Notre Dame Law Students Help Rebuild Lives: Summer Expungement Project Offers Fresh Starts

Author: Libbey Detcher

Notre Dame Clinical Law Center
Students worked out of the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center.

This past summer, three second-year law students—Aisha Bah, Brianne Blain, and Eunji Kim—interned at the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center. In addition to handling litigation and transactional matters, their internship involved collaborating with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office to assist clients in petitioning for the expungement of prior offenses.

Expungement is a legal process that allows a person convicted of a crime to conceal their offense from the public record. This protects individuals from discrimination when seeking housing, employment, and education. In Indiana, most nonviolent crimes become eligible for expungement between one and five years after completing the sentence and maintaining good legal standing.

The students worked on all aspects of the expungement process which included determining eligibility, preparing appearance filings, submitting fee waiver motions, and filing petitions for expungements. They each received specialized training on expungement work from the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center and the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office.

Bah explained that expungements “push society towards a more rehabilitative theory of criminal justice by seeking to redeem offenders instead of condemning them, and reintegrate people as productive, contributing members of society.”

David Pruitt, Program Director for the Clinical Law Center, oversaw the project and worked with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office to ensure the success and provide direction to the students.

“Seeing the power they have to make a difference will stay with our students, and will lead them to never forget their obligation as a lawyer to make their communities better for all,” said Pruitt. “Notre Dame is committed to training "a different kind of lawyer,” and this expungement project is one example of many where our students learn that knowledge of the law is not enough.”

Notre Dame Clinical Law Center expungements
The students assisted with over 60 expungements with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office

In total, the students evaluated and prepared applications for more than 60 individuals seeking expungement. Some of the cases involved crimes committed as far back as the 1970’s.

Notre Dame Law students have a history of involvement with expungement work. In early 2021, several second- and third-year students, working remotely because of the pandemic, prepared petitions on behalf of hundreds of people with criminal records in the county. Earlier this year, members of the Notre Dame Black Law Students Association volunteered with Judge Andre Gammage and lawyers from Barnes & Thornburg LLP to accept applications for expungement for more than 200 people. They plan another expungement clinic for this spring.

Experiential learning, which includes clinics, externships, skills courses, and immersion programs, is a core component of the Notre Dame Law School curriculum.

Priding itself on the value of experiential and service learning, Notre Dame Law School has been creating opportunities for students to work on pro bono legal matters since the 1960s. This project is just one example of how students contribute to enhancing the accessibility of legal services.

Find more information about experiential learning here.