BY KAYLEE DUFF
On Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23, two days of drop-in clinics will be held at Stonewall Columbus. There will be attorneys available to help our LGBTQ+ community with criminal histories to review their charges and see if the individuals qualify to have their records sealed or expunged.
“Last [year], Ohio quietly modified its criminal records statutes. More people may be eligible now to have their criminal records sealed,” explained Andy Dugan, the Legal Clinic Attorney with Equality Ohio. “Ohio also modified its laws related to human trafficking. If someone was a victim of human trafficking, they can now actually get their record expunged.”
When a criminal record is sealed, it means it’s hidden from the public, but it still exists. When a record is expunged, it’s erased and is as if it never existed.
Having a public criminal conviction can create obstacles for the individual. Dugan explained that “when you have that outstanding criminal records that people can see, there are three areas where it really affects individuals.”
- Employment. Prospective employers are able to see that criminal record, even though it may have been a drug possession charge from ten years ago or something.
- Housing. Potential landlords can see that.
- Schools. If people are trying to further their education, that can actually have an adverse effect on their admission.
People who identify as LGBTQ+ (and especially LGBTQ+ people of color) have a statistically higher chance of coming into contact with the criminal justice system at one point in their lives. For this reason, it’s important that our community is aware of the resources available to us in order to move past a potential conviction.
“Most of the time, people just aren’t aware of the different options available to them. The Franklin County court system does have a self-help center. Again, most people don’t know about it. Even if they do know about it, they might be afraid to go down there,” Dugan said.
Equality Ohio’s Legal Clinics are an amazing opportunity for members of the LGBTQ+ community with a criminal history to come and learn about those resources and receive assistance with their records. “This will be a place where people can feel welcome to come talk to attorneys with no judgment, to review their criminal history and see if they are able to close the door on that part of their life, so they can move forward without that criminal record acting like a chain, holding them down,” Dugan affirmed.
There will also be attorneys on hand to aid with other legal issues, such as victims of crime compensation applications, landlord/tenant disputes, identity theft, name changes, protection orders and more.
The Legal Clinics will be held at Stonewall Columbus on February 22nd (10 a.m. through 5 p.m.), and February 23rd (9 a.m. through 1 p.m.). The events are free and drop-ins are welcome, but you can also register before attending. More details are available here.
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