DURHAM · Feb. 17, 2021—The coding collective that created a powerful tool for streamlining criminal record expunctions for Durham residents has received a high honor. Durham Mayor Stephen M. Schewel proclaimed Feb. 15, 2021, as Code for Durham Day during a city council meeting that evening.
Code for Durham is a network of volunteers that developed the DEAR Petition Generator, a program that takes data from a person’s criminal record and automatically generates the correct, completed forms necessary for the person to petition the courts for an expunction.
“This tool reduces a lengthy manual data-entry process down to a few clicks, reducing human error and allowing attorneys to serve more people,” Mayor Schewel’s declaration reads in part.
Code for Durham developed the software in collaboration with the Durham Expunction and Restoration Program, known as DEAR, a partnership of Durham agencies and organizations—including Legal Aid of North Carolina—that helps Durham residents expunge their criminal records and restore suspended or revoked driver’s licenses.
During the city council meeting, Code for Durham volunteer Celeste Richie gave brief remarks, which included a reading of the following statement submitted by Gina Reyman, managing attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Durham office.
The expunction petition generator tool created by the Code for Durham volunteers is poised to usher in a new era of expunction legal practice in North Carolina by helping attorneys quickly and accurately generate expunction petitions for dismissed charges. During initial testing at the DEAR office in Durham, Legal Aid attorneys found that the tool can save hours of time preparing a single petition and significantly reduced the number of data-entry errors. Instead of serving hundreds of clients each year, the tool has the potential to enable Legal Aid and the DEAR Program to serve thousands.
This innovative tool was made possible by the unique partnership of volunteer coders and Legal Aid attorneys, working closely for two years, to integrate the nuances of expunction law into a user-friendly design. The selfless dedication and quiet perseverance of these volunteers was inspiring to witness, and the tool’s features have far surpassed what we as lawyers originally imagined was possible. With the guidance of the Code for Durham team, Legal Aid is currently working to integrate the tool into its case management system. We believe that the tool will dramatically expand the volume and accessibility of expunctions to our low-income clients.
Aptly named, this tool not only generates petitions to expunge old charges but generates second chance opportunities for thousands of our neighbors in Durham and across North Carolina to get better jobs and have better futures. Special thanks to each member of the Code for Durham team.
—Gina Reyman, Managing Attorney
Legal Aid of North Carolina-Durham office