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W.Va. drug court graduate seeks statewide expungement reform

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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) When drugs courts in West Virginia were first introduced, they were touted as an opportunity for addicts who could get clean to clear their record. But some who have successfully navigated the program can't get past the court fees associated with the expungement process -- trapping them in the very in system the courts were designed to help them escape.

Stuart Gibson considers himself one of the lucky ones. The successful drug court graduate was able to finance the process, which can top more than a thousand dollars.

"I had my heart set on school. I wanted to go back to school. But all I can do right now is manual labor because no one else is going to hire me."

After his drug court graduation, Gibson said his criminal record continued to haunt him until he learned he needed to complete an expungement process. While Gibson considers himself fortunate in being able to hire an attorney, he said other drug court graduates are not.

"If their intent is to give people like me a second chance, but on my background check, it still shows a felony....that's the part that needs to be changed."

Delegate Tom Fast, (R) Fayette County, has been instrumental on the House Judiciary committee in expanding the realm of expungement opportunities to non-violent offenders.

"It could be a barrier to legal counsel because of the expense. But at the same time, you really do need legal counsel because it's complex. The petition is complex. There's detailed provisions on who has to get notice on the petition. If there's a hearing, there's the burden of proof that needs clear and convincing evidence. So it's an entire court proceeding to get an expungement."

While Gibson worries about future graduates of the courts, looking back he doesn't regret his participation; it gave him his sobriety and his life back. He only wishes the state's drug courts could do a better job lifting graduates out of the vicious cycle they were created to break.

"It really helped me. My best friends are now my family."

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Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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