Editor’s note: Kellie Hogan talked about arrest records being public even after someone’s crime has been exonerated. A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote.
Victor Balderas, the first in his family to earn a college degree, sat in the back of a presentation about how to get his criminal record erased on Tuesday.
“I did nothing wrong at all,” Balderas told the two lawyers. “Is there any chance of getting (my record) erased?”
Balderas, like the 25 to 30 others at the Evergreen branch of the Wichita library, didn’t want to keep telling potential employers about his arrest many years ago. Balderas wasn’t convicted, he said, but when he applied for a job with the federal government, his arrest became a problem.
The Wichita Bar Association is organizing an event on March 4 called Clean Slate Day. On that day, lawyers and volunteers will try to help people who qualify wipe their records clean.
Usually, the process requires hiring an attorney, waiting six to eight weeks and paying a court fee that is $195 in the county and was just raised to $90 in the city.
Clean Slate Day will speed up the process so it all happens on the same day, and it will be free for many in the community for whom the fee is prohibitive. Defense lawyers are donating their time, Volunteer Kansas is providing additional support, and Colby Sandlian, a local real estate agent, has chipped in to pay the fees.
Sandlian attended a presentation about criminal justice reform by Koch Industries in September. He thought then that someone should help low-level offenders get their records clean. At the event, Sandlian met Robert Moody, who was on a committee to make Clean Slate Day a part of the Wichita Bar Association’s 100th anniversary. Sandlian made a $10,000 commitment that put the event in motion.
That money will cover a lot of fees but not an unlimited amount, so two bar association members, Moody and Kellie Hogan, were explaining who qualified to those at Evergreen on Tuesday. This was the second of four events planned around Wichita in the lead up to March 4.
“You will go see a judge that day and leave the courthouse that day, and it will cost no money,” Moody told the crowd.
“All right, all right,” the crowd responded enthusiastically.
“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Moody said. “We’ve never tried it before.”
First, Moody explained, their crimes couldn’t be one of the really serious crimes like rape, murder or about 20 other crimes mostly of a sexual nature. One man raised his hand asked if there was anything he could do if his crime was excluded.
Call the elected officials, Moody said, and get them to change the law. Some states don’t allow any records to be expunged. Kansas’ laws are relatively generous, the lawyers said.
For many crimes, people have to wait three years after their probation ends to be eligible for the program. For a few crimes it’s five years. One elderly man in glasses and a plaid shirt asked if his crime in 2014 would be eligible. No, they told him.
But Balderas said he hadn’t been convicted of a crime. He thought it was unfair that his arrest still showed up on a background check.
“It does seem very unfair that if you are charged with something and found not guilty that it shouldn’t be erased automatically,” Hogan agreed.
Another woman asked if she could get her record expunged, even though her trespassing offense occurred in Arizona. No, the crime had to have been in Wichita or Sedgwick County, the lawyers said. Another woman said her issue happened in Wellington. No, she was told, she would have to get that crime fixed in Wellington. The two women stood up and left.
Another man asked about existing warrants. No, this is not amnesty, they told him. If you are a wanted criminal, this will not help, and you should take care of your warrants before showing up.
A middle-aged woman asked if it mattered that her driver’s license had expired. Don’t bring it up, was the advice given.
A Latina woman in the front asked if it was OK to bring a Mexican ID card instead of an American one. The ID is used to verify identify, so that could work, but she was told that not having a Social Security number might be an issue.
There are about a dozen jobs, such as police officer and lawyer, where applicants will still have to reveal their criminal history, Moody told them, because getting a record expunged doesn’t actually eliminate the record, it just hides it from public view. The legal system will still have access to it, if the person commits another crime, for instance.
The district attorney can deny any application for expungement. To help as many people as possible on Clean Slate Day, the lawyers agreed to process only cases to which there are no objections to expungement. And the lawyers decided to limit the number of crimes they will expunge for each person to five, so the money will help more people.
Holly Dyer, president of the Wichita Bar Association, said she isn’t sure how many people will show up for Clean Slate Day. The bar modeled its event on similar events in other cities, but the laws are different in every state. The bar is looking for volunteers to help direct people and make copies while the lawyers help fill out the paperwork.
It’s going to be a historic day because it’s the first time we’ve done anything like this.
Robert Moody, a Wichita lawyer
“It’s going to be a historic day because it’s the first time we’ve done anything like this,” Moody said.
“We really want it to work because we’ve put a ton of time into trying to make this happen,” Hogan said. “God, we hope it works.”
Clean Slate Day
What: Eligible people can get criminal records expunged for free.
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 4
Where: Fifth floor of Sedgwick County Courthouse
Next informational events: 6 p.m. Wednesday at St. Francis Community Services, 4155 E. Harry; and 3 p.m. Monday at the Wichita Public Library, 223 S. Main
For more information: Call 316-263-2251, ext. 102, or go to http://wichitabar.org/cleanslateday.php.