Author Archives: CCRC Staff

Organizations call on Congress to remove record-related barriers to small business relief

A bipartisan group of civil rights, advocacy, and business organizations, including CCRC, are calling on Congress to take immediate action to remove barriers based on arrest or conviction history for small business owners seeking COVID-19 federal relief.  This is an issue we have been covering in depth in recent posts.  This call to action—available in PDF and reprinted below—is issued by the following organizations (with additional sign-ons welcome; contact us here):

American Civil Liberties Union
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Collateral Consequences Resource Center
College & Community Fellowship
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
#cut50
Drug Policy Alliance
FreedomWorks
Georgia Justice Project
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
Justice Action Network
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Main Street Alliance
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Employment Law Project
Out For Justice
Public Interest Law Center
Reproductive Justice Inside
Root & Rebound
Safer Foundation
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Women Against Registry

*Note: the letter was originally issued on April 10 and was last updated on April 17.

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The Marshall Project reports on criminal history barriers to small business relief

In the past two weeks we have written at length about the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)’s “bumpy guidance on criminal history requirements” for small business financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic (see also “Applying for an SBA loan with a criminal record“).  Today, Eli Hager of The Marshall Project has picked up the story with a new piece that draws on our research and will bring the story to a wider audience.  We hope this will prompt the SBA to revise its policy, or guide Congress toward clearer and fairer standards if it passes a planned new round of small business assistance.

Before the pandemic, the SBA didn’t automatically disqualify people for small business loans based on a past criminal record, and we can’t understand why it would suddenly decide to do so now, when small businesses across the country are struggling to stay afloat.  (Preexisting policy, described here, disqualifies a business if it has a principal who is incarcerated, is under supervision, is facing charges, or lacks “good character.”)  The new SBA policy—which automatically disqualifies even certain people who have completed a diversionary program and were never convicted—seems entirely at odds with the wave of recent state and federal law reforms aimed at encouraging reintegration.

The Marshall Project piece notes that “never in recent U.S. history have so many conservatives and liberals agreed that people with criminal histories deserve a second chance—especially job-creating small-business owners.”  It is no wonder that the SBA “did not respond Tuesday to multiple requests for clarification,” when its new policy is so indefensible.

An excerpt from The Marshall Project piece, “Trump Administration Tells Some Business Owners ‘Do Not Apply’ for Coronavirus Loans,” is included below:

Michelle E. of Scottsdale, Arizona, was relieved when President Trump last month signed into law the sweeping stimulus package intended to keep the U.S. economy afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Michelle and her husband have owned a small hardwood flooring business for 18 years. She hoped the law’s $350 billion for small-business loans would help them avoid laying off any of their five employees, whom she said are like family. So she got a loan application through her bank.

But as she filled it out, Michelle saw the question: Had any of the business owners pleaded guilty to or been on probation for a criminal offense? Michelle immediately thought of her husband, who is on probation because he took a guilty plea on a theft charge after taking home the scope of someone else’s rifle on a hunting trip, something he says he did accidentally. His name and her last name are being withheld because his criminal case, and the couple’s loan application, are pending.

“Because of that, our employees can’t get help from the United States government?” Michelle said.

It’s a little noticed frustration compared to the logistical problems of the Trump administration’s rollout of the CARES Act. A set of new regulations for implementing the law, issued by the Small Business Administration, prohibits small-business owners with criminal records from accessing the desperately needed loans.

“We have never seen such a sweeping mandatory disqualification based on a criminal record, in any area of the law,” wrote the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan website that tracks how federal, state and local laws affect people with past charges or convictions. The site is run by Margaret Love, who was the U.S. Pardon Attorney during the Clinton administration.

[. . . .]

Critics of the new regulations said the rules waste precious time examining people’s pasts when so many are, with each new day, losing their lives or livelihoods.  One New Jersey pet-supply store owner with a 10-year-old felony conviction put it this way in an email to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center: It is as if, after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, rescuers flying in helicopters asked families stranded on their roofs if they had ever faced a criminal charge.“

And if anyone answered yes,” he wrote, “they would move along to the next house.”

