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Second chances

First criminal record expunged in Lake County Drug Court

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POLSON — District Court Judge James Manley experienced a career first in Lake County Drug Court last week when he expunged the record of program graduate Angela Evans.

Expungement, according to the American Bar Association, “is the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record. An expungement order directs the court to treat the criminal conviction as if it had never occurred, essentially removing it from a defendant’s criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record.”

“The law gives me the power to expunge people’s records and I’ve never done it before,” Manley said. He’s never done it, he said, because he believes in accountability. He’s doing it now, he added, because he also believes in second chances.

During Oct. 14 drug court proceedings, Manley explained that he made an addition to the drug court’s policies and procedures to allow for record expungements for graduates who’ve “performed exceptionally well, above the normal standards of drug court.”

Among the seven factors outlined for expungement consideration are how a graduate performed while in drug court, length of sobriety, demonstration of commitment to self-improvement and to helping others and their community. 

Evans, who graduated from Lake County’s drug court two years ago, works as a part-time assistant for the drug court’s coordinator and attends school full time at Salish Kootenai College where she’s in her junior year of studies.

“From day one, she did everything we asked of her and more,” Manley said. In her position as drug court assistant, he noted that Evans is always helping others. He’s confident, he continued, that Evans will continue doing well and giving back to her community. For going above and beyond her own recovery to give in service to others in theirs, Judge Manley expunged Evans’ record.

Lake County’s drug court, founded in 2018, requires much of its participants. Those enrolled are required to meet at drug court once a week, take two randomly administered weekly drug tests, engage in group counseling sessions, participate in two self-help groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), meet weekly with a drug addiction counselor and complete various community service projects. Most participants also engage in education and job training programs.

“There are so many job training opportunities through the tribes,” Manley said. He credits those opportunities as a big part of the drug court’s success. 

Since its inception, Manley estimates the drug court has had 40 or so graduates. Those graduates and current drug court participants are all people who at one point were headed for prison, the judge notes. Lake County’s drug court was created as another option to incarceration for those struggling with addiction. 

At least seven drug court graduates shared their stories with current program participants during the Oct. 14 meeting. From reunited families to career, educational and personal successes, graduates shared that the benefits of a life lived in sobriety are worth fighting for. All expressed their gratitude for the drug court program.

Daniel Beavers, who graduated during the Oct. 14 meeting, shared that he’d considered giving up when he got his 7th DUI at age 50. He’d reached rock bottom and was tired of living he said. Ultimately, the love for his children kept him going. He credits the fellowship of the drug court’s meetings and groups with helping him stay sober.

“I came a long way in life, in general, with what my priorities are,” Beavers said. “Thank you for showing me how to live.”

“You’re a hell of a man,” the judge replied.

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