Clayton County Solicitor General Charles Brooks and Clayton County Communications Administrator Valerie Fuller share what crimes are prosecuted in the office of the Solicitor General. Plus, for those who have a criminal record, it doesn’t have to mean a life sentence for your criminal history when it comes to applying for jobs or continuing your education. Subscribe to the Clayton connected Podcast at Clayton Connected podcast.claytoncountyga gov, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or Pandora!
You’re tuned in to the Clayton Connected podcast in Clayton County where the world lands and opportunities take off.
Hello and thank you for joining us on the Clayton Connected podcast. I’m your hostess, Valerie Fuller, communications administrator for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. Today we have in studio none other than Mr. Charles Brooks, our solicitor general. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here and glad to share in this conversation. Absolutely. So let’s talk to the people in Clayton County and anyone else who might be listening. Talk to us about what the responsibilities and duties of the Solicitor General is, because a lot of people just may not know. So let’s clear the air. Oftentimes, people might address me as General Brooks, but I am not a member of the military. I am a member of the military.
National Guard. I’m not in the Army, Marines, Air Force, or Navy. A Solicitor General is a misdemeanor prosecutor. And so the nature of my work is I’m a prosecutor. I prosecute all the misdemeanors that happen here in Clayton County. And a misdemeanor is any offense that can range from a traffic ticket all the way up to involuntary manslaughter and everything in between.
Criminal law, the large majority of criminal law is misdemeanors, traffic tickets, shoplifting, misdemeanor marijuana, less than an ounce. Domestic violence, a lot of that falls within the misdemeanor realm. That’s family violence, battery, and charges of that nature. And so the nature of my work again,
is any offense that would require a sentence of 12 months or less and a fine of up to $1,000. So you covered a lot. What’s that caseload like? In Clayton County, because of where we are situated, we have the airport.
And so we are a Metro Atlanta prosecution office and by volume, we do no less than about 50,000 cases a year. That number is significantly impacted with the nature of the pandemic. We have a backlog of cases. And so on average, if you’re talking about cases that are accused in the criminal courts, cases that go to trial are probably about between 10 to 11,000. The remainder are county ordinances, traffic tickets, and offenses of that.
nature. So quite a bit, quite a bit. So we’re going to come back to that in just a second because I want to talk about your hiring process and some opportunities that you have. And we’ll do that towards the end. Love to have that conversation. So right now, let’s talk about something that you mentioned a couple of days ago or
a day ago or so, you had a meeting where you specifically talked about three things that were very important to your office in reference to helping the citizens in Clayton County. One of them dealt with cleaning up their criminal histories. Talk to me about the record restriction process. So
Record restriction, formerly known as expungement. Yesterday we had an event with Goodwill of North Georgia, where we partnered with their career center about how people can go about cleaning up their criminal histories. And the value in that is, if you think about your criminal record, it can be used for a number of things. If a person is trying to pursue a higher education, a criminal record may preclude them from getting federal funds for advanced education.
A criminal record also can impact people’s ability to get housing, as well as their ability for career advancement. And so our office, we are in the process of talking to an organization, Georgia Justice Project, about setting up something called a Second Chance Desk to assist us in assisting our citizens with record restriction. Record restriction, again, it’s the process of…
going through your criminal history, seeing what cases, or excuse me, and let me back up. The way that the criminal histories are set up, each arrest shows up on a criminal history, and that’s called a cycle.
And so if you’re arrested 10 times, that’s 10 cycles on your criminal history. But if that arrest never materialized into something like a conviction, maybe there was an arrest, but they dropped the charges. Or the charges were dismissed, or you were found not guilty. That still shows on your criminal history. And that can be detrimental to whatever it is that you’re trying to do. And so you want to try to get that off your criminal history and that’s what record restriction does.
You will file a petition or application with the courts. It’ll go through different channels. It’ll go first through the arresting agency. They’ll review it. And they’ll advance that to the prosecuting office. The prosecuting office will review it. And if it aligns with the statute and the offense is eligible to be restricted, then the prosecutor will approve the restriction. It’ll go back to the arresting agency and it’ll be forwarded to GCIC to be removed from your criminal history. Now, there’s one more step after that.
Because now, even though it’s removed off your criminal history, a lot of private companies, they hire investigators to go out to the courthouses, to the clerk’s office, and pull your histories. And if they pull your history at a courthouse, even though it’s not showing on the printed-out criminal history, they can go to the clerk and find out whether or not a history existed. So the next step beyond…
during the record restriction, it’s called doing a motion to seal your record. And that means that it’s sealed from public view. Nobody can go to a clerk’s office to pull whatever may have existed that never materialized into a conviction. And so the point of the second chance that I mentioned with the Atlanta Justice, or excuse me, the Georgia Justice Project, they’ll be able to usher in and help folks through the process of filing the application, filing the petition to seal.
and any other remedies that might be available to clean your history up. Very valuable information indeed. And I take it this does include people who may be wrongfully arrested also? Absolutely. Absolutely. So I have to ask this question. Who do you find, you know, working with this every day in the caseloads, who are most affected? Young people. The law allows for something called a youthful offender.
