The Pro Bono Program & Clinic at John Marshall helped a human trafficking victim vacate three prostitution-related convictions and expunge and seal other arrests and convictions to help her start life anew.
For a decade, the Pro Bono Clinic’s client was forced by two boyfriends into prostitution and subjected to extreme physical and emotional abuse. As a result of her victimization, the client was arrested multiple times and convicted of prostitution and related offenses.
In 2013, Illinois passed the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act, which allows courts to vacate prostitution and related convictions that resulted from human trafficking. This month, a Cook County Circuit Court judge vacated two prostitution convictions and one for a related offense.
Courtney Sanders, who is graduating in June from John Marshall, argued on the client’s behalf in court.
“We are grateful that the judge recognized that our client was the real victim. By vacating her convictions, the Court is giving her a chance to move forward in her life,” said Kelly B. Lindstrom, a staff attorney for the Pro Bono Clinic.
Many sex-trafficking survivors are arrested and prosecuted for acts directly related to having been trafficked. Survivors often are denied employment, housing and economic assistance due to their criminal histories. Criminal records are used against survivors in family court proceedings involving their children and can prevent foreign-born survivors from attaining lawful immigration status. Vacature of criminal convictions is considered an extraordinary remedy, but Illinois is one of 28 states to have passed vacature laws allowing survivors relief.
“Our client is precisely the type of victim that this law was meant to help,” said Lindstrom. “Our client has been on the road to restoring her life since she was released from jail, having received a GED and a college degree. She is currently a certified addictions counselor, but her convictions could have prevented her from pursuing her dream of working at a hospital. Now, with the convictions vacated, she will be able to pursue all career options if she chooses.”
The client is one of several survivors of sex trafficking being represented by the law school’s Pro Bono Clinic to help them restore their lives. The clinic also represents a survivor on an executive clemency petition that is currently pending before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.