The day Antonio Reza’s five-year probation ended, he stood outside of Gleeson Library, looking up at the sky while raindrops pelted his face. Those passing by questioned what he was doing in the pouring rain, but in that moment, all Reza could think was, “freedom.”
Now, one year later, just before he graduates this semester, Reza has been freed again.
On Nov. 27, his criminal record — on four counts of armed robberies — was completely expunged, meaning his name has been cleared, making it as though his convictions never happened.
“It’s funny, because it comes full circle,” he said the day after the expungement happened. “Yesterday, it was raining.”
Reza was the driver in three armed robberies after dropping out of Expression College in Emeryville, Calif. He was arrested in 2011 with one felony and one strike added to his record. He thought he’d be facing years in jail, but his official sentence was from 2011 to 2012. After being released, Reza attended community college in Fremont, Calif. before he received a full-ride scholarship to USF for fall 2016, with hopes of pursuing a degree in communications.
“Man, it’s been a road,” he said.
Eligibility for expungement when it comes to felonies varies by state.
“A felony is a big ‘fuck you’ from society,” he said. “It’s an extreme act that has extreme punishments.”
Some felonies, such as sex crimes, may never be expunged. If a record is eligible under the requirements of California Penal Code 1203.41, the process involves a petition, extensive research and oftentimes a waiting period, according to the Judicial Branch of California’s website.
Under Reza’s circumstances, he said the best he was hoping for was a reduction of his felony.
But a strike can also be expunged, depending on the case’s circumstances.
“[District Attorney of Alameda County Matthew Gaidos] reduced my felony to a misdemeanor, and they expunged the strike,” Reza said. “I thought that was going to be it, and I was very thankful for that alone.” But the shaving of Reza’s record did not end there. “They expunged the misdemeanor,” to Antonio’s surprise. “They had to do it in two segments, because they couldn’t just expunge the felony all together.”
At the forefront of the expungement process was Detective Michael Gebhardt, Reza’s arresting officer.
“Certain cases stay with me, Antonio’s being one,” Gebhardt said. “In my time as a cop, I have never done this process for any other person I have arrested, so this was a first for me. Once it got to the point where Antonio was graduating, this is definitely the type of rehabilitation and type of transformation we want to talk about [when considering expungement of a record]. I got on the phone with the DA [of Alameda County], and I talked about how difficult the process would be, while advocating for Antonio. The DA was 100 percent on board.”
Now that Reza’s record is cleared, all tasks that were once obstacles for him are now opportunities for growth.
“Just being a felon is such a fucker,” he explained. “It’s so hard just to get by. When applying for jobs, every time that I was honest, and I checked the box that I have been convicted of a felony, I did not get the job 100 percent of the time. Every time that I lied, I got the job 100 percent of the time. You would be genuinely surprised at how many different hoops that a felon would have to jump through. I feel like I can just be normal.”
As for the expungement process, Reza said that he does not know exactly what went on behind closed doors, but he feels fortunate that Gaidos and Gebhardt took a gamble on him. He emphasized that this is not the end of his story and that he will continue to prove himself.
Now that his criminal record is completely clear, Reza will have an easier time applying to law schools. He applied to 21 law schools around the country this semester and listed Stanford, UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley and Harvard as his top five universities. As of right now, Reza is waiting to hear back.
The friendship between Gebhardt and Reza will also continue.
Gebhardt said he will be attending Reza’s graduation at USF to cheer him on. “Just because he is out now, and he is successful doesn’t mean that [the support] stops,” Gebhardt said. “We talk all of the time. That’s not going to change.”
Not only is Reza graduating this semester with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies, along with minors in legal studies and sociology, he is also the student speaker at this fall’s graduation. “Student speaker” is the term USF uses in place of class valedictorian for the College of Arts and Sciences. “I’m telling everyone I am valedictorian, because I did all the damn work for it,” Reza said.
Kimberly Richman, professor of sociology and legal studies, was one of Reza’s professors throughout his time at USF. She said that his accomplishments speak for themselves.
“He’s been recognized as a stellar student, on the Dean’s list every semester, received all A’s and B+’s, [and was] chosen by the University as the graduation speaker for his class,” Richman said. “In other words, his high performance in my classes is not unique. He’s excelled in his classes across the curriculum.”
“That negative stigma [surrounding felons] is still there,” Reza said. “But, I believe I have personally beat the negative stigma on how people look at me.”