A criminal record is a significant weight that thwarts one’s greatest efforts to prosper. It provides obstacles to re-entry into a free society, such as barriers to obtaining housing, financial aid, public benefits, entrance into the military, education and job. This is true even if a case was dismissed and/or a person was never really convicted of a crime.
Minnesota became the first state in the country to start a justice reform initiative in October 2020 that will help citizens seal minor convictions and 50 nonviolent felonies from their records at no cost. Assistant Attorney General Nilushi Ranaweera, who is managing the program “Help Seal My Record,” highlighted how the expungement program is assisting Minnesotans in sealing their criminal records and assisting some in creating better lives for themselves. The following story, shared by Ranaweera, is one of the 500 cases expunged by the Attorney General’s Office as of now.
A mother of three from St. Paul, Minn., had been in an abusive relationship for some time. She lost her patience one day in response to her partner’s narcissistic abusive behavior and snapped at him. She was later convicted of domestic abuse.
She was in nursing school at the time, working toward her goal of becoming a nurse. She had to abandon her education and begin working three jobs to provide for her three children.
“She was overjoyed when we were able to get the case dismissed,” Ranaweera said. “I called her during the Christmas season to tell her the good news. She stated that it was the nicest Christmas present she could have received.”
She explained how tough it is in America to start a fresh life after being convicted of a crime: “It’s difficult to find work, housing, study, or even go on a school field trip with your children.”
This program is offered in several countries. However, many of those programs necessitate the payment of expungement attorneys and entail years and years of time-consuming procedures. But, in Minnesota residents can apply for Help Seal My Record without hiring an attorney, going through the lengthy traditional process, or attending hearings.
According to Ms. Ranaweera, the Attorney General’s Office analyzes applications to determine eligibility, and county prosecutors are who decide whether the case should be expunged from the records.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has received 4,300 petitions for expungement, according to Ranaweera. After thorough reviews, the office has expunged 500 cases as of now.
The number of applications they receive continues to rise, she said: “Everyday we receive at least five to 10new applications. Each semester, I hire 10 to 15 law students from Minnesota and other states to work with me on these cases.”
Ranaweera added: “I am honored to be a part of this initiative. We don’t only affect one person’s life. We help a family and return a productive person to society.”