Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Over 90% of Utahns who are eligible to have a criminal record expunged have not taken that step, according to Noella Sudbury.
"The process is so complex, confusing, complicated, costly that research shows that less than 10% of people who are actually eligible to clear their record ... make it through the process," Sudbury, the volunteer executive director at Clean Slate Utah, said.
She said one-fourth of Utahns — more than 800,000 — have a misdemeanor-level record.
"If you think you don't know someone with a (criminal) record, you do," Sudbury said. "There's just so much stigma around it that people don't talk about it. But everybody makes mistakes and when people turn their lives around, they deserve to move forward."
Sudbury, an attorney, started Clean Slate Utah with funds from her own bank account. The organization then advocated for a law that would mean 450,000 Utahns could automatically expunge at least one criminal record. Now that the law has passed, Clean Slate Utah is working to raise awareness of the automatic expungement and help Utahns with other expungements.
Clean Slate Utah received an award on Tuesday that will allow it to begin a program to help Utahns who aren't eligible for an automatic expungement to get their records cleared.
The financial grant, known as the Emil Gumpert Award, is given out once a year in honor of Gumpert, a former trial lawyer and judge who founded the American College of Trial Lawyers. The goal of the award is to maintain and improve justice.
"Access to justice is at the center of the college's mission and CSU is an organization that has developed a clear path for individuals in Utah to access opportunities and services that can help eligible individuals on their journey toward a better life," Michael O'Donnell, American College of Trial Lawyers president, said in a statement.
Sudbury said that the American College of Trial Lawyers is likely the most prestigious legal organization in the country. They applied for the award and were selected as the 2022 winner, which is a pretty big deal for Clean Slate Utah.
The funds from this award will allow the organization to help people determine if they are eligible for expungement, cover the $65 fee needed to start the expungement process and offer assistance with the paperwork for the next steps in the process.
Until now, it has been a volunteer organization with no paid positions, but it has grown to include thousands of members and now has enough money to pay some staff. Sudbury announced on Tuesday that the Clean Slate Utah board selected Destiny Garcia to be its first full-time executive director.
Garcia currently works in the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office and with Odyssey House, an addiction treatment center. She has also been through the process to expunge her own records.
"She is determined to show her children that your past mistakes do not define you," the organization's website says about Garcia.
Because of the law Clean Slate Utah helped pass during the recent legislative session in Utah, many government fees associated with expungements are waived for the next year. Sudbury said typically there is a $65 fee per case that a person wants to expunge for the initial application and then an additional fee before the expungement is completed, making it cost over $200 for each case. But until June 30, 2023, for many cases there will only be one $65 fee, she said.
Sudbury explained that in order to be eligible for an expungement, people need to show that they have turned around by completing the terms of their sentence, be off probation or parole, have no open cases and be crime free for between three and 10 years, depending on the severity of the crimes.
Clean Slate Utah, Sudbury said, "will be delighted" to help anyone find out what their situation is and what would be the best option for anyone wanting to move forward with an expungement.
The nonprofit partners with another company called Rasa Legal, which was also founded by Sudbury, and they are both hosting a webinar Thursday evening to provide an overview of the expungement process.
Expunging a criminal record means that the court orders the history of the case to be sealed, which includes records of the arrest, the investigation, the detention and the conviction, including a verdict or plea, according to the Utah State Courts website. Such sealed records cannot be accessed without a court order.
"If your case was expunged, you can tell people the arrest or conviction did not happen. A government agency that has received an expungement order will say the same thing," according to the website. The expungement order, however, applies only to government agencies.