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The importance of expungements in criminal matters

The furor over the arrest of two African-American men sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks was yet another example of the racial disparity in America. Hardly anyone expected that they would be asked to leave without creating a disturbance, let alone be arrested for trespassing. Yet they were taken away in handcuffs in a very public manner.

After Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson came to Philadelphia to apologize directly to Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, media coverage focused on whether there would be a civil rights lawsuit initiated against the popular coffee shop chain. Instead, the two men reportedly reached settlements with both Starbucks and the Philadelphia Police Department.

According to an Associated Press report, the City of Philadelphia will pay each man $1 with the promise of setting up an entrepreneurship program for young business people. Indeed, the settlement is symbolic given the potential for a six-figure payday the men could have received, but little is being said about the criminal disposition of the charges.

While Nelson and Robinson were not charged with any crime, their arrest records had to be expunged, and the city obliged them. An expungement is the formal procedure for removing information from a person’s criminal file. A defendant can have the court remove negative information stemming from arrests, detention records and all related proceedings which did not lead to a finding of guilt.

Expungements are important because criminal records are a matter of public record, meaning that anyone, including people who make decisions about housing, employment and loan eligibility. It is no secret that people with criminal records are still treated differently in the marketplace compared to those who do not such records. As such, an otherwise qualified candidate with a criminal arrest could potentially be denied a loan or an employment opportunity.

For the same reasons, expungement is equally important to people who have been convicted of crimes, have served their respective sentences and have followed all court directives. This includes paying all required fines, and successfully completing all assigned probation.

If you have questions about whether you are eligible for an expungement, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you.

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