In July, Advancing Justice-LA hosted its first-ever Prop 47 and record expungement clinic. In partnership with several bar associations and nonprofit organizations, nearly 40 volunteers assisted over 35 individuals with the required paperwork for felony reclassification and record expungement petitions. Because a person with a prior criminal record often faces difficulties in seeking employment and housing, even when the record is very old or completely unrelated, felony reclassification and record expungement can help an individual seeking to re-enter society.
Prop 47 is a law passed by California voters in November 2014, which reduced certain low-level crimes from felonies or ”wobblers” to misdemeanors.
Felonies qualifying under Prop 47 for reduction include simple drug possession, petty theft, shoplifting, forgery, writing a bad check, receipt of stolen property, and theft (if under $950 or less).
Generally, record expungement allows an individual to dismiss a conviction if he or she is not currently on probation, on parole, or charged with a new offense, and if a particular conviction did not result in actual time served in state prison.
Proposition 47 ("Prop 47") was a pivotal moment for California and the nation when passed by voters in November 2014. It served as one of the most significant policy shifts to directly address the rise in mass incarceration and the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color. By re-directing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings towards mental health and drug treatment programs, victim services, and K-12 programs for at-risk students, Prop 47 is a game changer in re-examining the state’s policy and spending priorities.
"Many Prop 47 clinics have not engaged AANHPI communities in Southern California directly, and this clinic was likely the first to have done so," says Paul Jung, Advancing Justice-LA staff attorney who spearheaded the clinic. Under Prop 47, approximately one million Californians are eligible for reclassification, including an estimated 18,000 Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI), one-third of whom reside in Los Angeles County.
With the Asian Pacific American Bar Association (APABA), Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance (APAWLA), the Drug Policy Alliance, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), and the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE) as cosponsors, a robust cohort of primarily Asian American attorneys and law students volunteered at the clinic. “It was great seeing so many private practitioners come devote their Saturdays to working with clients on these petitions that really have the potential to make a significant difference in the clients’ day-to-day lives," said APABA board member Jennifer Song. "APABA is proud to support criminal justice work in AANHPI and other minority communities.”
“I really enjoyed assisting my client so directly, and found the training provided to be very valuable. It was also a wonderful first experience doing criminal justice work, which is not currently a part of my legal practice,” said clinic volunteer Jasmin Yang, an associate at the law firm of Snell & Wilmer LLP.
Kevin Reyes, an Equal Justice Works Americorps Legal Fellow at LAFLA who focuses on Prop 47 and expungement work, collaborated with two other LAFLA attorneys, Dehsong Matheu and Stephanie Lin, to train and supervise volunteers. “We were happy to serve so many clients during the clinic,” Reyes said. “Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, most clients were able to walk away with petitions in hand.” Felony reclassification and/or record expungement petitions under Prop 47 are self-filed by the individual petitioner. It is hoped that this clinic will build a group of experienced post-conviction volunteer attorneys who can provide culturally competent services, and also help raise awareness of the impact of mass incarceration that can erode the stigma and shame experienced within AANHPI communities on criminal justice issues.
Community partners including PACE, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (“EPIC”), the K.W. Lee Center for Leadership, and Nanoom Christian Fellowship also helped with targeted outreach to the AANHPI communities in Los Angeles. Due largely to these efforts, the clinic served a diverse client population. Clients hailed from different counties (ranging from Los Angeles County to Orange County), and from various racial/ethnic backgrounds (ranging from African American to Latino, Korean, and Pacific Islander).
“These workshops were a great benefit to us. It brought awareness because we were aware of our charges and know what to do with our charges in the future. The Prop 47 workshop also helped some people to get jobs easier by dropping their felonies to misdemeanors,” stated a community member who recieved assistance.
Organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Californians for Safety and Justice provided crucial auxiliary support in the form of criminal record searches and funding for Live Scans so that clients could obtain conviction records.