In 2018 the Santa Clara Law Center for Social Justice and Public Service, along with Criminal Law Society at Santa Clara University, co-hosted the first “speed screening” criminal records expungement clinic at Santa Clara Law. More than twenty clients were served, and twenty-five law students received training in expungement law.
The expungement clinic was conceptualized by Sharine Xuan JD ’21 and vice president of the Santa Clara Law Criminal Law Society, and brought to life by Professor Ellen Kreitzberg, director of the Center for Social Justice and Public Service at Santa Clara Law. San Jose State University’s Record Clearance Project partnered in the event by providing training for students and community outreach.
“Students receive valuable practical experience by interviewing clients and applying expungement law, while clients receive much needed legal service on a pro bono basis.”
Approximately one in three American adults have a criminal record, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016. Having any sort of criminal conviction, including misdemeanors, can disqualify a person from participating in public assistance programs such as Section 8 housing and food stamps. A conviction can prevent even a well-trained person from getting employment and also bar a person from applying for professional occupational licenses to become a cosmetologist, nurse, or teacher.
While many states have laws that allow for clearing or sealing of misdemeanor offenses, most people are either unaware these laws exist or are unsure how to proceed. Still, others are deterred by the cost of the process. State filing fees for record expungement can be upwards of $500, and private attorney fees can be in the thousands.
Sharine Xuan says that allowing law students to provide expungement services under the supervision of attorneys is a win-win situation. Xuan shares, “students receive valuable practical experience by interviewing clients and applying expungement law, while clients receive much needed legal service on a pro bono basis.”
Brittany Rickets JD ’20, who participated in the clinic as a student attorney says, “I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn an area of the law not traditionally taught in law school courses. By having direct interaction with clients and seeing the impact first hand, the experience reinforced why I went to law school in the first place—to help others.”
The clinic was partially sponsored by the Office of Councilmember Lan Diep, San Jose District 4. “When Santa Clara Law asked me to sponsor their expungement clinic, I was more than happy to help,” said Councilmember Diep. “Each year, thousands of Californians are denied employment opportunities, licenses, or even housing opportunities due to prior convictions on their record. The Santa Clara Law Expungement Clinic is making a huge impact in the lives of those they have served, and I am honored to be a small part of their success.”
The first clinic was such a success, that Santa Clara law initiated a class in the Fall, 2019 for expungement to try to expand the services provided. They hope to make the clinic an ongoing service that Santa Clara Law provides to the community. This experiential learning opportunity has the potential to have a tremendous impact on the lives of many individuals, giving them a second chance at opportunities that may have been taken away by past mistakes.
This clinic was taught by Public Defender Meghan Piano BS ’04, JD ’07 and Jake Rhodes JD ’10.