Sealing and expunction forum helps ex-offenders
Florida State Representative Sharon Prictchett (Dem., Dist. 102) and Miami DadePublic Defender Carlos J. Martinez.
By Derek Joy
More than 200 people signed in for the Sealing and Expunction Forum at the North Dade Regional Library.
They came in search of relief from two haunting questions: Has your criminal record made it difficult to find employment and have you lost your right to vote?
“We listened to the concerns of constituents,” said Florida State Representative Sharon Pritchett (Dem., Dist. 102). “This was one of them. I just contacted the entities who could be a part of their guidance and direction.”
Along with Pritchett’s office, the other participating entities were the Miami Dade Clerk of Courts, Miami Dade Public De-fender, Caribbean Bar Association, Cuban American Bar Association, Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Bar Association, Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association and the Florida Civil Rights Restoration Coalition.
“If they qualify, it’s not a difficult process,” said Miami Dade Assistant Public Defender Carl Young. “To qualify for sealing or expunction of a record, you can’t have had a criminal conviction in the past.”
The overwhelming majority of the 200 or so signees were be-low the age of 40, though a few were older.
Sharena Shaw,28, her cousin, Shaquanda Warren, 31, and Jessy Elkouby, 20, are in the first group. Charlie John-son, 73, is in the latter.
“I came because I want to get my record sealed,” said Shaw. “I’m looking for a better job opportunity. My record has hindered me. This forum has been helpful by giving me information I can use. And they guide you.”
That was pretty much the same case for Elkouby, who said he was told by an employer of to “Get that taken care of and we’ll hire you.”
Warren, who is on six months probation for driving on a suspended license, also found the assistance and guidance she sought.
“It was very helpful. They told me they’ll try to go to court with me next month to help me get this resolved favorably. My record has been a problem for me getting some jobs,” said Warren.
While a Miami Gardens fingerprint technician was there to fingerprint those who re-quested, the Miami Dade Clerk of Courts had staff members there to make computerized background checks.
That is why Charlie Johnson signed in.
“I want to get a background check to see if there is anything on my record. “I’m not sure. I had a problem that was supposed to be resolved. So I want to check and be sure.”
The problem for some, as Young pointed out, is that a re-cord can’t be sealed or expunge if there is a past criminal conviction.
Miami Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez was on hand to expound on that issue and the law.
“If my former clients are employed and being productive in society, then they’re less likely to get involved in crime. That reduces the recidivism rate, “said Martinez. “This is our 15th year doing this. We try to do this every couple of months throughout the community.
Martinez also explained what Young cited.
“He is correct,” Martinez said of Young. “The law was passed in 1994. You can’t get your re-cord sealed or expunged if you have a criminal conviction. You can’t removed an arrest record even if you were prosecuted or convicted. But you can have your rights restored.
“Florida law is terrible. You can get your rights restored but you can’t seal your record. That makes no sense. And that’s wrong.
“That law needs to be chang-ed. What we should do, which is what a lot of other states do, is if you have no conviction your record should be sealed. Employers see the arrest record and assume you are guilty.”
However, those with arrest records or a criminal conviction, can apply for, and maybe receive, clemency. Participating entities ad-vised signees on the process for clemency.