Program can clean records of PAULA, intox charges


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Kaitlyn Carlson has long dreamed of becoming a teacher.

But when police charged the University of Iowa freshman with possession of alcohol under the legal age, she thought she had lost her chance at entering the profession.

“I thought everything I was working towards was going to be taken away,” said Carlson, 18. “I figured with a PAULA on my record, I’d never be hired as a teacher.”

But after participating in the Johnson County Diversion Program, she was able to get the offense removed from her record.

Johnson County started the program in July 2010 to help first-time marijuana offenders remove the offense from their criminal records. And with the success of the first program, the county started a second session in January aiming to remove PAULA and public-intoxication offenses from criminal records as well.

Both programs are only available for first-time offenders, and officials say they’re a valuable resource for students.

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“This is a great benefit to students to get rid of convictions on their records,” said Greg Bal, the supervising attorney for the UI Student Legal Services.

Bal said everyone who has come into his office and qualified for the program has taken advantage of it.

The programs must be completed within 120 days of signing up and require a substance-abuse evaluation and a court cost of $100.

Despite the process, Bal said it is the only way to get a PAULA removed and is “a big opportunity.”

Too often, he said, students don’t know they have options and plead guilty without getting any advice.

“As a general rule, you should never plead guilty until you come talk to Student Legal Services first,” he said.

Some students at the UI said they weren’t aware of any other options.

“I had never heard of either of these programs,” said UI freshman Jake Newman. “I think it’s a good idea though because people make mistakes and should be given a second chance.”

Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness said the programs were started with the help volunteers from the Citizens Lawyer Program at the UI law school.

Since the start of the marijuana program July 1, 100 people have signed up, and 16 have successfully completed the program. The alcohol program started Jan. 18 and nine people have participated in the program so far.

Lyness said with the steady increase in people signing up for the programs, it could also benefit Johnson County attorneys.

“It is my hope for our attorneys to be able to focus on major offenses,” Lyness said.

But she said the main idea is to help students and give them a second chance.

“I also hope that once people are through this program they stay out of the justice system,” Lyness said.

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