SBA’s bumpy guidance on criminal history requirements for stimulus loans

*UPDATE (5/20/20): New efforts to channel federal relief to small business owners with a record”

*UPDATE (5/6/20):  We have a new article about a purported leak of the SBA’s internal guidance for denying disaster loan (EIDL) relief based on a record.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) oversees an array of government-backed loans that are key resources for small businesses fighting to survive during this pandemic.  The recently-enacted stimulus bill authorized more than $300 billion in new SBA loans, many of which are eligible for forgiveness.  We published a post about this on March 27: “Applying for an SBA loan with a criminal record.”  But in the past week, the SBA has issued confusing and frequently changing guidance regarding stimulus loan eligibility for people with a criminal record, a group that includes as many as one in three adults.  In the last week, the SBA has issued criminal history guidance for the Paycheck Protection Program on three separate occasions, each time with more restrictive eligibility rules, and it is not clear when guidance will be finalized.

The most recent guidance, issued just today, disqualifies from financial assistance a business with: 1) an owner of 20% or more of the equity who is currently subject to criminal charges, incarceration, probation, or parole; or 2) “any owner” who has, in the last five years, been convicted of any felony, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to felony charges, or been placed on pretrial diversion or any form of parole or probation, including probation before judgement, based on felony charges.

These developments are troubling given the urgent need for relief and the considerable barriers that people with records already face in the economy even in the best of times.  In this post we discuss the past week’s developments on this issue.  We also provide information about COVID-19 disaster loans.

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Applying for an SBA loan with a criminal record

*UPDATE (5/20/20):  “New efforts to channel federal relief to small business owners with a record”

*UPDATE (4/27/20):  We have now collected a range of resources relating to this issue, including articles, letters, and official documents in one place.

*UPDATE (4/3/20): As we discuss in depth in our new post, the SBA has released a new set of criminal history standards for the “Paycheck Protection Program” (different than those previously published and covered in our 4/1/20 update below).  First, the SBA has posted an Interim Final Rule for this program on its website, which states (p. 7):

You are ineligible for a PPP loan if, for example:

i. You are engaged in any activity that is illegal under federal, state, or local law …. iii. An owner of 20 percent or more of the equity of the applicant is incarcerated, on probation, on parole; presently subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction; or has been convicted of a felony within the last five years;

The SBA also has published a new application form, effective April 3, 2020, with more restrictive criminal history standards than those published in the Interim Final Rule.  The form asks two questions regarding criminal history; a “Yes” answer to either question is disqualifying:

  • Is the Applicant (if an individual) or any individual owning 20% or more of the equity of the Applicant subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction, or presently incarcerated, or on probation or parole?
  • Within the last 5 years, for any felony, has the Applicant (if an individual) or any owner of the Applicant 1) been convicted; 2) pleaded guilty; 3) pleaded nolo contendere; 4) been placed on pretrial diversion; or 5) been placed on any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment)?

*Update (4/1/20): SBA has released a sample form, effective March 31, 2020, for stimulus 7(a) loans, now called the “Paycheck Protection Program.”  The form asks two questions regarding criminal history, to be answered by owners with greater than 20% ownership stakes, and a “Yes” answer to either question is disqualifying:

  • Are you presently subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction, or presently incarcerated, on probation or parole?
  • Within the last 7 years, for any felony or misdemeanor for a crime against a minor, have you: 1) been convicted; 2) pleaded guilty; 3) pleaded nolo contendere; 4) been placed on pretrial diversion; or 5) been placed on any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment)?

Loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are a key resource for small businesses fighting to survive during this pandemic.  SBA loans are generally loans provided by private lenders and guaranteed by the federal government.  The $2+ trillion stimulus package (the CARES Act) signed into law today, includes more than $300 billion in funding for new SBA loans called the “Paycheck Protection Program,” some of which are eligible for forgiveness.

