For those who have been charged and convicted of a crime, it can be hard to find a job and housing and to get back on their feet. However, having a past criminal record expunged may help a person get their life back and become the person they’ve always wanted to be.
Attorney M. Denise Fondren, as part of the Magnolia Bar Restoration Day, will host an expungement clinic on Friday, March 29 from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Carroll County Courthouse in Vaiden and Saturday, March 30 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Vaiden High School Gymnasium.
Fondren said even though the clinic is being held in Vaiden, a person does not have to be a resident of or convicted in Carroll County to be eligible for free legal assistance at the clinic.
“Last year, I hosted the clinic in Lafayette County,” Fondren said. “I had people come from Coahoma, Panola and Union counties. So, no they don’t have to be from Carroll to attend.”
Fondren, who was raised in Vaiden and is a 2003 graduate of J.Z. George High School, said she wanted to come home and do the expungement clinic because there aren’t a lot of resources in Carroll County, and she wanted to come home to help. Fondren graduated from The University of Mississippi School of Law in May 2017 and passed the Bar Exam in September of 2017.
“Carroll County is my home. There are not a lot of resources around there, and I try to come back and help as much as I can.”
She said the Magnolia Bar, which is open to any lawyer but was established for African American lawyers, put on the expungement clinics every year.
“They’re always held in February or March,” she said. “We do it every year as a restorative justice track and to combat those issues a person can have by having a conviction.”
She added that with a conviction, it’s hard for a person to get a job, get public housing, or even obtain a driver’s license in specific instances.
However, it’s not open to every conviction. According to Mississippi law, misdemeanors, first-time offenders, non-adjudicated cases, those that have been remanded to the file or dismissed, minors in possession, DUI convictions qualify as long as the person has “…successfully completed all terms and conditions of the sentence imposed for the conviction; did not refuse to submit to a test of his blood or breath; had a blood alcohol concentration tested below sixteen one-hundredths percent (.16 percent) if test results are available; have not been convicted of and does not have pending any other offense of driving under the influence; have provided the court with justification as to why the conviction should be expunged; and have not previously had a non-adjudication or expunction of a violation of this section.”
She said there are also particular felony convictions that can be expunged, but everyone is not eligible. According to the law, those who committed a crime under the age of 21 “…after the successful completion of all terms and conditions of the sentence for the conviction” are eligible.
Other felonies that can be expunged are a bad check offense, possession of a controlled substance or paraphernalia, false pretense, larceny, malicious mischief or shoplifting.
However, those who have committed a violent crime cannot have their record expunged. Those include driving under the influence, murder and attempted murder, aggravated assault, manslaughter, killing of an unborn child, kidnapping, human trafficking, poisoning, rape, robbery, sexual battery, drive-by shooting or bombing, carjacking, felonious neglect, abuse or battery of a child, burglary of a dwelling, use of explosives or weapons of mass destruction, statutory rape (but this classification is rebuttable on hearing by a judge), exploitation of a child, gratification of lust and shooting into a dwelling.
In order for a person to receive assistance at the clinic, Fondren said they should bring documentation of the conviction for which they are seeking expungement.
“Bring court abstracts, it can come from justice court, municipal court and in some cases circuit court, but it has to be from the court the conviction was in. When they come to see me that Friday or Saturday, I’ll review their documents, and if they’re eligible for expungement, I’ll draft up a petition and an order. They take that back to court they received the conviction,” she said.
Fondren said there is a fee a person must pay to the courts.
“I believe the fee is $50. When you go to the court, you’ll pay your fee, present the petition and leave order there with the particular clerk.”
She said the order should be signed within a week or whenever the Judge is back in court.
Once the order is signed, Fondren said the clerk will then send the order to Jackson to erase the conviction from all the records.
“It takes about 30 to 90 days. Because I’ve heard that Jackson is backed up, I tell people to call every 30 days to check the status. It is free to come to the clinic; no one pays me anything. They just have to pay the fee with the court to file the petition.”
She said once a person leaves the expungement clinic, it’s their responsibility to get the petition and order to the appropriate court.
“It’s the individual’s responsibility to take it to the appropriate court. Once they leave from the clinic, that’s it for me. I’ve done my part. In some instances, the clerk will tell the person they need an attorney. When that happens, I tell the person to have them call me and I’ll speak to clerk to get that issue resolved. But, once they leave me Friday or Saturday, that’s the end of my duty to the individual.”
Fondren added, “I want to thank Chancery Clerk Stanton and Mayor Hawthorne for allowing me to use the Chancery Courtroom and the Vaiden High School Gym to conduct the clinic. I am looking for volunteers for both days. If anyone wants to volunteer, they can help with sign in and copying things, they can also email me.”
She said the event is co-hosted by her sorority sisters of the Beta Alpha Kappa Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. of Grenada. Fondren said people can start registering for the clinic by e-mailing her at email@example.com