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Finding normal after ‘not guilty’ verdict

Michael McGee | 6/4/2013, 7:49 p.m. | Updated on 3/15/2014, 1:01 a.m.
Attorney Kevin F. Kurtz likened the situation to lightning striking twice when he discussed the situation of his client, Oak ...
Reggie Ruffin Michael McGee

Hiring an attorney to help expunge an arrest can be costly.

“Most attorneys can charge $1,500 to $5,000,” Ruffin said he learned during the process.

And he has to pay out of his own pocket since there is no court-appointed counsel for such situations.

“A lot of people don’t have the money to pay for legal services,” Ruffin mentioned. “You’re up here taking this case on, and you’re trying to save your job. A lot of times people are blackmailed into taking a plea bargain so they can go home and at least go back to work.”

All of this leads to a vicious circle said Ruffin and Kurtz.

An online search of Ruffin’s name in the Public Access to Court Records reveals both misdemeanor and felony arrests. The disposition for all of his past cases can be found. Nothing comes up under a search of pending cases.

Looking at the search results page, one might find it difficult to discover a guilty or not guilty judgment in the cases. Only by clicking the resulting links to open up the right specific documents can a clearer notation of judgment be found. Ruffin’s record page at Dallas County Criminal Background Search Service, under the heading DISP, has notations such as “DISM,” “PGBC,” “BTCI” and similar – which most employers don’t understand and don’t have time to research.

Kurtz said that alone is a major part of the problem. It’s a matter of putting the court’s determinations in “plain English” or removing the charges from an individual’s record completely upon a finding of not guilty.

“A lot of people, like with Human Resources for many jobs, don’t know how to read a background check. What they’ll read … is what you were charged with. But they don’t even know what the disposition status is.”

“When you fill out an application where you say ‘Were you convicted of any crimes?’ you say ‘No.’ They pull this up, then they feel like you’re lying,” Ruffin said regarding the background checks. “Then they wind up disqualifying your application for what they feel like is falsifying your ap.”

Ruffin said an appeal of such rejection has never gotten him anywhere with a new employer. Or, “they’ll find a reason to get rid of you before your 90 days is out.”

Still another problem Ruffin faces is bad information on the background checks. Last year, he was denied employment due to an active warrant after he was found not guilty in both of his felony jury trials.

The solution

It was after that he realized that he needed to carry his court papers with him.

“That’s one of the reasons I’ve been unable to find a job. I have to keep all my corresponding paperwork with me everywhere I go,” Ruffin stated as he touched his right hand to a stuffed leather bag.

Kurtz believes the remedy to all of this is to change the current system. It needs to work more like a civil court using the “loser pays costs” method, he said.

“We sure don’t mind putting an arrest record on the system,” Kurtz pointed out, saying that it should be equally easy for anyone found not guilty to get his name cleared.

Ruffin questions the whole experience he’s been through, and how the legal system deals with those found not guilty of felony charges.

“Anytime you’re accused of a crime and you [were] clearly innocent …” he wondered, “Why should I have to pay to get my own background erased, when because of their mistake and their negligence, is the reason I’m in it in the first place?”

Ruffin and his attorney feel that it is time for the system to change, and they know there are many individuals in the same situation. Anyone wanting to join the initiative can contact Kurtz at 214-559-0505.

“You’re throwing people basically to the wolves,” he says about the current system that’s in place. “They’ve got their life to get on with. It takes time and money and perseverance to get these things done.”