A criminal conviction, no matter how minor or how old, can haunt you for life. Mai Nguyen with OneJustice, a legal aid foundation that helps eligible veterans and others reduce and expunge their records, has seen petty theft and low-level drug charges from decades past stand in the way of someone finding a home, getting a job, or securing their citizenship. “They’ve paid their dues, they’ve moved on, but their record holds them back,” she said. “There’s a rippling effect.”
On September 9, OneJustice’s Justice Bus Project rolled into Santa Barbara and unloaded attorneys and law students, who helped 18 people navigate the complicated legal process of clearing their records and having certain felonies — often non-violent, drug- or property-related crimes — downgraded to misdemeanors. Their services were offered for free.
Without a black mark on their names, explained Nguyen, these veterans and area residents will find it much easier to earn Veterans Administration benefits, educational loans, and job interviews, not to mention sleep better at night. “Once these barriers are removed, it helps your overall sense of well-being,” she said.
On November 18, the Justice Bus — which partners with Pepperdine Law School and the Public Defender’s Office — will stop in town once more at the Veterans’ Memorial Building on Cabrillo Boulevard. The clinic will be held from 1–5 p.m. Appointments are required and can be made by calling (213) 261-8931. Nguyen also said participants will need to get a copy of their criminal records prior to the clinic, which can take several days. The services are targeted to veterans but are offered to anyone.
A participant of OneJustice’s clinic in June had this to say: “I dealt with discrimination, denial, and injustice because of my criminal record. Thanks to [the volunteers] I have found light through this rough patch of my life.” Another stated, “I have been wanting to get this done for a year now but didn’t have the money. Thank you!”