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If expungement clinics are advertised as free, then why are some asked to pay fees?

ABC24 viewers at the event asked us, "are the expungement clinics free, and if so, why do I need to pay the court before completing my expungement process?"

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — People with a criminal record and have charges in Shelby or Davidson County have another chance at a fresh start Tuesday. 

A resource and expungement event is happening at the Shelby County Office of Re-Entry from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Earlier this week, the Shelby County District Attorney's Office held its second expungement clinic this year, but ABC2's Brittni Clemons saw a lot of people leaving the event frustrated and in tears. Many residents explained their time was wasted at Tuesday's event to clear criminal records because they were told they had to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in court fees before completing the process.

QUESTION

ABC24 viewers at the event asked us, "are the expungement clinics free and if so, why do I need to pay the court before completing my expungement process?"

SOURCES

  • Anne-Lousie Wirthlin, Tennessee Access to Justice Commission 
  • Amy Weirich, Shelby County District Attorney General 

THE ANSWER

This needs context.

Anne-Louise Wirthlin with the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission said public expungement clinics are just the beginning of the process to clear criminal records. She explained people are often frustrated because they don't fully understand their charges. This has an impact on if you can get your record cleared and if you have to pay fees. 

"A lot of time people are charged with multiple things at one time that involved the same incident, but those fees that were attached don't just go away," Wirthlin said. 

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said if you find out you have hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees, it's not because of the expungement clinic. 

"You have to make sure you have fulfilled all of the requirements of your sentence. So if you were convicted of an offense that is eligible for expungement and you were told to be pay a $3,000 fine, and told to pay your court cost, and the victim, the restoration - that has to all be done before you can have it expunged," Weirich said.

Also, according to state law, court clerks do charge between $180 to $280 in fees if you were convicted, but this fee is waived if the case was dismissed, never prosecuted, or not convicted. 

So, we can Verify that the expungement clinic itself is free. You are not being charged for legal advice and getting the process started. However, depending on your charges and the fees associated with that, you may still have to pay to clear your record.  

The next time you go to an expungement clinic this is what you can expect: 

  • You will receive a detailed copy of your record 
  • Talk to a lawyer about your options 
  • Fill out the expungement form if you are eligible 
  • Then you’ll receive a list of instructions to clear your record. 

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