Durham Expunction & Restoration Program provides pro bono opportunities

Durham Country District Attorney Satana Deberry ’94 launched the Durham Expunction & Restoration Program (DEAR) with a view to restoring driving privileges for 15,000 people whose licenses were suspended after failure to pay fines and fees and whose cases are more than two years old. Andrea “Muffin” Hudson got her license back through DEAR after driving on a suspended license for more than 10 years.

Duke Law students can earn externship credits by volunteering with DEAR, which is based in the Durham County Courthouse, and staffed by attorneys from the City of Durham, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the N.C. Justice Center. Meredith George ’19 says she was struck, while working with DEAR, by the sheer number of clients risking additional tickets and fines every time they got in their cars to perform the everyday tasks of living — work, school, appointments, and errands. She found their licenses had often been suspended for minor offenses. One client, she recalls, had her license automatically suspended because she could not afford a $200 fine and court fees to satisfy a ticket for driving five miles above the speed limit.

“It was crazy — two years of not being able to drive to work, paying for Ubers or pay someone for gas because she went 30 in a 25,” George says. “It just seems so punitive for such a small crime, if you can even call it that.

“We would see people who’d never had a single ticket besides driving while license revoked but they may have had 20 of those, which basically says they’ve never had the money to pay off the tickets and that was their only offense.”

Elizabeth Tobierre ’19, T ’14 also participated in the semester-long externship, putting in more than 120 hours filing expunction petitions to clear criminal charges and convictions and restore suspended or revoked driver’s licenses. The experience, she says, exposed her to a segment of society that is largely ignored.

“There’s so much need out there, so to be able to listen to people’s stories and actually help was wonderful — it’s the kind of thing I always wanted law school to be about,” Tobierre says.

“The power of their stories just really impacts your work.”