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Clean Record?

New law allows criminals to clear their records for a price.

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Memphian David Wicks was convicted for vandalism over $500, a Class E felony, more than four years ago. He's felt the pressure of that charge ever since.

"It's been four years since I've been able to get some type of regular employment," Wicks said. "I've applied to many jobs, but nothing has really come through."

Wicks is one of many Tennesseans who struggle to find a job after a felony conviction. But a new state law going into effect in July will allow those who have been convicted of certain nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors to have their records expunged.

To qualify for the law, which was sponsored by state senator Reginald Tate and state representative Karen Camper, both from Memphis, a person must have been convicted of a nonviolent offense that didn't involve physical force against a person or their property or the use of a firearm. Driving under the influence changes are exempt from the new law, and sexual crimes that require the person to register as a sex offender don't count either. Also exempt are offenses that caused a victim to sustain a loss of $25,000 or more.

Charges such as vandalism, car theft of less than $1,000, and writing bad checks qualify under the law. A person also must have stayed out of trouble for five years and paid all fines and penalties associated with their offense.

Those who do qualify will have to pay a $350 fee to get their record expunged, a cost that some people think is too high.

George Harris, convicted of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, is one of those people.

"I think your past should be in the past. You've paid your debt to society, so you can move on," Harris said. "If you can get your record expunged, that's great. But I think the price is too high."

"Why should I pay you for something that I've already paid for?" asked Claudell Whitfield, a Memphian convicted for committing indecent acts with a minor. "The only reason I would pay $350 for the expungement is if I had a whole lot of money."

Felons aren't the only people who disagree with the pricing. Senator Beverly Marrero, one of the bill's co-sponsors, admits that the fee may hinder many Tennesseans from taking advantage of it.

"The law is a really good idea, but I'm concerned about the people who cannot afford the $350," Marrero said. "I wish it could cost a lot less. When a person comes out of incarceration, they're trying to find a job, get their life back on track, and survive. They can't afford to pay $350 to get their record expunged."

The fee is attributed to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's estimation that nearly 650,000 people across the state may apply to get their record expunged this year.

That number of applicants would place a larger workload on court clerks and district attorney offices and require the hiring of additional staff to help with the duties.

Camper said the fee may be too high for some but will ultimately be a strong benefit in people's search for employment.

"The law is probably going to bring forth the biggest job spill the state's had this year," Camper said. "I don't think the fee is too unreasonable, because people want to be employable. If this is going to help them move up in life and have a second chance, then I think they'll find a way to do it."

Camper said this year's applicant turnout would determine if the fee would be lowered in the future.

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