OPINION: New hope in Oregon for expunging juvenile records
For those who commit a crime as a juvenile, the record of the conviction all too often carries a life sentence. Expunging those records, especially in Oregon, has always been difficult if not impossible. The result is adults who are weighed down by the baggage of poor childhood decisions and whose juvenile records keep popping up in background checks — frustrating and sometimes derailing their hopes for new jobs, professional licenses, housing and entry to college or the military.
But now comes new hope in two forms. First is Senate Bill 575 (2021), a new Oregon law that went into effect in January and provides automatic expunction of some juvenile records, and allows individuals access to a court-appointed attorney at the beginning of the expungement process.
Second is a program, the Record Relief Juvenile Expunction Clinic, created last year by the nonprofit law firm Youth, Rights & Justice (YRJ) that provides community-based clinics where individuals can go to start the expunction process, as well as an online tool that makes it easy for applicants to request assistance with filing an expunction application.
Initially launched in three counties, the clinic's early success encouraged YRJ â€“ in partnership with Lewis & Clark Law School's Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) â€“ to take the program statewide in January. What has long been described as the "collateral consequences" of juvenile adjudication can now be appropriately addressed anywhere in Oregon.
By taking advantage of the clinic, which is free of charge, applicants gain access to staff from YRJ and the CJRC, who will help get the expungement request submitted properly to the court. With only a couple of limited exceptions, once a record has been expunged an individual can confidently know their juvenile record cannot be publicly accessed and effectively never existed.
It is important to note that expunction is not possible for some very serious offenses and a waiting period may be required following an individual's last case termination. Also, if you are applying for the military or a federal job, you will have to acknowledge you did have a juvenile record.
Without a program like this, deserving Oregon residents would continue to struggle with a system that is logistically difficult to navigate and a process that until now served as a formidable barrier to getting a juvenile record expunged. In Oregon, there is a myth that juvenile records are confidential and cannot be used against a person later. This myth keeps many eligible people from applying for expunction.
All young people deserve a clean slate and a fresh start, and the Record Relief Juvenile Expunction Clinic provides that opportunity in Oregon.
Lisa Kay Williams, the attorney who supervises the YRJ program, perhaps put it best: "Youth who have successfully participated in accountability and rehabilitative programs offered in juvenile justice systems should have the opportunity to be productive community members. Expunction plays an important part in that opportunity."
David Rabbino is president of the board of Youth, Rights & Justice and a shareholder at Portland-based law firm Jordan Ramis PC. More information about YRJ's expunction clinic can be found at: youthrightsjustice.org, and the online expunction tool can be found here.
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