Shelby County Public Defender’s Office Awards First Expungement Grant

Taurus did so well in the temporary job she held for two years, that her employer wanted to hire her permanently.  She filled out the paperwork and her employer ran a background check. Then she was promptly … let go.

That’s because a felony conviction from 2007 showed up on her record.  Taurus had long ago completed her probation and diversion requirements for the conviction and paid all of her court costs.  She was also eligible for expungement, but there was a catch.  She couldn’t afford the $450 filing fee. So her record remained public and marred by that single conviction.

Now Taurus was not only denied full-time employment — she also lost the temporary job she’d been holding, successfully, for two years.

“It’s been very difficult for me to get other employment.  It’s difficult to get housing, because I don’t have any employment,” said Taurus. “The housing I could afford, most of them do background checks.  So it was very difficult for me to get a new start.  I am trying  to start over again, and every time I try to pursue employment, that is the only thing hindering me. My record. Even temporary agencies! I went to every temporary agency in Memphis.  Once my background hit, they did not send me to any work, period.  None. Not even for short-term employment. I can’t even work at fast food restaurants! It has been hard for me to get my foot in the door.”

Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Josh Spickler with the first grant recipient of the Clean Slate Fund
Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Josh Spickler (right) with Taurus, the first grant recipient of the Clean Slate Fund

But in a few weeks, all that will change. If Taurus doesn’t get a job, it will have nothing to do with a criminal record. That’s because her record will have been successfully expunged with the help of a new program at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office funded by the Memphis Bar Foundation.  It’s called the Clean Slate Fund and last week, Taurus became the first grant recipient.

The Clean Slate Fund offers qualified applicants a $350 grant to cover the expungement fees charged by the State of Tennessee.  Taurus qualified for expungement under Tennessee’s diversion law, which requires a $450 fee. So she came up with $100 to add to the grant amount.

But the Clean Slate grant will cover the entire fee required in a new expungement law passed in 2012. This law applies to those who didn’t qualify under the old diversion rules. When crafted, the legislation promised to help hundreds of people clear their records. But it was so  narrowly written, that only a few dozen Memphians even qualified. Of those who did, many could not afford the filing fee.

Why? In many cases, as it was for Taurus’, they couldn’t get a job with a criminal record.

Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Josh Spickler is directing the Clean Slate Fund.  He’s been in contact with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which executes the expungement applications under the new law. Spickler says the D.A’.s office has approved a stack of expungement petitions that meet the requirements but have been unable to file them. Most likely, because the petitioners can’t pay the fee.

Now the Clean Slate Fund can help some of these applicants clear that final, financial hurdle

“If the Memphis Bar Association and the attorneys of Memphis, committed to giving to its foundation, can contribute $350 to an individual like Taurus,” says Spickler, “it can take her out of the cycle of persistent unemployment and help put her in a better position to get a job. That will save the community the enormous resources it takes to support someone who cannot support herself.  This fund can remove a barrier so an individual can become a productive citizen. It’s a no brainer to spend a little bit of money to put a person on a better trajectory.”

If you or someone you know might be qualified for expungement, please choose from the following options:

1.  To apply for expungement of your Tennessee record, please click this link for information and an application form.

2.  If you have already filled out the paperwork and qualified for expungement of your Tennessee record but cannot afford the fee, you can click this link to download a Clean Slate grant application. Fill out and mail to:

The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office
2nd floor, 201 Poplar Ave.
Memphis, TN 38103
Attn: Josh Spickler

3.  Candidates who have already filled out the paper and qualified for expungement of their Tennessee record but cannot afford the fee can also start the grant application process online here: