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(OAKLAND) Attorney General Bill Lockyer and East Bay officials today hosted “Clean Slate Summit: Removing Barriers to Housing, Employment Education and Civic Engagement” at Laney College, where Alameda County residents who have reconciled past criminal activities can seek dismissals, seal and destroy arrest records when found factually innocent, obtain certificates of rehabilitation, and seek legal counsel. Dismissals are only eligible for those who have paid their debt to society and can factually prove to the court’s satisfaction they are leading a crime-free life. The summit’s goal is to provide opportunities for those with criminal histories who are now willing and able to fully participate in society through employment, education, and civic engagement.
“Punishment is efficient, but rehabilitation can be slow,” said Lockyer. “Society is willing to allow people to move beyond minor crimes and become contributing members of our communities. The criminal justice system should accommodate those who have truly turned their lives around after some criminal histories. I encourage others to follow Alameda County’s example.”
Cleaning up legal records can aid a person when applying for private employment, job licenses and certification, and housing applications. If individuals were ineligible for federal student loans because of drug convictions, they would be eligible after a dismissal. Felony or misdemeanor offenses that resulted in a probation or county jail sentence may be eligible for dismissal, including petty theft, drug possession, and driving on a suspended license. Offenses that resulted in incarceration in state prison are not eligible.
Legal proceedings during the summit were available to 250 previously prepared low-income and homeless residents. Additional on-site services for all residents included “Know Your Rights” education seminars, Department of Motor Vehicle printouts of driving records, and tattoo removal. The Department of Justice currently maintains between 7.5 and 8 million arrest records, therefore roughly one in five Californians has been arrested.
Joining Lockyer in hosting the Clean Slate Summit were Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Alameda County Supervisors Keith Carson and Nate Miley, Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff, Alameda County Public Defender Diane Bellas, Superior Court Judges Gordon Baranco, Trina Thompson Stanley, Beverly Daniels-Greenberg, and Carol Brosnahan, Laney College, All of Us or None, a national advocacy organization for those who have been incarcerated, and the East Bay Community Law Center, a nationally-recognized poverty law clinic.
The East Bay Community Law Center routinely works with individuals looking to clean up their legal histories. Examples of past clients representative of participants in today’s summit include:
• After entering recovery from drugs and alcohol, Client A began coaching youths as a volunteer in 1993. He was eventually hired to coach basketball at a community center, where he also serves as a mentor to the young players. Parents, students, and friends from the community center and its associated high school say that his “sincerity and no-nonsense approach make him a true treasure to have in our community” and that he “was able to turn around so many of our young people. . . [H]aving had experience on the streets himself allows him to identify, shape, and encourage young minds in the right direction.” He sought dismissal of his prior convictions to ensure that he would be able to continue progressing in his coaching career. The court granted his petitions.
• Client B first became addicted to heroin in 1970. A methadone program helped her quit in 1992. Subsequently, she earned her GED and participated in alcohol and drug addiction counseling programs. She has two children and was recently appointed as legal guardian for her former partner’s son. In an effort to obtain stable employment to support her growing family, she pursued a degree in nursing. She works as a nurse assistant and the executive administrator of her agency states that she “has performed her duties with diligence, dedication and honesty.” Client B passed the written portion of the Nurse Assistant Examination but has been unable to obtain her license due to her criminal record. She petitioned the court for dismissals of her prior convictions and for a certificate of rehabilitation in order to obtain her nursing license and become a foster parent. A letter of support from a social worker on Client’s B’s behalf states that the social worker would place her own child with Client B “without reservation.” The court granted Client B’s petitions.
• Client C has come a long way from his life on the streets and in shelters where he struggled with mental illness. He is now healthy and works in the food service industry. He has missed only one day of work in the last five years. His letters of support from former employers, teachers, and family members discuss Client C’s strong work ethic and his transformation over the years. Despite his remarkable achievements, his convictions are preventing him from obtaining better employment, specifically a job that would permit him to use his skills in operating industrial machinery. The court granted his petition.
While an individual with a dismissal is legally able to answer “no” when asked on an application for private employment whether he or she has any convictions, the dismissed record still counts as a prior that can be used against them in future criminal prosecutions. Dismissed offenses can still be counted as a strike, prevent a person from owning a firearm, qualify a person as a registerable sex offender, and keep a drivers license suspended. Clients are advised that with the wide availability of records online and the prevalence of background checks they may want to disclose their dismissed convictions to avoid the appearance of untruthfulness.