And if a person maybe has some challenges in their youth, maybe they got in trouble with the law. If they were under 21 and the offense is a qualifying offense, even though they may have pled guilty to that offense or they may have pled no law to the offense, the law allows that person to enter what’s called a youthful offender restriction. So what I find just reviewing the histories and reviewing the applications of folks, folks who make mistakes early on in life.
And then they, later on, realized the impact. And the thing about criminal history is they stay with you for the entirety of your life. And so from 18 to 99.
You’ll see a person who’s in their 60s trying to clean something up because of career advancement. I did this way back when I was eight restriction is the same thing. Oftentimes people use the term expungement, but the law basically just reframed it as record restriction. And so when we talk, when we have a conversation about record restriction, we are having a conversation about expungement.
Want to talk about prosecutions? We can. We can. That’s the nature of our work. So the Solicitor General’s office is responsible for certain prosecutions. Share with us to what extent and services are provided. OK. Let me frame this conversation first with the values that.
guide how we prosecute in the office. So in our office, we have four values, or four pillars, guiding pillars, similar to how the county has set up our strategic pillars. Our four guiding pillars are first, community. We are a community-first office. We value the people that we serve. Each one of the cases that we have in our office is more than a number. We recognize that’s a person.
the person has a family, and that family lives on the street, that street makes up a block, and that block makes up Clayton County. And so as we evaluate each case, we try to see the people element, the person element. And so as we look at what cases we prosecute, as we look at how to prosecute a case, we also look at the impact that it’s going to have on the community. And that’s what community first prosecution is. Our second value is integrity.
in our office, integrity still matters. The political landscape of present times might suggest that integrity is somewhere out in the fields, but integrity absolutely still matters. It matters to us significantly. And so how we move in the dark is how we move in the light. Our third value is fairness. What does fairness mean? For us, fairness is always.
Fairness means how we move with the person who is unrepresented in the same way that we move with the person who’s represented. It’s the same way that we move with the court. It’s the same way that we move with each other in the office and the way that we move with our community. A very important factor to know is that everybody’s treated the same. Absolutely. A level of playing field. It’s no hiding the ball as to what we’re doing. And our last value is of equal importance to the previous three
We have a model called Competence Plus. And what Competence Plus means is that in that courtroom, everybody, everybody, every party that operates in that courtroom, the prosecutor,
The people who are associated with the Listed Journal’s office must know what everybody else should be doing. That’s what being competent plus means. I know what I’m supposed to do, but I also know what you’re supposed to do also. So that means I know what the defense attorney should be doing, I know what the judge should be doing, and I know what the bailiff and the deputy should be doing. And if I’m aware of what’s supposed to happen, I can ensure that everybody’s rights are protected by defending the state.
everybody’s rights. And so those are the guiding principles that guide our prosecution. As we talk about prosecution, I mentioned earlier that we prosecuted about 50,000 cases. The cases that get the most investment of time are our domestic violence cases and our DUI cases. Those cases are the cases where we find that there can be a real detrimental, fatal impact if we lay down on them.
with our domestic violence cases. Those are charges like battery family violence, batteries, and simple battery family violence. Sometimes you see criminal trespass that falls in line with domestic violence, people destroying stuff in the house. Aside from our domestic violence cases, again, it’s DUI cases, our driving, under-influence cases, folks who are…
driving impaired can kill folks. So we take that very seriously. And when we invest resources, very limited resources, because we are government, and when we invest resources, we invest the bulk of our resources in those cases. Did you see an increase during the time that…
COVID was in play and of course, COVID is still in play, but during the height of it, when we first had to shut down the government offices and while the world shut down, between the time of the shutdown and now, have you seen increases in the domestic violence cases, in the DUI cases? What was the experience during that time? Both. We’ve seen increases in both categories of cases.
as it relates to domestic violence, you know, during the height of the pandemic, people were shut in. And so if you are used to going to work out eight hours a day, and you’re forced now to be with your loved ones for eight hours, it may not work out the way that you think it might. You may irritate each other a lot more. And so you see an increase in domestic violence. And additionally, with the DUI cases, our driving under the influence cases.
people have, they deal with stress in different ways. And for some people, reach for a bottle. Some people reach for it, some people go exercise. There are a number of people who self-medicate with alcohol. And so, yes, we’ve seen an increase in DUI, as well as domestic violence offenses during the height of the pandemic. But I also add this, actually during the pandemic, I think people…
I started driving a lot more recklessly and inconsiderate. There’s a lot more aggressive driving. Road rage. Oh yeah. I saw a lot of it. I mean, I saw a lot of it before the pandemic started, but something happened. Oh yeah. A lot happened. If you think about Terry Boulevard, there were a number of pedestrian fatalities that happened during the pandemic.
so much in fact that it’s gotten state attention. And if you look at Terrah Boulevard presently, you notice that they’re doing a lot of improvements on Terrah Boulevard. Absolutely. You got lights coming on Terrah. They expanding the lanes, but they also put in walkways. Right, all for safety. The safety of our pedestrians, as well as our residents, is one of the things that’s at the forefront for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, as well as the leaders throughout this county.
