Free expungement clinic part of Delaware's efforts to reform juvenile justice system
Lawyers were at Delaware Law School Friday offering pro bono legal aid to minors - and those who have records from when they were a minor - seeking expungements.
31-year-old Shantell Newman came to the clinic Friday morning to get her juvenile record from when she was in her teens expunged.
“Terroristic threatening, machine gun charges, gun charges...from when I was a juvenile,” Newman said.
She says she’s been unable to find a job because of her record.
“Rentals, rental properties, jobs...it has made it very hard for me. I’ve been being judged on my background as a juvenile," Newman said. "It looks like I’m a bad person and I’m not.”
She saw a flyer for the clinic in a courthouse. She hasn’t been able to pay the $52.50 fee to get her record cleared because she’s caring for six kids.
That’s exactly what the pro bono clinic is designed for - to help juveniles and others like Shantell - apply to Family Court to get their records cleared.
“I think this is wonderful opportunity for youth to erase a mistake the might have made to go on to have jobs, education...just as successful life,” Lisa Minutola, Chief of Legal Services at the Office of Defense Services, said.
Minutola says some offenses - like rape in the first or second degree - can’t be expunged. One is also ineligible for expungements if they have more than two charges for any type of offense.
However, a bill is waiting to be signed that will allow expungements for individuals with more than two misdemeanours.
The clinic was made possible through a $150,000 planning grant awarded from the federal government. Delaware was one of four states selected for the grant. The Delaware Center for Justice also partnered with the Office of Defense Services to provide additional funding for the expungement fees.
The state's Criminal Justice Council applied for the grant, and Minutola is helping chair the grant committee. The committee is looking into other reforms for the juveniles involved in the criminal justice system.
"Everything from making sure juveniles have attorneys, to making sure those attorneys are qualified, to looking at ways to keep juveniles out of the system, and if they're in the system looking at ways to make sure their experience is as successful as possible," Minutola said.
The expungement process can take as little as a couple of weeks to as long as a couple of months.
Newman says she eventually wants to pursue a law degree to help others like herself.