By CSG Justice Center Staff
Jamie Gullen and Janet Ginzberg from the Community Legal Services (CLS) of Philadelphia work to advance criminal record clearance through engaging the courts. Recently, the two have used amicus briefs to clarify expungement laws in Georgia and Pennsylvania.
The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a new law expanding expungement would apply only to cases that occurred after the law’s implementation or would also apply to older cases. CLS developed an amicus brief detailing the scope of collateral consequences in the state and argued that allowing the expanded expungement rules to apply to some criminal cases and not others would be arbitrary and would impact the ability of people with arrest records to access employment, housing, and other basic needs even decades after their arrests. The court agreed, and now old and new arrest records will be eligible for expungement in Georgia.
In Pennsylvania, the state’s expungement law says that summary conviction records—the most minor type of conviction in the state—are eligible for expungement after five years, but neglects to clarify when the five-year period begins. CLS shared its amicus brief with local attorneys who were able to use it to submit an amicus to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explaining how criminal records are utilized by employers in the state and their impact on a person’s employment prospects. The Pennsylvania court decided that any five-year period free of arrest is sufficient to get a summary conviction expunged. In another Pennsylvania case, CLS drafted an amicus brief documenting the ways in which publishing criminal records violates the state’s Criminal History Record Information Act. This case is scheduled to be heard in Spring 2017.
For each of these briefs, CLS included clients’ testimonials about how their criminal records have impacted them beyond their sentences. The briefs also included research on the collateral consequences of criminal records and their impact on people as they try to access basic necessities and future opportunities.