So a lot of value add to contacting and working through the Solicitor General’s Office for those people who may have had this experience as a teen or if you’re a parent who has a child or an adult. It’s not just limited to, we’re just making note that the number is greater for those who are typical. So you also have a service that’s provided that deals with the…
Is it a diversion? No, pretrial. Okay. So you also have a service that’s offered called the pretrial diversion. Tell us what that is. So for folks who have limited or no criminal history, we offer what’s called a pretrial diversion program. And that’s in line with what we’re trying to attempt to do with the second chance desk. The pretrial diversion program is before a case actually is formally accused, before it actually makes its way to the state court of Clayton County.
We evaluate and review the case, and if it meets the criteria that are set within the office, we can divert that case into our diversion program. And the components of our diversion program include things like, depending on the offense, there may be certain amounts of counseling, there may be certain classes associated with that offense, and then there’s a number of community service hours that are required.
There’s an administrative fee that’s required to enter into the program, but at the conclusion of the program, if you’re successful, and anybody that we put in, we hope that they’re successful. We believe that they can be successful after 90 days. The case will be dismissed.
The value in that is that the folks who have no record, they don’t get a record. Because once you get that record, again, it can impact you, it can impact your education, it can impact your housing, it can impact your career advancement. Additionally, there’s a secondary value aside from the individual value, there’s an institutional value for Clayton County and our office. We do a lot of our community outreach through the…
through the pre-trial diversion program. Because I mentioned that a component of it is that they have to do a certain amount of community service hours. That community service hours happen here in Clayton County. And so we partner with a number of organizations called, one such organization is Areas in Need.
where we send volunteers over to do things like to feed the hungry, clothe those folks who are limited in resources and buy bicycles. And during the holidays time, we often times buy gifts. All that stuff is funded and able to happen through our pre-trial diversion program.
So lots of services through the Solicitor General Office that I’m sure a lot of people did not know about So I’m very appreciative of you coming on and sharing this information because we share a common interest in making sure that the public is informed So one of the questions that I would ask is there a statute of limitations in reference to how far? back can an arrest how
How can a parent and or an adult that’s affected, that has a criminal history record, is there a statute of limitation as to when they can file? Okay, that’s a great question. So with misdemeanors, if you entered a plea, you’re not allowed to file a plea. You’re not allowed to file a plea.
on a misdemeanor offense, and we talk about record restriction, formerly known as expungement. If you entered a plea on a misdemeanor, be it a guilty plea, be it a no contest plea, or no low plea, if it qualifies, and meaning that it falls outside of the category of cases that cannot be restricted, for example, family violence, domestic violence cases, you can’t restrict that. But other cases, there are a number of other misdemeanor cases that you can restrict.
If you entered the plea no law or guilty, and you have not had any other offenses or arrests within the last four years after that offense, then you can apply for a record restriction and more than likely to be granted. What the law allows, you can get up to two misdemeanors that you entered a plea on removed from your record, as long as they are followed within the statutory criteria that qualify. For felony offenses, for felony offenses,
If you entered a plea or you were found guilty, then there are very limited things you can do to have that removed. But organizations like the Georgia Justice Project can work with you in seeing what remedies exist. If the felony or misdemeanor was dismissed outright, then you can’t have that removed. And there’s no limitation on the timetable that can be removed.
lots of value and all the information that we’re sharing. And I know one of the questions that we typically get is, what’s the cost associated with something like this? Is there a cost? There is a minimum administrative cost. When you file for the application with the Sheriff’s Office, I believe it’s $25. It may be less than that.
It may be a little bit more than that, but it’s a minimal administrative cost to do the application with the Sheriff’s Department.
aside and that’s if you do it on your own. You can also hire an attorney and an attorney can walk you through the process of doing the application and the petition and do it on your behalf. Organizations like the Georgia Justice Project, are a nonprofit that can assist as well and I don’t believe there’s a cost associated with Georgia Justice Project.
Absolutely, great information. So now let’s back up and let’s talk about, we talked about that caseload and how thick it was and how long it was. In reference to the caseload and in reference to your needs in the Solicitor General’s office, what are the types of positions that are open or that you need to be filled? We need you.
You got me. We need prosecutors. The labor market has changed with the pandemic. The nature of work is different. The amount of work is different. People’s interest in doing civil work and government work is different. And so what we are looking for, we are looking for people who are community-minded.
who are attorneys who are prosecutors, who are attorneys who want to be prosecutors? Right now, like I said, we prosecute about 50,000 cases. And we’re doing it with a very limited staff, a skeleton staff.
We want to thank Charles Brooks, Solicitor General for Clayton County, Georgia, for joining us this afternoon. And if you want to find out more about the Solicitor General’s office, just log on to email@example.com. You can also follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Clayton Connected Podcast. You can log on to ClaytonConnectedPodcast.ClaytonCountyGA.gov.
or find us on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, and Pandora. I’m your hostess, Valerie Fuller. Thank you for listening to the Clayton Connected podcast in Clayton County, Georgia, where the world lands and opportunities take off.