The Duke Justice Project hosted D.J. Dore, director of the pro bono clinic at Duke Law, and Amanda Maris, judge in Durham County’s 14th Judicial District, at their Tuesday event, “Second Chances and the Law.” The event focused on Durham’s efforts to create criminal justice reform and second chance relief programs.
Both Dore and Maris are involved in the Durham Expunction and Restoration program, which provides free legal services for record expungement and driver's license restoration. For Dore, what makes DEAR unique is that it “bring[s] together all the potential community members and pieces of the criminal justice system into one room.”
The two have dedicated themselves to finding “creative ways” to make the judicial process more fair and equitable, easier to understand, and less burdensome on those who are impoverished, homeless or minorities.
For Maris, the key to understanding how to create effective reform is by understanding the lives of individuals beyond the courtroom.
“The vast majority of the folks that are affected by the justice system don't have financial means,” she said. “You're talking about folks that are on a month-to-month budget.”
According to Maris, many people can't afford to pay the cost of a ticket within the given amount of time before their license is revoked by the NC DMV. While individuals can ask for an extension on the ticket, the cost of going to traffic court is $193 alone.
She said that in the event an individual's driver's license is revoked, they may face barriers towards housing, education and career opportunities.
These same obstacles are also commonly seen in individuals with criminal records.
In North Carolina, any interaction with the criminal justice system — including a dismissal or an acquittal — generates a permanent record, according to Dore.
In some cases, individuals can apply to expunge criminal charges or convictions from their record.
Over the last few years, “there's been a pretty seismic change in North Carolina, somewhat surprisingly a push from our legislature, to expand the opportunities to expunge criminal records,” Dore said.
Still expungement of criminal charges can be a costly and timely process, even after Gov. Roy Cooper reduced wait periods in 2017 with Senate Bill 445.
Dore finds DEAR’s services necessary because of the cost of expunctions, having heard of costs “upwards of $10,000.” He considers the free services of DEAR to be “transformative” for people’s lives.
“That $10,000, that $5,000, can be used for so many more things once you're able to clear that record,” he said.
Maris characterized this notion that an individual can commit no wrong, yet still face legal penalties, as a “grave injustice” of our legal system. For these reasons, both Maris and Dore stressed the need for reform.
For Maris, a central issue in creating change is that those running the court system are not in the same position as those at the mercy of it.
“The people that are in positions of power, they're just not impacted by these issues. They don't have to contend with criminal records, they can afford an attorney,” she said. “The vast majority of people that experience our justice system [are] not those people.”
In response, Maris emphasized the need to reimagine what we do in our court system. She urged those attending to go beyond the status quo.
“If you don't think beyond what happens when someone leaves the courthouse and the collateral consequences, we're not getting anywhere with justice reform,” she said.
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