungement. Some appointments have been made, but walk-ins are also welcome. O’Reilly said that previous clinics in Franklin and Chittenden Counties drew about 50 clients each.

The courts charge $90 per docket, but individuals may be eligible for a court fee waiver, according to a VAGO press release.

There is also a course of action for some convicted criminals, provided they have lived without criminal involvement for a designated period of time.

Some misdemeanors and a shorter list of felonies — criminal mischief, grand larceny, burglary in an unoccupied dwelling and prescription fraud — are eligible for expungement, according to O’Reilly.

“There’s also a juvenile sealing law, which allows for us to work with people to get relief under that provision, which says if a person was under 21 when they committed an offense, we can seal that record,” O’Reilly said. “And that’s broader, it has a broader sort of universe of eligible crime.”

O’Reilly, who is based out of Legal Aid’s Burlington office, spoke to the phenomenon of collateral consequences.

“Because of how widespread use of criminal records is by most employers and landlords and secondary education programs and all those sorts of decision makers, basically people with criminal records continue to be punished essentially by having to identify as a criminal every time they want to change their job or apartment or even visit a sick relative in Canada,” she said. “Basically, they can’t live normal lives.

“No judge sentenced them to this sort of lifetime of ongoing marginalization, but they’re experiencing it every day and without actually getting that record cleared, the collateral consequences continue.”

Those interested in pursuing expungement don’t have to attend a clinic; they can also file a petition at the courthouse where they were charged.