Wesley Dozier

  • Hosted by Just City
  • Sponsored by International Paper
  • Service location Memphis, Tennessee
  • Law school Vanderbilt University Law School
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Wesley mitigated the damage caused by contact with the criminal legal system by providing a path toward a life free of a criminal record for individuals who are eligible for expungement but for outstanding court debt.

A single contact with the criminal justice system can keep someone from getting a job, a loan, an apartment, or a professional license for years. Court costs from even a single misdemeanor can add up to thousands of dollars, kickstarting a spiral of criminal court debt that can trigger driver’s license suspension, among other things. In Tennessee, court debt prohibits a person from qualifying for expungement, and has become one of the most common reasons that people do not qualify. Wesley’s project eliminated this obstacle to a clean slate by petitioning judges to waive court costs keeping people bound by a criminal record.

From an early age, Wesley began to see and think about the criminal legal system as many of his relatives were constantly swept up in it. In pursuing a law degree, Wesley knew he wanted to assist individuals who had been affected by the criminal legal system and he was glad to do so in his hometown for his Fellowship.

Fellowship Highlights

During his two-year Fellowship period, Wesley:

  • Advocated before 15 judges on behalf of over 30 clients to petition for clients’ costs to be waived
  • Successfully obtained over 20 orders waiving or reducing court costs, thus eliminating or reducing the final barrier to clients’ ability to have their records expunged
  • Provided brief services, advice and/or referrals to many individuals
  • Created an intake system to efficiently contact clients, determine the best way to resolve their problem with court debt, and ultimately get their costs waived
  • Identified initiatives led by other organizations that could benefit clients and meet their needs when court cost waiver advocacy was not the most useful service for them
  • Joined a coalition created to better understand how court costs, fines, and fees affect the lives of people who have contact with the criminal system and to develop policy solutions that address those issues
  • Collaborated with other organizations and companies to create a system by which pro bono attorneys can provide reentry-related legal services to individuals in need after this fellowship has ended

Next Steps

Wesley will be returning to Nashville to work at Choosing Justice Initiative. There, his work will include creating and advocating for policies that eliminate or reduce criminal court-generated fines and fees.

It is imperative that we continuously interrogate the criminal legal system—its disparate impact on people of color and the poor, its treatment of individuals’ rights, and its outcomes.

Wesley Dozier /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

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