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Getting Criminal Records Expunged: Need Up as Jobs Down

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By Kamika Dunlap on November 12, 2009 12:10 PM

In the down economy, job seekers are doing whatever they can to get a foot in the door.

For some, that means trying to clear their criminal records to boost their chances of getting a job in a tough market.

Potential employers tend now to be choosier than they have been in decades as the jobless rate stands at 10 percent -- the highest in years.

Often the background checks that dig deeper into the past hinder many job applicants. Also, databases now make it easier for employers to quickly learn information about arrests and convictions.

A recent Wall Street Journal article examines this latest wave of people seeking to have their criminal records expunged. In addition, many legal-aid organizations and lawyers have stepped up services to help clients clear their records.

For example, the public defender's office in San Jose, Calif., is among the public organizations using federal stimulus money to hire additional attorneys to guide people through the expungement process.

Now here's the tricky part.

Methods of getting records expunged vary by state. It also doesn't wipe away all traces but over time official records maybe be sealed, erased or blocked from view by anyone except entities such as police or schools.

Another thing to keep in mind, search engines can turn up old arrest mug shots plus caches of newer ones, which are nearly impossible to remove from the Internet.

In Pennsylvania the pardon board faces a three year backlog of record-clearing requests. To handle the load, state lawmakers are now permitting local courts to process the petitions. They are also pushing to expand the class of misdemeanors that can be expunged.

Some things however just can't be changed.

Expungement is almost never granted in serious felony cases involving murder, sexual assault or armed robberies.

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