“Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?” It’s such a simple question on an employment application for that coveted position, but it can haunt job-seekers with a past, even if they were convicted of a crime decades ago.
How to answer that question was on the minds of the participants who joined an Aug. 20 workshop at Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network in Long Beach. The workshop focused on how to expunge criminal records.
Luis Reyes, a business-services specialist with L.A. County’s Department of Public Social Services, offered simple advice to the more than a dozen attendees who hoped that getting their cases expunged could help them with their job search since it would essentially mean that their case was dismissed.
It’s a simple “yes or no” question, Reyes reminded the group gathered in a conference room at the Pacific Gateway office on Atlantic Avenue. Reyes acknowledged that there is a small space on most applications to fully explain that “yes” answer, but he advised against either offering detailed explanations or leaving the question blank.
“The issue is not necessarily the offense. It’s how people explain the offense,” Reyes said, as he recalled how some people take a page or two to answer the question. “I’m a believer in the short but sweet.”
He advised identifying the offense (e.g. naming the penal-code violation or vehicle-code violation) along with the date and the sentence. Reyes acknowledged that while there are other theories about what it means to expunge a criminal record, he recommended that job-seekers still provide a short summary of the offense and the sentence even if the record is expunged. When a criminal record is successfully expunged, however, job-seekers can add two key words in the explanation line: “case dismissed.” Those key words may make a big difference in how the employer sees a job candidate and also may mean everything to the job seeker’s self-esteem.
Reyes explained that expunging a criminal case will not erase a person’s history from public records. By the time a judge reviews an expungement petition, the judge looks to see whether the conditions in the original sentence have been met and if the probationary period has been completed, according to Reyes. He explained that a judge at this stage is not determining whether a person is guilty or innocent.
Expungement is “not the magic bullet,” he concluded. “It will not solve all your headaches, but it will alleviate some of them.”
It’s not a cheap alternative either, particularly if there are multiple cases that a job-seeker would like to see expunged. The fee to have a case considered for expungement is $120 per case. Some may be eligible to forego this amount. There is an application to waive the fee. Not everyone can expunge their criminal record in California. If someone has served state prison time for an offense, that record cannot be expunged. Expungement is only limited to those cases in which there was a probationary period, Reyes said, explaining that there might be county jail time served, but not state prison time.
Reyes handed participants a thick packet that explained the steps of expungement in addition to the forms that must be completed. Reyes recalled how some of the individuals he has helped have added their own written statements to the judge when filing for expungement. He warned against the temptation to “pass the buck” or claim innocence of any crime when filing to expunge a criminal record.
“Judges are looking for an assumption of responsibility and a bit of remorse for what happened,” Reyes told the group, acknowledging that some filers pled guilty when they first went before a judge after they were initially charged with a crime. “Cop to it,” Reyes said. “You already did years ago.”
Pacific Gateway has offered the expungement workshop about one time every month as part of its efforts to help local job-seekers with finding the right job. In partnership with the Employment Development Department, Pacific Gateway is administered by the City of Long Beach and is known for its employment-assistance resources and available training for job-seekers.
“Expungement services can be an invaluable aid to gaining employment, and that’s why Pacific Gateway supports it,” said K.C. Nash in a released statement. Nash serves as the interim executive director for Pacific Gateway.
The purpose of the workshop seems to focus on what to do to move forward, once mistakes are readily acknowledged and a criminal history is really…history. Reyes acknowledges that he has worked with a number of individuals who just can’t seem to get over their past. He described how some complain about their records but don’t do anything to fix it.
At this workshop, he didn’t ask for many specifics in any participant’s backstory. He did not cast judgment on the gravity of any crime. He wasn’t there to hear confessions. He encouraged an attitude that looked to move forward, acknowledging that the judges who ruled on expungement requests are looking to see if a person expresses regret. The “rap sheet” from the state will still contain arrest records and criminal histories, expunged or not.
“Hopefully your record is not going to get any worse now,” Reyes said. “No plans to commit an offense after today, correct?” His class voiced agreement.
“So clean up what you have, as best as you can, with what the law allows you to do,” Reyes concluded, “and then go from there.”
Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network