October 11, 2017 11:10:32 AM
In 1976, a Starkville man made one mistake that followed him for the next 41 years.
Only 19 at the time he was charged with petit larceny, the man -- who asked not to be identified -- said he vowed to never get himself into trouble, of any kind, for the rest of his life.
Now 60, his charge is expunged and his name is clear from a teenage mistake.
"Even though I was already 59 when I went through the process, the opportunity to have my record cleared was appealing to me," he said. "So, I went to the police department and pulled my record, and that petit larceny charge was the only thing on there, which meant I was eligible to get the charge expunged. Six months later, I got the letter in the mail that said my record was cleared."
District 38 Mississippi House of Representatives candidate Cheikh Taylor is hosting the third annual Expungement Forum, also known as Project Clean Slate, at 6 p.m. today at Level III -- located at 104 East Main Street next to 929 Coffee Bar. There, residents with criminal records can learn if they qualify for expungement and begin the process of clearing their name.
At the forum, participants will have the opportunity to discuss several issues with licensed attorneys, including voting privileges and learning what offenses are expungable.
The main goal, Taylor said, is giving Golden Triangle residents a chance to reclaim their lives. The consequences of a criminal record, he noted, go far beyond whether a person can vote.
"When you are charged with a felony, (things like) housing assistance, food assistance, and all other public assistance is cut off," Taylor said. "A lot of people really need this, and we want to make sure we can get people back to school, back to work and back on their feet."
Although the forum is Golden Triangle-wide and anyone residing in the area with a criminal record is eligible to participate, Taylor said he most hopes to reach those charged with offenses that occurred within Starkville or Oktibbeha County limits.
To be eligible for an expungement, however, a person must only have one offense on their criminal record. A person's age at the time of offense, and the type of offense -- whether it is a misdemeanor or felony -- also determines eligibility. Currently, there are 22 non-expungable offenses, Taylor added, including sex offenses and murder.
"I think it's important for people to remember that even if you went to court, and were found 'not guilty,' the offense still shows up on your record," Taylor said. "So, anytime you have gone through the court system, you have gained a criminal record. Even dismissed cases will show up."
Participants must provide a copy of their criminal record to the attorney present to determine eligibility. Criminal records can be obtained from the police department or sheriff's department.
The forum is free to attend and generally the attorneys offer pro bono, or voluntary, assistance. However, some may charge a court-filing fee to clients.
As an incentive for more people to come forward, there will also be a $200 giveaway funded by the Local Learning Community Foundation, a nonprofit with a goal to empower families and youth in the community through leadership development and economic enhancement.
After the expungement process begins, Taylor said, it can take weeks or months to complete, and the final decision is at the sole discretion of the judge being presented the case.
Taylor, who runs the child- and family-centered nonprofit Brickfire Project in Starkville, started Project Clean Slate in 2015 to help affected residents maximize their potential. He said the biggest issue was making sure people that needed expungement had correct information, which is why he opened the forum to the public.
"The initial reason was to make sure we had healthy contributors in the community, instead of these people going in and out of the prison system because they can't find jobs," he said. "Most people when they have a choice between prison and work, they will choose work."
Those who attend tonight's forum will not be eligible to vote on Nov. 7, when Taylor will face two other candidates in the District 38 House race. The deadline to register for that election has passed.