Expungement program draws big crowd
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) headquarters hosted an expungement information session Thursday, Aug. 17, that attracted more than 40 people - and more than a dozen others who were there to help. Among the groups helping out were Woodford County Adult Education, the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. Most of the attendees were there to learn whether their convictions could be expunged, or erased, and how to do so. Kentucky is one of many states in recent years in which lawmakers have made it easier for people to have certain crimes - mostly misdemeanors - erased from their records. A half-hour introductory session in the KCTCS ballroom began with remarks from Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, who credited Woodford Chamber of Commerce CEO Don Vizi with starting the process that led to the KCTCS session. Vizi was unable to attend. Public defenders Damon Preston and Melanie Foote gave a presentation about which crimes can be expunged and how long after a sentence is completed, including probation, an applicant must wait to be eligible. "It means that the person whose record is expunged will not have to disclose the fact of that record for any application for employment, credit or other type of application," Preston said. "You're all going to face applications for employment, or housing, or jobs or different circumstances, and it's going to say, 'Have you been convicted of a crime? Those questions - if you have (convictions) expunged, it means you can honestly answer, 'No.' You're not lying, you're not hiding the fact. Under the law, you can answer, 'No.'" Preston cautioned that expungement was not a magical eraser over the whole world, and it's possible that a Google search or private, Internet-based investigation may reveal an offense. However, the state of Kentucky will say that you don't have a record, Preston said, and you'll have a piece of paper to prove it. Preston asked that people who learn they're not eligible stay around and tell their story to an ACLU representative so that the narratives can be used to strengthen arguments for further expansion of expungement laws. At least one man learned early on that he wasn't eligible, and left without speaking to anyone. Among the types of crimes that can't be expunged are pending charges, sex offenses and other crimes, while acquittals and dismissals with prejudice can be expunged after 60 days, said Foote. "We've had misdemeanor expungement in Kentucky prior to this new law that's been passed. However, the new law is just that much better. It's making it so that more people can access expungement on misdemeanor convictions, because as so many in this room know . a misdemeanor conviction can go a long way to harming job opportunities," Foote said. Under a new law, there is no limit to the number of misdemeanors that can be expunged, she said. Applicants can request a certificate of eligibility through the mail or courts.ky.gov/expungement. "I'm a public defender, but my personal opinion is that when you clean your life up, I can see for some offenses that you should have to wait longer, because we want to see, 'Are you really serious about being done with a life of crime?' But I think we need to give people a second chance eventually, except for the worst of the worst ." Preston said. After the presentation, three people went inside a classroom to take a free half-hour GED "locater" test administered by Woodford County Adult Education staffers. People who took the test were given a Kroger gift card. "From there, we kind of decide, 'Is somebody ready to go on and take the GED and skip classes altogether, or does somebody need to do a little more in-depth testing in an area to see what they need to work on ." said Jillian Pascale-Hague. Pascale-Hague said the average length of time needed to obtain a GED is three months, and she knew of plenty of happy endings for graduates. "We had one young man who got his GED this past year. He had been working and he really wanted to join the military and be in the Army, and he just couldn't without a GED, so he took it, and man, it was a slog. He really came to a lot of classes and really, really tried and had a tutor outside of classes and joined the military and he's doing great now," Pascale-Hague said. "(People like him) deserve a second chance to get that credential and be able to put it on their résumé." The vast majority of attendees lined up outside another room to meet with AOC staffers at two computers for a free criminal record check. Among them were two residents of The Nile, a faith-based home in Versailles for women battling substance abuse or who are living in an abusive home. Jennifer West, 36, of Berea, had been at The Nile for 17 days. She was there to learn about the expungement and appeals process - and to praise The Nile. "They are bettering our lives in so many different ways," she said. West said she had several misdemeanor charges she wanted expunged, another conviction relating to a dog bite and an assault charge that was dropped but she thought might be part of her criminal record. "I've been turned down from jobs after a background check just because of how thick it (her record) is, not necessarily because of what's on it," she said. "So this will take care of that." Taylor Ledford, 23, of Corbin, had been at The Nile for 44 days, and was set to graduate the following day. "I'm nervous, but I'm excited, too, because I'll be going to Sober Living (a halfway house in Lexington). I was homeless before I came to The Nile, and I had no hope for the future. I would have stayed homeless if I hadn't come here," Ledford said. Ledford said she'd already learned she wasn't presently able to get a class D felony for promoting contraband expunged. The incident happened when she was "extremely messed up" and didn't realize she had an illegal substance in her bra that fell out when she went to jail, she said. Despite that disappointment, she said she was still hopeful. "I find out I'm not eligible for that, but I have misdemeanors that maybe when I'm eligible in five years, (I'll be able) to get off," she said. As for the contraband charge, she hoped she'd be able to explain that when the time came. After the criminal record check, West said she'd learned of pending criminal charges she wasn't aware of. "But that's definitely something I needed to know. They also told me how many years it would take for me to get my expungement. So now what that does for me is it gives me a plan," she said. For Ledford, regardless of what happened that night, she agreed that she was in a pretty good place compared to where she was a month-and-a-half ago. "Completely. It's amazing. To be completely frank, I think I would say I wanted to die 45 days ago and tonight, there's no way. There's no way. I've got way too much hope," she said.