Help with clearing their records

This article originally appeared in the Bennington Banner.

By Patricia LeBoeuf
BENNINGTON — Marijuana possession. Simple assault. Shoplifting cases.

 PHOTO: HOLLY PELCZYNSKI

PHOTO: HOLLY PELCZYNSKI

Many charges, or very few.

Whatever their cases, the attendees of Thursday's drop-in daylong expungement assistance program at the Vermont Superior Court Bennington sought help in removing old convictions from criminal records.

By around 11 a.m., about seven people had already come in.

One man had convictions from years ago, including one for possession of marijuana from the 1980s.

"It's a lot of kind of confusing stuff to wind your way through," said Erica Marthage, Bennington County State's Attorney, of the expungement process. She was assisted by Deputy State's Attorney Alexander Burke.

They filed back into the state's attorney's office, one by one or in couples. 

A lot of people don't even know about expungement, never mind the changes that will take effect July 1, Marthage said.

"It's always been important that we had [expungement]," she said. 'It just occurred to me that people didn't know about it."

The state Legislature has revised the expungement law. Along with a new law decriminalizing marijuana, this means a number of people now are eligible to have convictions removed from their criminal record.

A "whole litany of misdemeanors" are eligible for expungement, not just marijuana convictions, Marthage said.

Previously, people had to meet certain requirements, like staying out of trouble for a certain period of time, to get marijuana convictions expunged, she said.

Another recent change in expungement law provides for cases that were dismissed or sent to diversion to be automatically expunged, she said.

Both this change and marijuana decriminalization go into effect July 1, she said.

Dismissed convictions show up as dismissed on a person's criminal record; expunged cases do not show up at all.

Marthage previously told the Banner that her office successfully assists dozens of individuals every year with expungements and/or sealing of records motions in court.

And it's not just people with marijuana convictions.

"It's people who have a old disorderly conduct charge, a shoplifting charge," Marthage said.

Some people seek expungement for employment or education-related reasons.

"Recently, I helped someone applying for nursing school that was informed of a shoplifting conviction from the 1990s that was causing a problem for her application," Marthage previously told the Banner.

After expungement paperwork is filed, the court makes sure the state's attorneys' office does not object.

If not, the record is expunged, and notification goes to the Vermont Crime Information Center, which notifies the applicable law enforcement agency, Marthage said.

The result of an expungement order is the complete and permanent removal of all the information pertaining to the expunged charge or charges, according to the Vermont Crime Information Center's website.

The total expungement process can take two to three months, Marthage said.

That can be frustrating for people who need their records expunged for employment reasons, she said.

Marthage said she previously helped a woman who she had prosecuted for misdemeanor crimes as a teenager get her records expunged.

She was hoping to take advantage of a great job opportunity.

"This woman had completely turned her life around," she said.

The records were expunged, and the woman took the job.

"Those are the things that make all of our jobs worth it," Marthage said.

Besides Bennington, an informational session was also held at the Community Library in Manchester on Thursday.

The expungement assistance programs are sponsored by Marthage's office in cooperation with the Bennington County Sheriff's Office.