Salt Lake County and partners host Fall 2020 remote expungement day

Salt Lake County— The Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Initiatives partnered with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Salt Lake City Justice Court, 3rd District Court, and the Utah State Bar, to host the Fall 2020 Remote Expungement Day on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

Over 50 volunteer attorneys were online to assist during the half-day, virtual event, which provided free legal assistance to community members with Utah criminal records. Participating courts held remote “courtrooms” to hear expungement related motions.  Prosecutors from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office also volunteered their time so that motions that required the participation of prosecutors, could be heard.

154 community members were assisted during the half-day event.

Approximately one in five people in the United States has a criminal record, and data from the Utah Department of Public Safety suggests that number in Utah is likely as high as one in four, creating numerous barriers to individuals including an inability to access housing, employment and educational opportunities.  When individuals cannot obtain decent paying jobs and safe places to live, the chances of recidivism, homelessness, and relapse increase, which in turn increases costs to the taxpayers. 

“Our whole notion of the criminal justice system is premised on the notion of rehabilitation. On the premise that when you pay your debt to society, we welcome you back into our community to be an equal partner and an equal contributor to the success of our society. Expungement Day is us delivering on that promise,” said Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill.

With the assistance of a federal grant, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Initiatives launched the Expungement Navigation Project in April 2019 to help eligible individuals navigate the lengthy, complicated, and costly expungement process. The Project has since assisted more than 2,000 individuals, resulting in the successful expungement of over 750 eligible cases.

Prior to COVID-19, the project primarily provided service through large-sale public events that drew several hundred members of the community, seeking help.  “While this COVID period has been a time of disruption, it also has been a time of incredible innovation. Our new model of remote expungement events is just one example,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.

“Our new remote expungement day events are definitely proving to a be more sustainable, efficient model of service,” said Jake Smith, Salt Lake County’s Expungement Navigator.  “The remote events tend to be smaller, but we can hold them more frequently because they require fewer physical resources and supplies, and they don’t require either volunteers or community members to clear their entire day to participate. Before COVID, we held our assistance events in person and in very large venues. Individuals would sometimes have to wait hours before they could receive assistance, often taking the entire day off work. Now, we reach community members by phone and email.  Our new model is much more mindful of the needs of individuals who can’t take time off work or are unable to find childcare.”

Expungement is a legal process set forth in Utah law. It defines who is, and who is not eligible to clear their court records.  Applications for expungement must be submitted to the Department of Public Safety, which runs a comprehensive criminal background check to confirm eligibility. Petitions for expungement must then be submitted to the court, which makes the final determination on whether or not the applicant can expunge their record.

The Clean Slate/Automatic Expungement law, passed in 2019, directs the courts to build a system which will automatically expunge low-level offenses for those with minimal criminal history after a period of law-abiding citizenship.  Implementation of this mandate will take significant time and has been delayed by COVID19.  In the meantime, eligible individuals can continue to seek expungement through traditional petition-based expungement.

Learn more about the Expungement Navigation Project here. Community members seeking assistance from the Expungement Navigation Project can sign up for assistance here.

Expungement Day events in Salt Lake County are made possible through the support of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. This project is supported by Grant No. 2016-DJ-BX-0772 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, United States Department of Justice.