Tech company Rasa Legal in Salt Lake City launched a new web app Wednesday to give Utahns an easy and affordable way to determine their eligibility to potentially expunge their criminal records.
The app is meant to "deliver second chances" to Utahns who have minor criminal records. Amy Daeschel, the director of client services for Rasa Legal, said she experienced firsthand the barriers individuals face when they have a criminal record.
"I've lived it," said Daeschel, who is on her third expungement and a student in the social work program at the University of Utah. "I can't get licensed without having a clear record. This app is a chance to truly become free."
She said many individuals with criminal records put in the work, serve their time, get sober and pay their debt to society. "Yet, we still face these barriers from housing to employment to licensure to the stigma where people think you're still gonna be a criminal. But I've done my time. I deserve a chance to be free from this."
Daeschel said this app is transformative in helping people get their records expunged.
The Rasa app is a web-based application where users fill in their date of birth and other personal information and then go through a series of screening questions about their criminal background. The user can then pay $14.95 to have Rasa go through court data to find their criminal records and show their eligibility for expungement. Rasa then offers to represent clients and handle the clearing process of up to three records for $500.
Noella Sudbury, founder and CEO of Rasa Legal, is an attorney by trade who developed a passion for criminal justice reform when she worked as a public defender. She said she witnessed many people cycle through a system that wasn't benefiting them, and so her mission is to provide an accessible way to clear criminal records.
Typically, it can cost an individual $2,000 to $3,000 for expungement. Sudbury said providing low-cost expungement is "good for public safety, for the economy and helps people access better jobs and housing. Expunging a record can make an instant and meaningful difference in someone's life."
Although Rasa does not eliminate the expungement process, the purpose of the app is to take out the stress and reduce the cost of the process by handling it all so clients can live their lives and move forward.
The Utah Legislature passed a “clean slate” law in 2019 allowing for the automatic expungement or deletion of charges in certain circumstances. The rollout of the law was postponed due to the pandemic but went into effect on Feb. 10. The nonprofit Clean Slate Utah was created to raise awareness about the law and help those who are eligible.
Clean Slate Utah executive director Destiny Garcia said finding out eligibility for this law can be complicated, but the Rasa application solves that issue.
Too many people are held back by criminal records, Garcia said, and this application is a tool she wishes she had available to her when she went through the expungement process. Providing an affordable option ensures anyone in the community, regardless of income, can get an expungement and access more opportunities, Garcia said.
West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine, who also serves as president of Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said he supports the Rasa Legal app and the clean slate law. People who are convicted of violent, capital or sex crimes are not eligible for expungement, he said. But for those who are eligible, Wallentine said he has seen the difference it makes in the community to give them a second chance. Expungements give valued members of society more opportunities to find housing and employment, which in turn make the streets and community safer, he said.
"The reason that police chiefs — that I — support the clean slate initiatives is because I don't want to be in a society that doesn't practice or believe in redemption, clean slates and second chances," Wallentine said. "That's not an effective way to police a community, to not believe in second chances. And frankly, we can do better."
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, spoke at the press conference Wednesday and emphasized the social impact the app can have on people of color in Utah. She said because racial and ethnic bias runs in the criminal justice system, people of color are overrepresented in the system. Rasa's web application will make it easier for all people to determine their eligibility for expungement and will allow people of color to access more upward mobility in their lives, she said.
Salt Lake Chamber President Derek Miller said making a way for citizens to check eligibility for expungement maximizes the benefits of the workforce and community and at the same time helps people who "need and deserve a second chance."
Expunging a criminal record means that the court orders the history of the case to be sealed, which includes records of the arrest, the investigation, the detention and the conviction, including a verdict or plea, according to the Utah State Courts website. An expungement order, however, applies only to government agencies.