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San Luis Obispo County Residents Clear Criminal Records with Help from ECHO, People’s Justice Project, California Rural Legal Assistance, San Luis Obispo College of Law, and San Luis Obispo Defenders

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September 14, 2022
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ATASCADERO, CA — El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), People’s Justice Project (PJP), California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), San Luis Obispo College of Law, and San Luis Obispo Defenders will host a free legal Clean Slate Clinic for eligible ECHO residents for criminal record expungement, felony reduction, and arrest record sealing on October 13, 2022 at 5 p.m. at the ECHO Atascadero Shelter at 6370 Atascadero Avenue, Atascadero, CA 93422.

This in-person clinic will have two sessions/dates: (1) Information Session and Sign-Ups; and (2) Clean Slate Clinic.

The Information Session and Sign-Ups event will take place on Friday, September 16, 2022, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The Clean Slate Clinic will take place on Thursday, October 13, 2022, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The purpose of the Clean Slate Clinic is to help eliminate a barrier to employment and housing for individuals who have criminal records. A criminal record—no matter how old or how minor—can be an unjust barrier to reentry for people when most employers, property managers and universities use background checks to screen applicants,” said Joseph Doherty, Managing Attorney at CRLA’s Central Coast Homeless Prevention Collaborative, President of People’s Justice Project, and Professor of Law at San Luis Obispo College of Law. "Additionally, even a misdemeanor conviction or probation violation disqualifies a person from a wide range of benefits and opportunities,” he said.

Under federal law, any probation violation for any type of misdemeanor disqualifies an individual from welfare benefits, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, low-income housing, and Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled. The consequences of a drug misdemeanor conviction are particularly harsh and can include the loss of health-care coverage, welfare and student financial aid.

Record clearance is crucial to ensuring that the collateral consequences that stem from a criminal record are eliminated or significantly reduced for the millions of individuals trying to rebuild their lives toward a successful future. Criminal record expungement confers numerous benefits for individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors and felonies. When applying for a job, individuals who successfully expunge their criminal record can lawfully answer “No” if asked whether they have been convicted of a crime. Moreover, an employer is not permitted to consider an expunged conviction that is discovered through a background check in making a hiring decision.

An expungement also benefits those seeking state professional licenses. To be sure, even after an expungement in many circumstances, an individual must disclose a conviction in response to a question posed in an application for a state license (e.g., a contractor license or real estate license) or in an application for public office. However, many licensing agencies are more likely to look favorably upon individuals who have successfully completed probation and whose convictions have been expunged.  Further, under California law, “a person shall not be denied a license on the basis of any conviction, or on the basis of any acts underlying the conviction” if the conviction has been dismissed.  

“Another benefit of this work that we have seen is that our clients who get their expungement petitions granted are not returning to the criminal justice system,” said Renee Lizarraga, Staff Attorney at People’s Justice Project and Professor of Law at San Luis Obispo College of Law. “The added stability that comes from obtaining employment and housing can go a long way to reducing rates of recidivism, as well as improving the quality of the client’s life overall.”

“A criminal record represents a substantial and enduring obstacle standing in the way of individuals who have served their time,” said Avery Barboza, Administrative and Programs Manager at ECHO. “By expunging criminal records, we are helping our community members become full, productive members of society once again and move past their prior offenses,” she said.

“Record Clearing services allow individuals to obtain equal access to legal representation and justice and our law students are an essential part of that access,” said Dena Dowsett, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Recruitment at San Luis Obispo College of Law.

“Through our law school’s Clean Slate Clinics, community members feel heard and seen through the expungement process, a feeling that many have never felt before,” said Maren Christensen, Associate Dean for Clinical Programs at San Luis Obispo College of Law. “An expungement grants our community members the ability to continue with their lives and positively contribute to our society,” she said.

The California Policy Lab estimates nearly 1 in every 8 Californians with a criminal record is potentially eligible to obtain a full criminal record expungement; 81% of Californians with a criminal record are estimated to be eligible to have at least one prior arrest or conviction expunged.  

“The vital expungement services we will help provide at our October 13, 2022 Clean Slate Clinic at ECHO Atascadero will not only facilitate reentry for individuals with a criminal arrest or conviction but also improve access to equal justice for all,” said Steve Rice, Managing Attorney at San Luis Obispo Defenders. “We value our partnership with ECHO, PJP, CRLA and SLOCL, and are proud to participate in this important community initiative,” he said. “The support we will provide ECHO, PJP, CRLA and SLOCL during the October 13th clinic will be instrumental in furthering our goal of providing justice to our community’s most vulnerable members,” said Brian Buckley, Managing Attorney at San Luis Obispo Defenders.

At the information session on Friday, September 16, 2022, individuals seeking services will be advised of certain eligibility requirements:

  • Individuals currently serving a sentence for any offense are not eligible for expungement.
  • Individuals currently on probation for any offense are not eligible for expungement.
  • Individuals currently charged with any offense, and the case is still pending or unresolved, are not eligible for expungement.
  • Certain sex crimes involving children and certain serious or violent felonies are not eligible for expungement.

If you are interested in clearing your criminal record, please contact Attorney Joseph Doherty of CRLA at (805) 902-CRLA or reentry@crla.org.

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About People's Justice Project (PJP)
People’s Justice Project is a Central Coast- based non-profit law firm that protects the civil rights, liberties, and dignity of all Central Coast of California residents through the provision of high-quality legal and social services, including (1) civil rights litigation, (2) screening for U.S. citizenship eligibility, applying for U.S. citizenship, and other immigration law services, and (3) criminal defense litigation, including post-conviction services. For more information, please visit www.peoplesjusticeproject.org.

About California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA)
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) provides free legal services and education to tens of thousands of low-income residents of California’s rural counties and litigates cases that benefit even more people. We help our clients get fair pay for their hard work, find and stay in safe housing, access healthcare, ensure quality education for their children, and more. Our vision is a rural California where all people are treated with dignity and respect and guaranteed their fundamental rights. For more information, please visit crla.org.

About San Luis Obispo College of Law (SLOCL)
San Luis Obispo College of Law (SLOCL) is an accredited branch of Monterey College of Law.  The branch campus opened in Fall 2015 and is located at 4119 Broad Street, Suite 200, San Luis Obispo, CA.  SLOCL offers the J.D., Master of Legal Studies, concurrent J.D./M.L.S., hybrid online JD, and LL.M. degree programs, and is one of twenty California law schools accredited by the State Bar of California Committee of Bar Examiners.  In addition to the Clean Slate Clinic, SLOCL supports SLO County residents' legal needs through two other clinics, Immigration and SLO Law Line.  To learn more, visit slolaw.org.  

About El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO)
ECHO’s mission since 2001 is to empower people in SLO County to make positive change by providing food, shelter, and supportive services. ECHO operates two shelters with a bed capacity of 110, a daily community dinner program, and shower program for unhoused individuals and families throughout San Luis Obispo County. For more information, please visit our website at www.echoshelter.org.

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