Brad in his 20s was "pretty wild," a party boy who had both a DUI and a felony evading conviction for fleeing from police.
Brad in his 40s is a different story. He's a respected professional, a husband and dad. He paid his debt to society with a fine and many hours of community service. And he straightened up.
Still, he said he couldn't get a passport to visit his sister in England. He couldn't get a rifle to go deer hunting with his brother. And while it didn't affect his primary job, it wreaked havoc with his attempt to earn extra cash delivering pizza.
Brad, who asked that his name not be published for obvious reasons, petitioned to have his old criminal record expunged. It took about six months.
Attorneys specializing in expungements report a big jump because the recession has thousands of Utahns scrambling to replace lost jobs and lots of employers doing background checks. That long-ago black mark can haunt applicants in a marketplace where job seekers outnumber jobs. Small infractions once overlooked when workers were hard to come by are now door slammers.
Jeff Nigbur, spokesman for the Bureau of Criminal Identification, confirmed an increase, but said BCI doesn't know what's driving it. "It could be the economy," he said. "But we don't know."
In all of 2007, Utah granted 6,006 expungements, while in 2008 there were 6,889. As of Nov. 30 this year, 6,672 had been completed, with enough in the works that the figure is expected to top 7,000, Nigbur said.
Employers can look at an entire adult criminal record, not just recent history, said attorney Mathew Higbee, a University of Utah law school grad who founded Recordgone.com, which handles expungement cases in 10 states.
"It's not uncommon for a client to want expunged something that happened in the early 1970s because he was denied employment," he said. "Some of it comes from employers not using good judgment and really evaluating an applicant for who he is now, not who he was 30 years ago. But with insurance requirement and licensing requirement … ."
Not all crimes can be purged. And the record doesn't cease to exist, but it won't show up on routine checks for employment, for example, Higbee said.
States have different rules, although there are constants. A first-degree felony, he said, isn't eligible. You cannot escape a crime that made you register as a sex offender. A murder conviction stays. Higbee said most Utah expungements are for former drug users who had felony possession convictions and served their sentences and probation years ago. You can't apply until proscribed lengths of time have passed with no legal problems. How long depends on the crime. Multiple convictions for separate crimes won't expunge.
Jim was arrested for marijuana possession at age 20 and nine years later got the record expunged. Susan believes her 1973 drug conviction would not be a felony in 2009, or it could have been pleaded down. Her record, too, has been expunged.
After time is served, probation is finished, fines are paid and time has elapsed, the court may even agree to go back and reduce the degree of crime in certain cases so a record can be expunged, Higbee said. A felony makes someone ineligible for federally backed student loans. It may lock you out of the apartment you want.
Not all applications are granted, said Ben Yrungaray, Brad's attorney. But in cases where "crimes were not serious, the mistakes were made when young and they're now professionals and find that the record holds them back from moving forward," many people are finding expungement worth exploring.
You don't need an attorney for an expungement, although Higbee said the expertise is helpful. Information on expungement in Utah is online at bci.utah.gov.
Reasons for expungement denial in Utah include:
Capital felony, first-degree felony, second-degree forcible felony, automobile homicide, felony DUI alcohol/drugs, conviction for sexual act against a minor, registerable sex offense, more than two convictions from separate cases, more than one felony, pending/open case, dismissal with an intervening arrest, disposition information missing, time requirement not met.
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