Law Student Aims to Clarify Expungement Process

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A Minnesota law student is lobbying hard for changes to her state’s expungement process.  Carly Melin, a law student at Hamline University School of Law, has drafted an amendment to her state’s expungement statute that would give courts the right to not only seal criminal records held by the judicial branch but those maintained at the executive branch (police departments, law enforcement agencies, etc.) as well. 

Law student in lobbying effort to make expungement more meaningful

By Michelle Lore, Minnesota Law – December 11, 2009

A local law student is leading an effort to get lawmakers to go back to the drawing board on expungement procedures.

Expungement is supposed to provide a chance for a fresh start by allowing criminal records to be wiped clean in some instances. However, a narrow statutory expungement mechanism and limits on the ability of judges to expunge nonjudicial records have combined to create a very messy situation for those in search of a clean slate.

Most criminal records — including those maintained by police departments — are held outside the judicial branch. Sealing judicial records provides little benefit when a potential landlord or employer can easily retrieve an arrest record from a local police department during a background check.

Hamline 3L Carly Melin has been working on an amendment to the expungement law that would give judges the power to remove the scarlet letter from a past mistake without leaving the smudge marks. In 2008, Melin and a fellow law student drafted an amendment to the state’s expungement statute that would give courts clear authority to seal criminal records held by executive branch agencies. They weren’t successful during the 2009 session, but Melin is planning to be back again lobbying for the change in 2010.

“I’m trying to get them to clarify the statute so that courts can start to provide a meaningful remedy for people,” she explained. “Right now there is basically no remedy for people who have criminal records.”

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