New phone app makes it easier to remove past offenses from criminal records
Erasing past offenses from a criminal record is a process that can involve standing in line at pop-up radiation clinics while people wait to speak to lawyers. But a new free phone app called the Legal update The tool tries to make the process a bit easier.
Anyone can use the app, which was started by ELEVATOR Wisconsin this week, to get rid of eligible Wisconsin criminal records by simply researching their cases, entering information, and printing out all the paperwork needed to file a petition to clear their case.
“So all you have to do is put your fingerprints on the form, and it will be sent to the Department of Justice. Thus, it automates the whole process,” said Marsha Mansfield, director of LIFT Wisconsin. .
In Dane County, LIFT has an agreement with the Urban League of Greater Madison and Wisconsin Legal Action where a person can go to either location, have their fingerprints taken, and have their fingerprints sent. documents by mail.
One of the first to try the app ahead of launch was Courtney Ellington. The 36-year-old Madison resident was in a Madison radiation clinic where lawyers were able to get a disorderly conduct charge from 17 years ago erased from her record.
“It was really helpful knowing it was there and knowing that some things may have been taken out of my record. It really is a great program,” she said.
Past harms can create barriers for tenants and potential employees and can prevent some from being hired or getting housing.
Ellington asked for help earlier this year when he was homeless. She has since found subsidized housing for herself and her children.
The disorderly conduct charge arose out of an incident that occurred when she was only 19 years old. Ellington said she was “hanging out with the wrong group of friends” and a guy started smashing her car’s rear windshield.
“It made me panic. I’m scared. The only thing I could think of doing at the time was pull the crowbar out of the trunk and kick it out of my car,” she said.
She was then arrested and released by her mother. Eleven years later, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for which she is now on medication.
Prior to her diagnosis, she had other encounters with the police, including a domestic incident in which she said she was arrested after trying to defend herself against abuse from her oldest father’s father.
This conviction for a misdemeanor charge remains in his file. He is not eligible for radiation, a process that is limited to only certain offenses that occur when the accused are under the age of 25.
Wisconsin’s radiation law can make it difficult for people to erase past wrongs from public view. In 2018, WPR reported that the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that Wisconsin had a stricter write-off law than all of its neighboring states except Iowa.