A Lexington lawyer has created a free app that helps people expunge lesser felony convictions.
The app, called unconvicted.com, walks a former offender through a series of questions to determine whether he or she can have a conviction removed from court records as if it had never happened.
Within three business days, the potential client receives a free assessment about whether he or she qualifies. They can then proceed on a “do it yourself” path to expunge the record, or they can have attorney and app creator Bradley Clark or his associate Carolyn Allen proceed for a fee depending on the service provided. The app works on computers, tablets and smart phones.
Clark, a former public defender who went into private practice last year, launched the app in mid-April. That’s when Gov. Matt Bevin signed House Bill 40 into law that allows Kentuckians who have been convicted of class D felonies to apply for expungement five years after they have completed their jail sentence, parole or probation.
Class D felonies are the lowest-level felonies and carry penalties upon conviction of one to five years in prison. Examples of class D felonies are flagrant nonsupport and lesser theft, forgery and drug-possession charges; there are about 61 different felonies eligible for expungement.
Violent crimes against children or sex crimes are not eligible for expungement. The law went into effect in July.
Clark, 33, said the law gives people a second chance to get a job, to vote, to possess a firearm, to serve on a jury or to run for public office.
“I personally believe that everyone deserves a second chance,” Clark said. “There are a lot of people out there who are getting left out of the legitimate economy, who, if they were given a second chance, would be less likely to re-offend, who would be more likely to be a contributing member to society.”
Stevanie Smith, 36, of Lexington is one of those people. She had a 1999 felony theft charge in Fayette County expunged after getting help through unconvicted.com. A licensed professional clinical counselor, Smith is president of Essential Healing, a company that has two outpatient substance-abuse centers in Lexington and Mount Sterling. And she just opened Balanced Recovery, a residential clinic in Nicholasville.
Smith said she liked the app because there was no stigma associated with it.
“You plug in all your information, your name, what happened, when it was, and they do all the research for you,” Smith said. “Then they come back to you and … say, ‘Hey, I researched your situation. You qualify, this is what we can do, here’s a couple of options.’ And you get to choose one.”
Nearly 2,500 people have applied for expungement through the unconvicted.com app, and more than 200 charges have been expunged, Clark said.
Clients have many reasons for asking a judge to clear their records.
“I had a person who called me today and said, ‘I didn’t pay my child support in 2010 and now I can’t drive for Uber. Can I get this off my record so I can drive for Uber?’” Clark said.
Smith said her conviction prevented her from being among the chaperones for her daughter’s class field trip to Washington, D.C. Other clients wish to clear their records so they can serve on the board of a nonprofit corporation.
“Some people just want it for the peace of mind of knowing that it’s not out there any more,” Clark said. “It’s a very symbolic thing for them.”
The new Kentucky law goes farther than mere removal of a felony conviction from public court records. It also vacates a conviction.
That means the original case is reopened, the judge sets aside the guilty plea and then dismisses it as though the offender had never been convicted of it.
That allows the offender to answer truthfully during a job interview that they have never been convicted of a felony.
The oldest conviction Clark has had expunged was from 1967. His associate, Carolyn Allen, said there have been several cases from 1970s.
On Feb. 1, Gov. Matt Bevin signed an executive order to allow people with criminal records to avoid checking a box on applications for state jobs that indicates they have a criminal past.
That order will have no effect on the demand for Clark’s services and unconvicted.com. While state job seekers will no longer have to identify as felons, the felony will still show up on their background checks. And many people will still have to identify as felons when applying for most private jobs, although Bevin encouraged employers to follow the state’s example.
Clark, a Russellville native who taught himself how to write computer code as a teen, constructed the app on his own. When the expungement bill came up a year ago in the state legislature, he followed the issue closely and wrote about it on a blog. As the bill was amended, he modified the app.
“I had some experience with programming and doing design work, and so I thought maybe we can make some type of web app to help people do this and walk them through it,” he said. “The idea was to have it ready to go on day one, because I knew that’s when people would be interested. There’s all this pent-up demand for this.”
Smith said she felt “a huge relief” and freedom once her charge was expunged in August.
“For a long time I allowed it to define me,” she said. “I think once I got past that, I allowed it to no longer define me. It was something that I had experienced and it didn’t control who I am, what I do.”