BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It just takes one bad decision or one misstep to derail your whole future. An arrest or a conviction permanently alters your record and a criminal record can stand in the way of getting a job or even applying for loans. However, there is a way to turn back the clock with an expungement.
"Once your record is expunged, under Louisiana law, you are able to tell employers that I've never been charged or convicted," said District Attorney Hillar Moore.
An expungement is a legal way of sealing a criminal record, meaning the public can't see it. However, not every case is eligible. Only arrests that did not result in a conviction, or misdemeanor convictions after five years and felony convictions after ten years, are eligible for expungement. According to the DA, Louisiana expungement also only applies to charges that do not involve a weapons or drugs or are violent or sexual crimes.
Expungement doesn't come cheap however, costing $550 per case in Baton Rouge District Court. Some of the fees involved in the case can be waived in some cases. One of the biggest obstacles for many is the tedious, lengthy process itself.
It starts by filing an expungement request with the clerk of court, detailing the charges. From there, the expungement request goes to everyone involved in the arrest, including the arresting agency, the FBI, State Police, the prosecutor, and the jail. If none of those agencies object to the expungement, the request eventually proceeds to court, where a judge issues an official expungement order. That order requires all of those previous agencies to seal their records. If everything goes well, the process takes six to eight months.
Moore said having your record and information on your charges in hand before the process begins helps, but even with a successful expungement, your record doesn't completely disappear. Louisiana law allows some agencies, including law enforcement, to view an expunged record under some circumstances. Also, the media is not required to erase any stories on an arrest, so a quick Google search could turn up an old headline.
Moore says because information is becoming harder to hide, an expungement is vital for people who are eligible. "I think it tells the employer that look I've done what I had to do, I've gone through the process and you can take a chance on me," said Moore.
Other community advocates agree. "If you want to move forward, if you don't want to be reduced to odd jobs and things like that, I definitely think it's worth it," said Richard Slaughter.
Slaughter is with RAX Worldwide, a community advocacy group. One of their biggest programs provides free legal advice on expungements. That's how much they believe in the process. "The goal is just to shine some light on it, get some awareness, help people clear their records, get them on the right path," said Slaughter.
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