At the conclusion of a case I always tell all of my clients that I hope I’ll never see them again and I mean it in the best way possible - I never want them to have to navigate the criminal justice system ever again! So it pains me when a client whose case I got dismissed years ago comes running back to me in a complete panic when her Florida arrest record now has her on the verge of being homeless. This happens more often than you would think, and it’s something that can be avoided 99% of the time.
A few years ago I had a client named Sarah who was arrested on drug charges of possession of Vyvanse, a controlled substance that is perfectly legal with a doctor’s prescription. The only criminal thing Sarah did in this case was take the pills in public without having the actual prescription bottle with her. She was an excellent student who had never been in trouble before. She simply made a mistake by not having the prescription bottle on her. This was a very simple case and I was able to get it dismissed within a month.
Immediately after the case was dismissed I urged Sarah to get her record expunged, as I do with all of my clients who qualify for an expungement. Expungement is a court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is destroyed or erased in the eyes of the law. The reason I recommend beginning the expungement process immediately is to prevent your record from interfering with your employment and housing prospects. Even if you weren’t convicted of a crime, the arrest and charges will still appear in a background check.
After listening to my explanation, Sarah still decided that she wanted to hold off on the expungement. Three years later I get a frantic phone call from her mother, who tells me that Sarah is about to be homeless.
Sarah had signed a lease for a new apartment and was ready to move in, when three days before her move-in date the complex notified her that she was being denied because of her arrest record. They wanted to get this resolved as soon as possible and asked me if we could do the expungement super quick.
Unfortunately I had to give them the bad news - there is no quick expungement. The process takes between nine and twelve months to complete. That’s another reason why I always recommend my clients start the process right away.
Ultimately we did get Sarah’s case expunged, but she still had to go through the very stressful process of finding new last-minute housing. And this happens more than you’d think. Many clients (especially the younger ones) don’t realize the importance of clearing your record. Even if you did absolutely nothing wrong, just like Sarah, any potential employer could refuse to hire you after finding out through a background check that you were arrested, especially if he has another candidate with the same exact qualifications and no record. Housing associations could refuse to lease you an apartment. And these situations, which could have been avoided, quickly end up becoming a nightmare for you.
To see if you qualify for an expungement, or to learn more about the process, click here.