Emanuel McLemore was in jail three years ago when he had a “look in the mirror” moment.
“I had seen people I know make the change,” he said. “I asked myself, when is it going to happen to me?”
Upon release, he set out to get his life on track. That meant getting sober and complying with probation requirements.
On Thursday, seeking “closure” on the long ordeal, McLemore visited an event in Marin City hosted by county agencies to assist people convicted of crimes with a variety of services meant to clean up their criminal records.
“To be able to come down here and to this place, it’s closing a chapter of that old life,” he said. “If only I knew what I know now back then. But it’s a give and take. I never knew that I would get to this point in my life.”
The program, called Clean Slate, is a collaboration among prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services to offer those convicted of crimes a chance to clear their records. But the program is intended to be much more than that, said Public Defender David Sutton.
“We wanted to take the Civic Center back into the community,” Sutton said. “If we could reach just one person in the community, that would be a success.”
The program, called Clean Slate, is a collaboration among prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services to offer those convicted of crimes a chance to clear their records.
Dozens of applicants show-ed up outside St. Andrew Presbyterian Church to call upon the agencies for a variety of services such as clearing records, terminating probation early or dismissing a conviction.
The event was seen as a first step for the applicants to receive information about the program and, armed with the proper documentation, initiate the process. The departments had Spanish translators available and an immigration lawyer ready to assist.
Most were hoping to get records expunged, meaning having prior criminal convictions erased. A website dedicated to the Clean Slate program describes expungement as a legal order that acknowledges offenders have paid their debt to the criminal justice system and their criminal history cannot be used to limit opportunities in work, academics or access to services.
The expungements only relate to criminal records in Marin. Eligible applicants are people who have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor who successfully completed probation and are not serving a sentence or charged in a new crime. Ineligible candidates were those who were convicted of a felony and sent to prison, and anyone convicted of specific sex or vehicle code offenses.
Expungement can allow applicants to answer on job applications that they have not been convicted, though the program warns that government jobs and jobs requiring security clearances will discover the conviction. Expungement, however, will not remove the conviction, but instead reflect that it was dismissed. It also does not, in most cases, reinstate the right to possess firearms or prevent the conviction from being used as a prior in subsequent prosecution.
Criminal records are a barrier to employment and some said they wished to clear their records in order to secure work and stability. McLemore said he was in the process of opening a sober living home in Merced and was seeking to be released early from probation.
“There’s been a change in my life,” he said. “I had to get this off my jacket.”
Sutton said he was out to lunch with Assistant District Attorney Otis Bruce Jr., Probation Chief Marlon Washington and D’Angelo Paillet, a county social services official, when they came up with the idea for the program.
Bruce characterized the program as a first of its kind collaboration between the different agencies of the criminal justice system. The event linked Black History Month, historically Black Marin City and Black leaders in criminal justice to highlight shared cause and community, he said.
“We’re facilitating a historical process that’s never existed in Marin County,” he said. “The whole goal is to create a movement.”
Bruce said expungement applicants are screened to determine if they qualify for the program. A legal petition is filed to the district attorney’s office, which has 60 days to respond. If there is no objection, an order will be forwarded to a judge or commissioner to grant the expungement.
“Nothing removes barriers more than expungements,” Paillet said.
The program is intended to also offer other services to assist the applicants. Representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services were present, providing Medi-Cal, CalFresh food assistance, CalWORKS services, employment training and general financial relief for families. Off to the side, a row of medical workers gave out COVID-19 vaccinations.
Darrell Roary, a case manager with Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, said the program would allow applicants to “come out of the darkness.”
“This work is really important to me. It’s personal and professional,” he said. “It’s kind of the final chapter of what they’ve been through.”
The group hopes to take the program to other areas such as the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael and Novato.
“This is the inaugural event and definitely not the last,” Sutton said.
By Giuseppe Ricapito, Marin Independent Journal