Jessica Otero’s request to the judge, made in neat handwriting, was simple: She wanted a second chance. Ten years after being convicted of driving an illegal immigrant across the border, her felony record meant she could not get work in the medical field. “I have learned from my past mistakes and am headed down a positive path,” Ms. Otero wrote.
Federal district courts review dozens of similar requests a month, detailing how old convictions are affecting defendants’ lives. Most judges have a standard response: Courts can expunge convictions only in exceptional circumstances. While Ms. Otero’s two-page letter described fairly common circumstances, the judge’s response was unusual.
“Her concern is justified,” Larry Alan Burns, a Federal District Court judge in the Southern District of California, wrote in June. “The court is inclined to grant the motion.”