Free ‘expungement clinic’ offers individuals a second chance

By Dean Galiffa 

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Paralegal studies student Brittany Murphy (left) and Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania Erica Briant (right) discuss an individual’s case. Photo by Dean Galiffa
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Keeley Mitchell, director of Paralegal Studies, waits to sign in registered individuals. Photo by Dean Galiffa
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Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania Guy Marinari (left) and paralegal studies student Nancy Stock (right) discuss an individual’s case. Photo by Dean Galiffa

Paralegal students, under the supervision of attorneys from the Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania, assisted students and community members Sept. 23 to determine if they are eligible to have certain prior arrests or convictions expunged or sealed from their record.

Held on Marple Campus, the free “expungement clinic” was organized by Keeley Mitchell, director of Paralegal Studies. Keeley said that registration for the clinic involved the individual providing key information for viewing their criminal record.

Expungement refers to the removal of certain offenses from a person’s record. For an offense to be sealed, the court records are destroyed that would otherwise be accessible as public record.

“Each individual is assigned a paralegal student,” Keeley said. “After they’re signed in, they meet with the student and go over their record. The students were assigned nine clients each.”

Mary Taylor, a second-year paralegal studies student, said classmates who were previously involved in the clinic recommended she apply.

“They said it had been a good experience,” Taylor said. “[The applicants] were narrowed down to 10 people.”

Brittany Murphy, a paralegal studies student in her last year, said that only seven of the 10 students were selected for the clinic. Murphy said that she applied during the first week of classes.

The application process involved students meeting a certain GPA requirement and submitting an essay.

After registration, the paralegal students were given information on the individuals’ criminal records.

“[The process] is not just today,” said Lisa Laffend, a paralegal studies student in her second semester. “We spent all week working on these cases.”

Keeley said that the paralegal students will inform the individual of what offenses can and cannot be expunged or sealed.

Keeley explained that paralegal students cannot give legal advice on their own, so the attorneys from the Legal Aid approve and make the recommendations for how to proceed.

“They normally take the intake and all information to the attorney and confirm what the next step is,” Keeley said. “Then, the attorney gives their blessing.”

Despite the attorney having the final say, Keeley explained that stuents still benefit from this eperience.

“It’s a win-win,” Keeley said. “They’re getting experience that they can put on their resume. Many of them have actually landed jobs. Legal Aid has pulled some for internships.”

Erica Briant, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, said that she became involved with the clinic through Keeley.

“This is my fourth expungement clinic,” Briant said. “The opportunity to work with students is wonderful because we are reaching up to 70 folks today. There’s no way that I could do that by myself.”

Keeley further explained that if individuals are able to have their record expunged and fit the income requirements, then Legal Aid will take them on as a client. Otherwise, they are told what the next step is.

“If they can’t get expunged, then they’re explained whether they have to do a pardon.” Keeley said. “In some cases, like with a juvenile record, they’ll try to seal them.”

A pardon involves a governor or president using her executive power to remove any remaining penalties or punishments of an individual’s convicted crime. This prevents any new prosecution for the crime.

This is the sixth expungement clinic held on the Marple Campus. There has been one during each fall and spring semester since spring 2015. In addition to the Marple Campus clinic, the first clinic at the Exton Campus will be held next semester.

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu