Author Archives: CCRC Staff

Long waits for expungement frustrate public safety purposes

whiteegret2Recently, in commenting on a new expungement scheme enacted by the Louisiana legislature, we noted the disconnect between the stated reentry-related purposes of the law and its lengthy eligibility waiting periods.  If people have to log many years of law-abiding conduct before they can even apply for this relief, it is not likely to be of much help to people returning home from prison.  Were Louisiana lawmakers unaware that the new expungement law would be unlikely to serve its stated purposes, or did they have some reason for advertising the new law in terms they knew were inapt.

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How much must a law school applicant disclose about his criminal record?

The New York Court of Appeals is considering how candid a person must be about his prior criminal record when applying to law school.  During oral argument on February 12 in Matter of Powers v. St.Seal_of_the_New_York_Court_of_Appeals.svg John’s University School of Law, several judges raised public policy concerns over the law school’s summary rescission of David Powers’ admission midway through his second year, based on how he had described his criminal record on his original application.  Powers had disclosed a past conviction for drug possession, but did not also report that he had initially faced more serious charges of drug-dealing.  These underlying charges came to light mid-way through Powers’ second year, when he sought clarification from the New York courts as to whether his criminal record would preclude his admission to the bar.

According to an account of the argument in the New York Law Journal, “[Powers] involvement with drugs seemed to concern state Court of Appeals judges less than St. John’s University’s decision to rescind his admission to law school.”

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President promises more pardons (we think)

new_clean_presidential_seal_by_sharpwriter-d486yc8In a wide-ranging interview with Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith posted on February 11, President Obama was asked about the employment difficulties faced by young black men with a felony record.  His response suggests that he may be interested in addressing through his pardon power the problems faced by people with federal convictions seeking restoration of rights and status, as he addressed them through law-making as a member of the Illinois legislature. This in turn suggests to us that the Justice Department may now be engaged, at the President’s direction, in a more proactive consideration of applications for a full presidential pardon. We post the exchange in full, so our readers can judge its import for themselves: Read more

The Eternal Criminal Record

Harvard_Wreath_Logo_1.svgThe Eternal Criminal Record is the title of Professor James Jacobs’ new book, just out from Harvard University Press.  This is the first comprehensive study of criminal records law and policy, and it deals with a range of contemporary legal and policy issues ranging from how records are created and disseminated, to how they are used by public and private actors, to how they are maintained and (perhaps) eventually sealed or destroyed.  Professor Jacobs examines important jurisprudential issues such as the right to public access versus the right to privacy; the role of criminal records in punishment theory; how U.S. criminal record policy compares to other countries; and the intersection of public safety and fairness in imposing collateral consequences.

The book will be reviewed on this site in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, here is the publisher’s description of it.

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Publishers not liable for internet posting of “erased” arrest records

john-peter-zenger-trial-granger-ywgd2c-1When Lorraine Martin and her two sons were arrested in 2010 at their home in Greenwich, Connecticut on drug charges, it was widely reported in the local media.  A year later, when the state decided to drop the charges against her, the record was automatically “erased” and Martin was “deemed to have never been arrested” under Connecticut’s Criminal Records Erasure Statute.  But the contemporaneous news accounts remained available on line, and the publishers refused to remove them.

Martin sued in federal court on various tort theories, including libel and invasion of privacy, relying on the “deemer” provision of the Erasure Statute.  The district court ruled that the publishers could not be held liable because the accounts were true when published, and the Erasure Statute “does not purport to change history.”  The Second Circuit affirmed. See Martin v. Hearst Newspapers, Docket No. 13-3315 (2d Cir., Jan. 28, 2015).

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Expungement resources now online from Papillon Foundation

143_PapillonLogo_Black.aiMost people with a criminal record have a general understanding of the value of expunging or sealing their criminal records.  However, figuring out how to actually obtain such relief in a particular jurisdiction, and understanding its specific effects, is not so easy.  The Papillon Foundation aims to change that by offering practical internet-based information about the process for obtaining expungement and sealing in all 50 states. We spoke with the Foundation’s founder Alan Courtney not long ago to find out more about how the Foundation helps people clean up their record and take charge of their past.    Read more

Bedside pardon shows “soft on crime” label losing power

B70ZrUICUAAkvqfWe were struck by this recent headline: “Gov. McAuliffe makes pardon from hospital, where he will remain overnight.”   The Virginia governor was recuperating from a procedure to drain his lungs made necessary by a holiday fall from a horse, when he called reporters to his hospital room to witness a grant of “conditional pardon” (Virginia’s term for a sentence commutation) to an autistic man jailed for assaulting a police officer, to permit him to go to a secure treatment center in Florida for help rather than being warehoused for years in a Virginia prison.  It is likely that McAuliffe wanted to show himself fully able to conduct state business. But it seems significant that he chose this particular official act to make the point.

The bookend episode that immediately comes to mind is Bill Clinton’s well-publicized departure from the campaign trail in 1992 to fly home to Arkansas to sign Ricky Ray Rector’s death warrant. Rector had shot himself in the head after murdering a police officer and was effectively lobotomized — and so unable to appreciate his circumstances that he asked to save the pecan pie from his last meal for “later.”

There may be no more telling sign that the “soft of crime” label is losing its power over elected officials than McAuliffe’s decision to publicize this bedside act of mercy.

Appeals court finds federal firearms law constitutionally flawed

GUNSIn a major victory for Second Amendment advocates, the Sixth Circuit court of appeals has sustained an as-applied constitutional challenge to the federal firearms dispossession law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).  While the particular provision of that law at issue in Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriffs Department is § 922(g)(4), the subsection prohibiting firearms possession by anyone “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution,” the court’s broad holding and analytical approach will be of considerable interest to those watching developments under the felon-in-possession subsection of the law, § 922(g)(1).

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State courts question mandatory lifetime sex offender registration

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003) and Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), state courts are coming to different conclusions under their own constitutions about whether sex offender registration and notification laws constitute punishment for purposes of due process and ex post facto analysis.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the most recent to invalidate mandatory registration requirements imposed on juveniles, but several state supreme courts have limited the retroactive application of registration requirements to adults under an ex post facto analysis.

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International travel restrictions based on criminal record

Collat_ConsequencesBelow is another excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming), this one about restrictions on international travel based on criminal record.  The first section discusses the subject in general terms, while the second section describes restrictions on travel to Canada for individuals with a foreign conviction, and the methods of overcoming these restrictions.  (An earlier post described methods of neutralizing Canadian convictions for purposes of travel to the U.S.)

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