On February 19th, 2016, a fellow student and I gave a presentation to Aunt Martha’s about an expansion of the NIU Health Advocacy Clinic into an area of the law we have never ventured before: criminal expungements and sealings. It appeared everyone who was working that day at Aunt Martha’s HOC or NIU Health Advocacy Clinic was in attendance, including Professor Boraca and Dr. Sun.
Because Professor Boraca, my fellow student partner, and I had all talked about how to best format the PowerPoint presentation, we began with a case example of “Rob,” a person whose life is difficult because he has a 2010 criminal conviction of destruction of property on his record. Rob is a 26 year-old man living at Hesed House’s Transitional Living Community who has saved up enough money for a down payment on an apartment. Because of his criminal record, no one wants to rent to him. Likewise, Rob has also been looking for work but because of his criminal record, no one wants to hire him. Because of all these hardships, Rob has become depressed, developed hypertension (high blood pressure), and is pre-diabetic. Because he does not have a reliable source of income, Rob struggles to pay for all the medications for his conditions.
My partner and I explained that there are two possible ways that we can help a person like Rob. The first is to expunge his criminal record, which removes arrests, court supervisions, and certain probations from a criminal record. While the preferred method in the case of Rob, his record cannot be expunged. Rob has a conviction on his record for destruction of property, a conviction being a final judgment of guilt by a court. Convictions cannot be expunged.
The second option to help Rob is to seal his criminal record, which hides a criminal record from the general public. The record still exists and the police and employers required by law to look at the record could still see the record. When a general member of the public would look up the record, the general member of the public would not see the parts of the record that were sealed. While expunging a record can only occur if there is no conviction, there is no such requirement for sealing a record.
After analyzing the facts of Rob’s case, we told the staff of Aunt Martha’s that it would be possible to seal his record, though various parties, such as the Illinois State Police, have a right to object to sealing of his record. The ultimate decision is in the hands of a judge. We then talked about how Rob’s life has improved since his record was successfully sealed—both potential rentors and employers cannot see his criminal record. Rob has rented an apartment and is working full-time as a sales receptionist. Rob is much happier and is no longer depressed. He also can afford his hypertension and pre-diabetes medications.
We also talked about several common misconceptions that exist, including the misconceptions that “anything can be taken off of a record,” “I’ve been arrested multiple times so I can’t get my past expunged,” and “it’s a waste of money and time to try to expunge anything.” We then discussed the exact process for sealing or expunging a criminal record, which we predict will take roughly 6 months to complete. Finally, we reiterated that not every record can be expunged or sealed and thus, we will not be able to represent every person in every situation. Hopefully with Aunt Martha’s assistance we can help Hesed House guests similar to Rob in our example.
While initially nervous whether Aunt Martha’s staff would agree that we should engage in helping people expunge or seal their criminal records as it was outside of the traditional subject matters handled by medical-legal partnerships, I was quite pleased how the presentation went and the reception that we received from Aunt Martha’s. It seemed the Aunt Martha’s staff was excited that NIU Health Advocacy Clinic has decided to help people expunge and seal their criminal records. The staff members were active participants in the presentation, asking questions and answering whether they thought we could help Rob. One staff member, in particular, was quite happy that we were going to help people destroy or hide parts of their criminal records and noted that it is something that is frequently asked about by their patients.
With Aunt Martha’s support, we will begin selecting a client or two for a test-run of expunging or sealing their record. If all goes according to plan, NIU Health Advocacy Clinic will eventually open its expunging and sealing services to patients of Aunt Martha’s HOC.