Expungement - Can't we just make this all go away???? : Legal Articles from Gamino Law Offices, LLC

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Expungement - Can't we just make this all go away????

by Gamino Law Offices on 03/06/14

Attorney Carlos A. Gamino talks about expungementDo you ever just wish there was a Mr. Clean magic eraser for things that come up in life?  We do!  All jokes aside, criminal defense attorneys are people too! - We know things happen in life that we all wish we had done differently or could undo.  Hindsight is 20-20, right?  As Milwaukee criminal defense attorneys who have "been around the block" a couple times, we understand that normally people wish they could take back their actions when they have been involved in a crime - whether its because they feel badly about it at the time, or because of the consequences they face as a result.  And, often even more so after some time has passed between the event, any immediate consequences and punishment, and sometimes after many years have passed.  People later often recognize that their reputation has been irreparably harmed, especially with how quickly and permanently things spread in society as a result of the internet.  Whether someone's reputation is damaged as a result of a criminal charge, a news report of some negative incident, or professional discipline,  many people want a chance at a fresh start.

As a result, the lawyers at our Wisconsin law firm aren't surprised by the phone calls and inquiries we receive at least once a week asking us if we can "get my record expunged."  Often these requests are filled with information from very regretful people, still suffering the consequences of things that happened 5, 10, 15, even 20 years ago.  Take a recent scenario that we are often faced with:  one of our Milwaukee criminal lawyers is contacted by a gentleman who is now in his mid-30s.  He reports a scenario similar to the one we've heard many times: 18 or so years ago, around age 18, he was convicted of sexual assault of a child for an incident that occurred with a fellow high school student that he had been dating.  The sexual relations had been consensual, but he was a senior in high school and she was an underclassman.  Her parents had been upset by the relationship and reported it to the police.  He, the elder person in the relationship, was prosecuted for Second Degree Sexual Assault of a Child, and sentenced to probation and ordered to register as a sex offender in Wisconsin  for life.  At the time of the prosecution and conviction, lifetime sex offender registration was mandatory regardless of the circumstances.  He is concerned about a lifetime ban on engaging in certain activities with children or being in certain areas with children.  Now, 18 years later, he's been saddled with this criminal conviction hanging over his head that he has to report on job applications and background screenings,  he has never been in any other trouble, has a job, and a family including a pre-teen daughter who is involved in many activities, and he would like to attend them with her as her father.  However, he is constrained by his requirement to register as a Wisconsin sex offender and the reporting that goes along with that - including his name and address on public internet sites monitored by many people, and the most responsible parents, like the parents of the daughter's friends...  The person wants us to expunge his criminal record.  He wishes this would all just go away!

We wish we could make it all go away for him.  Attorney Carlos Gamino, and all the attorneys at our Milwaukee criminal law firm, are very empathetic.  These things follow people for life: whether it is an arrest that is never prosecuted that remains on a background check as an arrest record, a matter of professional discipline that seems insurmountable to put behind you, some picture or comment on the internet that won't go away, or a criminal conviction - there really isn't a mechanism that can wipe the slate clean like people wish there was.

Expungement is a very limited form of relief that is only available in a small set of cases in Wisconsin.  First, and foremost, it won't eliminate the record of what happened.  Expunging a criminal conviction, when available, only eliminates or seals the record of the the criminal conviction - it does not eliminate the record of the arrest (that would have to be petitioned separately), nor any press on the topic. Even if the record were eliminated from Wisconsin Circuit Court Access records about the prosecution of the offense, it won't stop the allegations from coming up on a background check in the form of an arrest record.  It will only seal the record of the conviction - similar to a pardon, but not the same - a person with a record that has been expunged has still been convicted of the crime, its just that the records are ordered sealed.  Although criminal defendants granted expungement are often told by the judge, if they are asked on an employment application whether they have been convicted of a crime that they would be able to answer "no;" sealed or expunged records can still be reopened by certain people such as law enforcement officers or court personnel under certain circumstances.  (Even with a pardon the records are still available, they just notate that the conviction was pardoned.  But that won't stop people from seeing a record of the arrest, history of the case, and the original conviction).  Additionally, expungement is only available to a very limited class of people: those who were under a certain age at the time of the qualified offense who reserved the right to seek expungement later.  In other words, its a very limited remedy for a very limited set of people who have previously been convicted of a crime.  It does not take the place of an appeal from the original conviction.  It does not take the place of adequately contesting the charges at the time they were originally filed and prosecuted.  

Most of the time, by the time people are calling our Milwaukee criminal defense lawyers to ask about expunging the record of a criminal conviction, the case is long since over, appellate deadlines have long expired, and there is not much we will be able to do to eliminate the harm to their rights or reputation that has been caused by their conviction for the offense.  This is one of the reasons why, if you are ever accused of committing a crime, it is urgently important that you discuss your case with a reputable Wisconsin criminal defense attorney right away to give you the best defense in your case the first time around - don't delay in speaking to a lawyer with the idea that if you plead guilty to make it go away now you will be able to fix it later.  Criminal allegations, arrests, and convictions can follow people for life.  It is important to protect yourself and defend your rights at the first sign of trouble to help avoid regrets for years to come.  

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