Crime & Courts

Wiping the slate clean

People charged with certain crimes who want to clear their criminal records are invited to a how-to workshop Saturday in Columbia.

Anyone who has been charged with minor first offenses or had their charges dropped or who has completed a court diversion program is eligible to have the charges erased from police records.

The free, two-hour workshop is the result of years of attempts to make it easier to understand and use the expungement law so that old charges do not block people from getting jobs or student aid, said J.T. McLawhorn, chief executive officer of the Columbia Urban League.

Expungement is the legal term for removing a charge from criminal histories.

Fliers that advertise the workshop, called “A Second Chance,” are being distributed in city barbershops, social services offices, city and magistrate courts, and USC’s student placement office.

“We wanted to help people make themselves whole after they’ve paid their debts to society,” said McLawhorn, whose organization is sponsoring the workshop along with the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office and the USC law school.

Barney Giese, the chief prosecutor in Richland and Kershaw counties, and his staff will explain the law, procedures for erasing records and which crimes cannot be cleansed. Those include DUI or other traffic convictions, and almost all felonies, including second and subsequent convictions for domestic violence.

One of the tips offered is that offenders must know erasing an offense is based on the charge, not the sentence. Therefore, a guilty plea for a misdemeanor sentence on a felony charge would prohibit expungement.

Austin Smith, a third-year law student at the law school, is among those who worked to put together “The ABCs of Expungement,” a handy brochure explaining the law.

“The main thing we wanted to do was boil it down and make it something anybody could understand,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to carry this baggage around with you.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.