Crime & Courts

Want your criminal record sealed? Free event can determine whether you’re eligible

Want a clean slate but don’t know if you qualify for an expungement in Kansas?

A free event later this week in downtown Wichita will help people figure out whether they’re eligible to have their criminal record sealed. Kansas Legal Services and others will be at the Advanced Learning Library, 711 W. Second, from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday looking over criminal cases and giving advice to people seeking expungement.

Friday’s event is different from the one-day expungement event in Wichita in 2016 that drew around 1,000 people looking for a quick avenue to seal their records. It will address only the first step of the expungement process — determining whether a person’s convictions can be sealed under state law and if they’ve completed all of the steps necessary to do so.

“The whole point of this event is just to kind of screen and let people know when they’re eligible because we find that’s the No. 1 question that we’re answering over and over again,” said Christine Campbell, statewide pro bono director for Kansas Legal Services, which provides legal help to thousands of low-income Kansans each year.

“Having someone go hire an attorney just to ask them seems silly,” she said. “So we’re going to screen them.”

The event is open to anyone with a conviction in a Kansas state or municipal court, including juveniles, regardless of their income level. Those deemed eligible can then choose to pursue an expungement on their own or — if they qualify — get free help from a volunteering attorney.

People seeking expungement will have to pay the court filing fee, which is around $200 in state court and $90 and up in Wichita Municipal Court. Filing fees may vary in other jurisdictions.

“We have attorney volunteers, we have paralegal volunteers, so we are going to take them as we can and do what we can,” Campbell said.

In Kansas, several types of convictions can be expunged including many misdemeanors, drug crimes, perjury, vehicular homicide and DUIs.

But not all can be erased. Those that can’t include serious felonies like murder and manslaughter, sex crimes against children, child abuse, rape and child endangerment.

To be eligible for expungement, a person must have served their sentence in full including any parole or probation, paid all fines and fees associated with their cases and completed the required waiting period, typically three to five years.

A person also can’t have any felony convictions within the past two years or any new felony cases pending.

Campbell asked anyone who wants to be screened to bring as much information about their criminal cases as possible to Friday’s event. That could include copies of court records like complaints and sentencing documents, criminal background checks or a list of their court cases.

A KBI background check and a list of cases from Wichita Municipal Court both cost around $20. Fees for other documents vary.

“The more information they can get or the more documentation they can bring for their case, the better the advice will be,” Campbell said.

Staff at the screening event will be able to look up some Kansas prison records and Sedgwick County District Court cases but that will be limited, she said.

Representatives from Butler and Associates, which handles debt collection for Sedgwick and other counties, will also be on site to check whether a person owes any fines or fees that could prevent an expungement from being approved.

People who are immediately eligible for expungements will have options on how to proceed. Kansas Legal Services will have paperwork and instructions on site at the library for those who don’t think they need additional help from an attorney to seal their record.

Those with state court convictions who want a lawyer’s help can join a new, multi-year expungement study conducted by Kansas Legal Services and Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab that will look at how sealing criminal records affects housing and job opportunities.

Others who want legal assistance can see if they qualify for free help from attorneys who have agreed to volunteer their services.

Matt Ellis, chief counsel for Koch Ag and Energy Solutions, said 16 Koch attorneys and staff members who volunteered during a similar event last year helped process 37 expungements.

He’s hoping a recent rule change that allows attorneys licensed in other states but working for Kansas companies to provide pro bono services in Kansas will help more people get legal assistance for free.

“We want to do more than we did last year, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that,” he said.

Campbell is expecting around 500 people to show up for Friday’s screening event. Last year’s expungement drive drew 800 inquiries but only about 250 of those people ended up being eligible to have their record sealed at that time, she said.

Anyone who can’t attend Friday’s screening can check whether they’re eligible for an expungement by calling Kansas Legal Services at 800-723-6953 or filling out an application for help at www.kansaslegalservices.org.

For more information about which crimes qualify for expungement in Kansas, go to www.kansaslegalservices.org/node/1915/facts-about-expungement-kansas or read Kansas statute 21-6614.

“We’re including all counties, all cities, juvenile cases, whatever — and we’re just going to see what happens,” Campbell said.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.
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