A groundbreaking class action motion filed Tuesday in the Davidson County General Sessions Court could allow more than 100,000 Metro residents to get a fresh start in life.
Nashville attorney Daniel A. Horwitz, in the first such move in the nation, filed a proposal to perform a mass expungement of citizens’ criminal cases that did not lead to a conviction. This move could benefit as many as 128,000 Nashvillians.
According to a news release from Horwitz’s office, Davidson County’s District Attorney Glenn Funk and Criminal Clerk Howard Gentry support the measure.
The release explains what’s behind the motion:
Tennessee law generally provides that anyone whose case does not result in a conviction is entitled to have his or her records expunged free of charge if they file a petition for expungement with the Clerk’s office. Because many people cannot afford to take a day off of work or assume that their records are expunged automatically, however, thousands of people who have records that could be expunged end up falling through the cracks every year without filing the necessary paperwork. If granted, the motion filed on Tuesday would give the Clerk’s office the legal authority to begin clearing the backlog automatically.
Judge Rachel L. Bell makes the ultimate decision. Earlier this month, she met with 10 Metro agencies involved in processing expungements and heard concerns about the potential cost burden of processing the expungements.
“I am committed to ensuring that no agency will be burdened by this proposal,” she said. “Knowing that every agency is underfunded with respect to processing expungements, I will propose a graduated implementation schedule to guarantee that no undue burden is placed on any agency involved. I am also committed to ensuring that expungements are processed more quickly.
“I am excited about this proposal because of the many ways that expungements benefit the public.”
Poor and minority citizens caught up in the system and hampered from clearing their records due to the cost would see the greatest benefit if the plan goes forward. Expungements mean an easier path for them to obtain housing and find jobs.
An affidavit filed by the Criminal Court Clerk’s office shows the proposal would benefit 128,000 people and apply to 350,000 separate cases either dismissed or not prosecuted due to lack of evidence between the years 2000 and 2012. Only cases that took place in Davidson County General Sessions Court that did not result in a conviction would be affected.
On Tuesday, Bell officially took Horwitz’s motion under advisement. A ruling is expected in November.