A Brooklyn, New York judge changed a woman’s life after a momentous decision in a case involving a 14-year-old fraud conviction and the woman’s request to expunge the record. The woman said that her old criminal record had prevented her from finding gainful employment for a long period of time.
Facts of the Case
The woman who was asking the judge to expunge her record is an immigrant from Haiti. She entered the country in 1983 and later became a naturalized citizen. During this time, the woman had three children before their father left the family to go back to Haiti. Although the woman’s mother also emigrated from Haiti to assist with the children, the help was short-lived as she died in 1995. The woman had a fourth child shortly after her mother’s death.
Hoping to create a better life for herself and her family, the woman enrolled in a nursing assistant program in order to become a home health aide. She successfully completed the program and began her career. However, the job did not pay much, and her monthly rent was more than her take-home pay.
In 1997, the woman agreed to be part of an insurance fraud scheme, which were rampant at the time. The schemes usually involved private citizens, car service business owners, drivers and corrupt health care professionals. The woman participated in such a scheme, being a passenger in a staged collision. She falsely claimed that she was injured and lied about receiving medical services from a health care provider that was part of the scheme. Additionally, she then filed a civil claim, which was settled for about $2,500.
However, she was found guilty in 2001 of the fraudulent act. She was sentenced to five years probation, ten months of house arrest and about $46,000 in restitution. She has had no other criminal charges.
The judge reviewed the woman’s probation file and found countless references to her desire but inability to maintain employment with the conviction on her record. While she was on probation, she acquired a job working at an agency that provided a home for families with children who had mental disabilities and similar positions. However, these jobs did not pay well and the woman landed back on public assistance.
She wrote a note to her probation officer describing the difficulty with getting a job because most job applications ask about criminal records. She also reported that she would initially get through the interview stage until she had to go through background checks.
She wound up getting a position as a home health care provider. However, the job provisions stated that she could be subject to a fingerprint check. She was fired two months later when her prints were checked and her conviction was revealed. The probation file also showed the woman’s disdain for being on public assistance and her desire to find adequate work. She even asked her probation officer to talk to the judge for her so that her record could be expunged.
The woman continued to experience similar problems after she was released from probation. She could usually get employed as a home health care worker, but she would be terminated once her criminal record came to light. The judge also found that the woman did not lie to employers during the hiring process. However, once she has to undergo a background check post-hire, she is usually fired. That happened at least six times.
Judge’s Decision and His Reasoning
In an unprecedented move, the judge decided to expunge the woman’s record.
The judge noted that “expungement lies within the equitable discretion of the court. However, expungements are usually only granted in “extreme circumstances” after the court has examined it “individually on its merits to determine the proper balancing of the equities.”
The judge concluded that this case involved “extraordinary circumstances” that ultimately warranted expungement. He noted how long ago the offense was committed. He also noted that the woman has not had any subsequent criminal dealings since the injury fraud scheme.
Additionally, the judge found that the woman had shown that her criminal record had a “dramatic, adverse impact” on her ability to work. He also noted that her ethnic background and her age could pose further difficulty in her getting and keeping a job.
Ultimately, the judge used the woman’s story as a cautionary tale of the courts’ unwillingness to expunge criminal records in most cases. He noted that the woman was only one of “65 million Americans who have a criminal record and suffer the adverse consequences that result from such a record.” He urged policymakers and courts to “take a fresh look” at the laws regarding expungement that “shut people out from the social, economic, and educational opportunities they desperately need in order to reenter society successfully.”