Leaders from Fulton County and the faith community are offering a veterans-focused summit to clear criminal records.
The expungement effort is called the Record Restriction Summit. It will take place at The Temple in Midtown on Veteran’s Day.
Restricting employers’ access to certain criminal histories became easier under a 2015 Georgia law but minor offenses that predate the legislation can remain a costly blemish in more ways than one.
“This usually costs a couple thousand bucks to hire a lawyer to go through the process,” said Fulton County Solicitor General Keith Gammage. “It would take months, but with our records restrictions summit we’re able to do it in days, sometimes on the very same day.”
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The range of eligible expungement cases is wide. Cases may have been dead docketed, declined to prosecute, or maybe there was an unresolved misdemeanor case prior to the defendant turning 21. If the case predates the new restriction law, a person has to contact the arresting agency in addition to prosecutors to resolve the issue.
“So it’s not that the courts are necessarily moving slowly, it’s that we’re catching up with some of these old records that can linger even after they’ve been dismissed,” said Gammage.
Don Howard, the deputy solicitor general and a U.S. Army veteran, said the summit provides a space to quickly resolve records that may even tie back to a clerical matter in the court system.
“Sometimes we can investigate it,“ Howard said. “If it got lost in the works we can formally dismiss it and make it eligible for restriction. (Otherwise) Those could haunt you forever.”
The solicitor's office manages an expungement unit, noting thousands of cases they’ve cleared in recent years. The summit is open to anyone, but the focus on veterans ties back to service-related experiences that led to legal mistakes.
Gammage told Channel 2’s Nicole Carr about a veteran defendant he recently met in court. The man was fighting an erratic driving charge.
“What we discovered was the training he received while in Afghanistan caused him to look out for snipers on the roadway,” Gammage explained.
Rabbi Peter Berg said the partnership to host the free event includes The Temple, Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Georgia Justice Project, Veteran’s Empowerment Organization, along with the solicitor, district attorney’s office, judges and clerks.
“For us this comes from the biblical mandate….We know it as ‘We shall not stand idly by,’” said Berg. “There are individuals who are living in Fulton County, our neighbors, who aren’t able to obtain affordable housing, adopt a child, individuals who have no access to get a job.”
“What we’ve found is that most people who make a mistake can be healed and restored, Gammage said. “And when they take the first step towards gainful employment, we want to meet them there.”
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