One in three adult Americans have a criminal record, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Having a criminal record can present many barriers for individuals in different fields, especially those requiring a professional license.
The Center for American Progress said, “while felony records carry the greatest stigma, in the digital era, any record—no matter how old or minor—can stand in the way of reentry, economic stability, and full participation in society.”
Employers, landlords, colleges and universities use background checks to screen out applicants with criminal records. Often called “collateral consequences,” the resulting barriers to employment, housing, education, and other basics put economic stability, let alone upward mobility, out of reach for tens of millions of individuals and families, according to the article.
An expungement order removes a conviction from a defendant’s criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record. It’s a relatively straightforward process for an attorney to do, but for someone not familiar with the process, trying to obtain an expungement can be complicated, confusing and expensive.
The expungement desk was opened in January 2020 to help people with crimes in Indiana clear their criminal records. The desk is under the Indiana Legal Services department and has seen success over a short period of time.
Jessica Beheydt is one of the four founders of the desk and she describes her job with the expungement desk as fulfilling.
“My job is putting smiles on people’s faces and I love that. In Indiana it is perfectly legal to discriminate against someone based on their criminal record,” Beheydt said. “If you have a misdemeanor, possession of mariuana for example, people can deny you employment or not give you an apartment. For me it is giving those freedoms back.”
She said in Indiana you can look up a person’s criminal history because it is put online.
In 2021 alone, the desk has worked on 168 cases, 99 of which were expungement cases and they were all granted. They have served 38 counties in Indiana this year.
“The process of dealing with an expungement case after we have gathered all the information takes between three months to six months. The longest case I ever worked on was about six months,” Beheydt said.
Beheydt said every individual is eligible to receive only one expungement in their lifetime from all their state offenses. She said even if a person has a number of state crimes, they can all be expunged at the same time, but that is the only expungement they will ever get.
If one is eligible, they are represented as long as their criminal record is in Indiana. If they are not eligible, a letter is sent containing information about whether they will ever be eligible and what they can do.
Beheydt said Indiana Legal Services is a statewide organization which provides free legal services. The organization is funded by the legal services corporation and has federal rules which tells how much money an individual can make and how many assets before they are eligible for services.
The desk was housed by New Leaf New Life and used their space to do outreach. This project is housed within Indiana Legal Services with great support from The Maurer School of Law. The desk is also run by student volunteers from the law school.
They can be found on their website and one can apply for assistance there or by calling their number, which is also on the website.
“My hope is that we can continue to bring on more students and to find more creative ways to help as many hoosiers and people with crimes in Indiana,” Beheydt said.