MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Once upon a time, a new law signed over the weekend by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey could have helped Casmarah Mani.
“I raised a lot of hell when I was a younger person,” the Mobile man said.
The new law is known as the REDEEMER Act. It’s an acronym and a mouthful – Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment and Eliminate Recidivism Act.
It allows for people convicted of misdemeanor offenses and certain nonviolent felonies to have their records expunged. Mani, who owns Diamonds Convenience Store on Congress Street, said it has been 40 years since he had problems with the law. He said he largely sidestepped the employment ramifications of a record by working for himself.
But Mani told FOX10 News that old convictions do a lot of harm. He spoke in favor of a Mobile City Council initiative to “ban the box” in 2014. The council asked the Mobile County Personnel Board to stop asking job applicants about certain convictions. The law signed over the weekend goes much further.
“When they put that felony on that application, most employers have a hang-up about hiring them.,” Mani said. “I’ve known guys who have lied on their application and worked two months. And when they find out they lied on their application, they got rid of them – not because they weren’t good workers. Because of the application.”
The expungement option is not open to everyone. Violent felons and people convicted of sex offenses will not be able to apply. But people with misdemeanors and certain nonviolent felonies can get the records sealed. It is also open to people who have committed some more serious offenses and later won a pardon.
Beginning in July, when the law takes effect, people who qualify for the break will be able to petition the court for the expungement. Judges will make the determination based on factors like the nature of the offense and how long ago it occurred.
Robert Clopton, president of the Mobile County chapter of the NAACP, said it will make the transmission from incarceration easier.
“People should not be held accountable (for) every mistake that they made in their life, for their entire life, if it was a minor mistake,” he said.
Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie, a strong proponent of the “ban the box” movement, welcomed the new law.
“The governor’s support of this positive,” he said. “And hopefully, it will allow for redemption for thousands of Alabamians.”
Alabama’s previous expungement law, passed in 2014, was much narrower. It generally applied only to people with traffic, misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges that has been dismissed or where the defendant has been found not guilty.
As a result, defense lawyer Dennis Knizley said, he had few clients who qualified. He told FOX10 News that he expects “tremendously more” people will be able to take advantage now.
“So many times, this old arrest and even conviction of a nonviolent act inhibits them from doing so,” he said. “And I think if an opportunity for a person, under the right conditions, can have that record expunged, it is a positive thing.”