As a public defender, Nicki Vaughan has seen how a young person's mistakes can have a long-lasting impact.
Though these offenses might be in the past, she said the charge sometimes “hangs onto them long after they’ve paid back society and paid back the government for whatever they owe for restitution or fines.”
A town hall scheduled for Monday, Oct. 4, intends to inform and help people who want to have certain convictions expunged.
Signed into law last year by Gov. Brian Kemp, Senate Bill 288 allows certain convictions to be restricted and sealed from a person’s record. Information about the convictions would still be available to law enforcement.
“Under the prior version of the law, only charges that did not result in a conviction and certain misdemeanors that an individual was convicted of before they turned 21 years old, were eligible,” according to the Georgia Justice Project. “SB 288 removes the age limitation for most offenses by allowing an individual to petition the court to restrict and seal up to two misdemeanor convictions from their record and any offense that has been pardoned (as long as it was not a serious violent felony or sexual offense) from their criminal history.”
The Oct. 4 virtual town hall for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit — which includes Hall and Dawson counties — is a joint project between the Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts, the Georgia Justice Project and the Georgia Legal Services Program.
Vaughan said the hardest part of this project has been “reaching the people and getting them to do it.”
“There are some really cheap charges that will keep people from being eligible for food stamps, for instance, and for other benefits,” she said.
Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard held a pair of workshops earlier this year regarding nonviolent misdemeanor restriction in collaboration with the Newtown Florist Club, Gainesville’s civil rights group.
Eligible people for record restriction can petition the court four years after they completed their sentence if there are no new convictions or pending charges in that time.
There are limitations under the new law. Most sexual and violent crimes are excluded from the process, but one of the few exceptions is the charge of battery under the Family Violence Act if the arrest happened before the person was 21 years old.
If the person seeking record restriction has a misdemeanor, then they have to file a petition to the court that handled the case. Felonies require the additional step of obtaining a pardon before filing a petition.
Record restriction town hall
What: Online event hosted by the Northeastern Judicial Circuit to help people in Hall, Dawson counties seal certain records
When: 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 4