Clinic offers help clearing criminal records

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Rebecca Price, an attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina, helps a client from the Rockingham branch office on South Hancock Street.

ROCKINGHAM — If your criminal arrest or conviction record is interfering with your ability to find a job, obtain housing or secure benefits for which you might otherwise be eligible, a free legal clinic June 30 at the Richmond County Judicial Center could change your life.

Legal Aid of North Carolina will hold an expunction clinic to assist eligible applicants in having certain information removed from their permanent criminal records.

Legal Aid spokesman Sean Driscoll said certain types of criminal charges can be damaging to a person’s employment eligibility and quality of life — even those that never led to a conviction.

“Expunctions and certificates of relief are legal tools that can ease the way to self-sufficiency for people whose criminal records are preventing them from securing employment, housing, public benefits and other resources,” Driscoll wrote. “In North Carolina, arrests that did not lead to criminal charges, charges that did not lead to convictions and convictions that were later overturned all remain on a person’s permanent criminal record and can prove to be significant roadblocks for people trying to lead a normal life.”

“The expungement clinic is going on next Tuesday,” said David Richardson of Legal Aid’s Pittsboro office. “People have to call no later than this Friday to make an appointment. That gives us time to pull records for the people for review ahead of time. If they are found eligible for expunction, documents will be prepared and filed for them. We have limited slots, for about 20-25 people, so the sooner they call the better.”

Debbie Herndon, private attorney involvement coordinator for LANC, added that half of those slots are already filled.

Richardson said when a person calls to schedule an appointment, a financial eligibility questionnaire is conducted over the phone.

“Generally they have to be below 187.5 percent of the poverty level,” he said. “So for a household of four, their income would need to be right around $44,000 per year. We also do a conflict check to make sure there isn’t any conflict of interest with the attorney they are working with.”

Richardson said expunction can take anywhere from six to eight months after the petition is filed.

“It has to go to the SBI and administrators of the courts who review the records,” he said.

To make an appointment for the clinic, call 1-800-672-5834 no later than Friday.

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity.

Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.