This Saturday, Arlington County’s top prosecutor, its Circuit Court clerk and some attorneys will help people who want their criminal record expunged for free.
The clinic will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday (Dec. 3) at Arlington Presbyterian Church, located off Columbia Pike at 918 S. Lincoln Street. It will provide everything attendees need in one place to request arrests that did not result in convictions be removed from their record.
“Even if you’ve been arrested and not convicted, that arrest can follow you every time you apply for a job, school, or an apartment,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow. “That harms people, their families, and the community. This clinic is one way we can mitigate that harm and give people a chance to live productive lives.”
She says this is the first time Arlington has offered an opportunity like this, but she hopes it isn’t the last.
“We wanted to do this for a long time but had to delay because of Covid,” she said. “Prince William has done it recently but I am not aware of any other jurisdictions in Virginia, though it is possible.”
Courts do not identify who is eligible to have their record expunged, so the aim of the clinic is to let people know what is available and what is possible, she says.
“The biggest difficulty is twofold: people don’t know they’re eligible and don’t apply, or others who are not eligible and apply are surprised to discover they are not,” she says. “So, one of our main goals is public education.”
2/2 The point of our clinic is simple: People who are committed to contribute to our community deserve the opportunity for a second chance.
— Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (@parisa4justice) November 27, 2022
Ahead of the clinic, her office partnered with the public defender’s office, the defense bar, local churches, and other community organizations to reach people who may be eligible.
Attorneys will provide pro-bono assistance and clinic sponsors are covering the $86 filing fee on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Attendees need to bring the arrest warrant or final letter of disposition for each charge they would like to be expunged.
Currently, Virginia law limits expungement to narrow circumstances, Dehghani-Tafti says. The Virginia General Assembly passed a new law that would expand eligibility for record sealing, but the changes won’t take effect until July 1, 2025. Even so, there is still room for improvements, Dehghani-Tafti adds.
Clinic sponsors include the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, the Arlington Coalition of Black Clergy and Black Parents of Arlington, as well as local nonprofits Bridges to Independence, Offender Aid and Restoration, Arlington Thrive, Arlington for Justice and the D.C.-based Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, where Dehghani-Tafti used to serve as legal director.
OAR Associate Deputy Director Mustafa Saboor said in a statement that this clinic is an important first step in helping people overcome unjust barriers.
“Our criminal legal system is overly punitive, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the way arrest records destroy people’s ability to work and live,” Saboor said. “Because Black and Brown communities are overpoliced throughout this country, barriers to work because of arrest records fall disproportionately on those communities, further entrenching deeply racist lines in this country.”
Dehghani-Tafti’s former deputy prosecutor announced on Tuesday that he will be challenging her in the 2023 Democratic primary.
Flickr photo by Joe Gratz
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