Bar News - September 21, 2016
Criminal Annulment Clinic Next Month in Manchester
By: Donna Brown
The New Hampshire Constitution set forth the principle that “the true design of all punishments being to reform, not to exterminate mankind.” Unfortunately for many, the record of their contact with the criminal justice system may hold them back from meaningful rehabilitation. As US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently observed in her dissent in Utah v. Strieff, there are 65 million Americans who experience a “civil death” of sorts due to the consequences of having a criminal record, which include “discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check.”
Those with criminal records may be eligible to have their records expunged or annulled under New Hampshire law in order to avoid the stigma that attaches to such a record. As there are many residents of the Granite State who do not understand the law on this issue and/or do not have the resources to afford a lawyer to help them with the process, the NH Bar Association’s Pro Bono Referral Program and the Manchester Chapter of the NAACP are cosponsoring an Annulment Clinic from 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Manchester Community Resource Center, at 434 Lake Ave. in Manchester. This event will also help celebrate the fact that October is Pro Bono Month in New Hampshire.
Throughout the country numerous organizations have held “expungement” clinics where attorneys knowledgeable about annulment law and procedure offer pro bono advice to those seeking to clear their criminal records. These organizations have included law school clinics, local bar associations and other branches of the NAACP.
The two major impediments to seeking an annulment of a criminal record are knowledge and sometimes the funds to hire an attorney to assist in the annulment process. Under our constitution, those who are indigent are not entitled to court-appointed counsel to help them through the annulment process.
One part of annulment law that can be confusing for a layperson is whether or not they are eligible for annulment. Although the law sets out certain time periods after which a person can seek an annulment, these laws can sometimes be difficult for the layperson to understand. For example, if one person received a sentence of 30 days in jail with no other conditions attached to his sentence and a second person received a sentence of 30 days in jail suspended on the condition of two years’ good behavior, the person with the suspended sentence would have to wait a longer period of time to seek an annulment than the person who received a short jail sentence. This is due to the fact that a person’s eligibility for annulment is calculated from the date of the completion of the sentence.
It is anticipated that this clinic will start with a presentation explaining some of the general parameters of annulment law such as to who is eligible and who is not. This will be followed by a session where the attendees will have an opportunity to meet with volunteer lawyers who are knowledgeable on the topic of annulment.
This event will also bring together three New Hampshire organizations committed to bringing justice and opportunity to those who can’t always afford the tools necessary for success. One of the first actions of the Manchester Branch of the NAACP, which formed in March 1964, was to urge New Hampshire’s congressman to vote for the Civil Rights Act. The Manchester Branch of the NAACP is committed to social and economic justice and promoting community building.
The NHBA Pro Bono Program is cosponsoring the clinic. Assisting low-income people in overcoming barriers to employment, including expunging criminal records, is one of the Program’s priorities. As co-sponsor, Pro Bono is recruiting and coordinating attorneys to provide individual, on-site legal consultations with interested attendees. The Program will open cases for participants found eligible to pursue annulment of their criminal records, linking them with clinic and other volunteer attorneys for full representation.
The Manchester Community Resources Center (MCRC) has agreed to donate space for the event. MCRC provides job skills training, adult education courses, life skills education and many other services to those in need in the greater Manchester area.
If you are interested in contributing to this event, please contact Donna Brown.
Donna J. Brown is a partner at Wadleigh, Starr and Peters in Manchester and is also a member of the legal redress committee of the Manchester Branch of the NAACP.