Justice for the innocent

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A look at Lee County’s expungement process

By Craig Collins
Opelika Observer

Last year the Alabama legislature passed an expungement law that is the first of its kind in the state. This allows those who have been arrested, but cleared of all charges a chance for their records to be wiped clean.  Is the new bill fair to those who are innocent?
Expungement comes with some provisions. In short, when a person has not been convicted of any other charges including violent felony convictions then the person is eligible to petition the court.  Minor traffic violations are excluded if they took place the previous two years.  However, the procedure does require some time and money to clear one’s name.
The new law requires a sworn expungement petition to be filed with the court that handled the case.  The district attorney or the victim has 45 days to file a written objection to the petition.  If there is an objection to the petition then the court is required to set a hearing.
Further, there is a cost involved with petitioning the court.  There is a $300 filing cost, however a payment plan can be implemented. The record will not be cleared until the fees are paid in full. These out-of-pocket fees are in addition to any  legal costs the petitioner may accrue.
For those who have not been employed, expungement costs could be an issue. A person must declare any criminal background when applying to an employer, this means an innocent person must still declare their arrest record.  However, because of the high cost of expungement, those in need of a job most likely can’t afford it.
Attorney Tutt Barrett of Dean and Barrett Attorneys at Law said he believes that the law should be reworked to better fit an innocent person. “It is better than what we had before, which was nothing, but we can build upon what has been passed in the legislature,” Barrett elaborates further, “There should be an automatic expungement if the charges are dropped, the arrest should go away completely.”
The high cost of clearing one’s innocent name of a criminal record may not be just.  Some believe that the Alabama Legislature might want to reconsider its approach to expungement.
“It’s a matter of being innocent before proven guilty,” Barrett said.

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