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Statewide court initiative looks to facilitate expungement

When a person accused of a crime learns that the charges against them were dismissed or that they've been found not guilty, it is undoubtedly cause for celebration. That's because they will not only avoid the potentially serious consequences of a conviction, but also be free to put the matter behind them once and for all.

Unfortunately, this celebration can quickly turn to both anger and frustration in the days ahead -- at least as far as the idea of putting the matter behind them is concerned. That's because unless and until the person takes the necessary actions to have the matter expunged from their permanent criminal record, it will continue to affect everything from their ability to find gainful employment and secure a loan to obtain a professional license and acquire housing.   

Compounding the problem is that while the law here in Tennessee does enable people to have their criminal records scrubbed clean if criminal charges are dismissed or they're found not guilty, it does not require anyone -- the presiding judge, clerk of the court, arresting officer, etc. -- to tell them that this is an option.

In recognition of the hardship that can result from this, a group of state lawmakers, criminal justice officials and judges came together earlier this week to announce that as part of the Access to Justice campaign, they are launching an initiative whereby judges across Tennessee will henceforth be asking eligible parties whether they would like to have their criminal record expunged.

The idea is that this simple step will not only let people know this is an option, but also give them the opportunity to get the matter resolved while they are already at the courthouse such that they no longer have to deal with potential barriers to getting this done.

This is a truly great idea. Here's hoping it helps more people escape from the long shadow cast by their arrest record.

If you have questions about how expungement works and whether it's an option for you, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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Mathis, Bates & Klinghard PLLC
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