Top Misconceptions about Expungement
Process in Utah
Interviewer: What would you say are the top misconceptions people have about expungement that you have to explain to them?
Matthew Nebeker: One of the misconceptions would be that they think it’s expensive because they’re going to have to hire an attorney, in most cases, to help them to get through this. In my opinion, the expungement process is a lot cheaper than the initial defense. There’s a high probability of the petition being granted. I would say that a common misconception is thinking that it’s going to be expensive, and they probably had a bad experience with the court along the way and that it’s of no use and it won’t benefit them. That’s definitely not the case.
I’ve put out there and made it public that when I was in the military I received a DUI while back home on leave. At that time in my life, I didn’t think I was going to go to college. I didn’t think I was going to go to law school and get a license to practice law by the state bar. Things changed for me, and after I got out of the military I started going to college. I started to see how going to college and wanting to better myself was a good thing. I contacted an attorney to help me with my petition to expunge.
I was reluctant at first. I thought, “Here we go. I have to pay more attorney fees. This court probably thinks I’m the worst person. They probably won’t grant me an expungement.”The attorney helped me. We worked through the issues and I got my record expunged. It wasn’t that bad. It was relatively easy and it changed my life. I had to disclose all of this to the law school in my law school applications. I had to disclose all of this to the state bar in getting licensed. Still, I had gone through the steps to get it taken off my record and that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s what the system is designed for.
It works, and it can be helpful. To be honest, I was probably in one of those positions when I completed my undergrad and I applied for some job at a bank. I had to list on there my DUI conviction and stuff like that. I was well qualified for the job, had all the tools and the experience, but I didn’t get it. I honestly believe it was because there were probably some applicants that didn’t have convictions on their record. It ended up being better for me because I kept on going to school and I got through it.
In Utah, we have a lot of federal institutions and federal land. We have an Air Force base here. We have an Army depot. There areal kinds of federal government-owned land. Lake Powell is a federally governed body of water. We have an interesting issue when it comes to convictions in the federal court system.
For example, if someone were to get a DUI on Hill Air Force Base, that DUI is going to be handled in the Federal District Court in Salt Lake City. I’ve done a lot of these. In the federal law, there is no expungement process. If you go down to Lake Powell and get a DUI driving your boat and you have to, once again, appear on a Federal District Court in Salt Lake City, Utah and you’re convicted of DUI, you plead guilty with DUI, and you can never get that taken off your record. If you could look up the Federal Code right now, you would not see a process for expunging something in the federal system.
I’ve often thought about if the person is convicted of DUI under Utah law in the federal court, why couldn’t there be an expungement under Utah law in the federal court? That hasn’t gone anywhere. As it stands, people have to be mindful of that. If they have been charged with a crime that involves the federal courts, then they have a different realm. My understanding of that is right now is that you could only ask for a presidential pardon.
That’s an interesting process. I’m in the process of applying for and doing a presidential pardon for one of my clients that had some drug charges that went federal. It involves a process that can take two or three years, with no guaranteed outcome whatsoever. Ultimately, it’s a signature by the President of the United States pardoning the person for their actions and the crimes they committed in the federal system. I just wanted to put that in there real quick.