These loans are to be provided under SBA’s primary loan program, the 7(a) loan program, but they increase eligibility for 7(a) loans, extend their allowable uses, and allow for loan forgiveness, among other provisions.  (See H.R. 748, sec. 1102; 15 U.S.C. 636(a)).  Notably, a Paycheck Protection Loan may be used—in addition to already-allowable uses under 7(a)—for payroll support (including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and group health care benefit costs during leave), employee salaries, mortgage payments, rent, utilities, and any other debt incurred before February 15, 2020.  See H.R. 748, sec. 1102.  Further, for all 7(a) loans made between February 15, 2020 and June 30, 2020, loaned funds would be eligible for forgiveness if used for payroll costs (with a couple of exceptions), and certain other expenses to maintain “payroll continuity” during a four-month period.  A business must submit certain documents to apply for forgiveness, and the forgiveness amount is reduced if the number of employees or their compensation has been reduced.  Se H.R. 748, sec. 1106.

In this post, we explore considerations for people with a criminal record who wish to apply for a 7(a) small business loan, including the “Paycheck Protection Program” loans that will be funded through the CARES Act.  We also discuss disaster loans for small businesses in areas severely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), which the SBA is already making available.

After reviewing existing SBA loan eligibility rules and vetting policies for 7(a) applicants, we have questions about the extent to which these new loans will be available to people with a criminal record.  Generally, the SBA excludes any business with a principal who is on probation, parole, or similar form of supervision; or who is currently facing any charges.  And while a closed criminal case is not automatically disqualifying, SBA requires that every 7(a) applicant’s principals be “of good character,” and conducts a character evaluation that for people with a felony conviction, certain misdemeanor convictions, or a recent case, requires a full FBI background check before loan funds may be approved.  This evaluation specifically requires disclosure of expunged convictions and certain non-conviction records.  Moreover, if a person has not completely satisfied a sentence “and other conditions of the court,” they are ineligible for a loan.  Certain broad language in the CARES Act suggests that the SBA might not impose eligibility requirements that would apply to 7(a) loans in normal times, including ineligibility due to an open criminal matter or lack of “good character.”  We hope that would be the case, given the urgent need for relief and the considerable barriers that people with records already face in the economy even in the best of times.  We will look for guidance from the SBA as to how it will interpret this language.  [See the updates at the top of this post.]

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Automatic expungement falls short in Canada

The John Howard Society of Canada has a new post about a failed piece of Canadian legislation that would have provided automatic expungement of criminal records in that country.  The post describes the effort to remedy the shortcomings of the current “one-at-a-time” record-clearing system, which it says is expensive (more than $600 to apply), bureaucratic, and “systematically works against poor and marginalized people.”  As an example, it documents Canada’s serious “takeup” problem with its recent efforts to clear cannabis possession convictions: “despite the government’s claims of an enhanced process to grant pardons for cannabis possession now that it is legal, only a handful of the 250,000 or so Canadians with such records have received pardons so far.”

The post also discusses our report documenting U.S. expungement reforms in 2019, noting that while the problem of criminal records in this country is “much greater” than it is in Canada, we seem to be making better progress in dealing with it.

We reprint the introduction to the post below, and link to the piece.

Expunging criminal records

February 26, 2020

Last year Senator Kim Pate introduced a bill that would provide automatic expungement of criminal records in Canada.  Under this bill, criminal records would automatically be sealed after a certain amount of time had elapsed following a criminal sentence unless there had meanwhile been a new criminal charge or conviction.

Expungement of criminal records is important because a criminal record has many harmful effects for a person’s entire lifetime, even decades after the end of their sentence.  It is important to keep in mind that 3-4 million Canadian adults, or about 1 in 8, has a criminal record of some kind.  Wherever you live in Canada, you likely have neighbours with a record.  But, as another post on this blog showed, most people never commit a second crime, and this likelihood declines with every year that passes.

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Report Card: Grading states on 2019 record reforms

The following is an excerpt from our recent annual report on legislative reforms, Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019.

Report Card

For the first time this year we have prepared a “Report Card” on how state legislatures performed in 2019 in advancing the goals of reintegration.  We have not covered all states, only those we thought most and least productive.  We hope this new feature of our annual reports will provide an incentive to legislatures across the nation, and a tool for legislative advocates.

New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.

In this inaugural year, New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.  New Jersey’s “Clean Slate” law authorized an automated record-clearing process for many thousands of misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades, and extended eligibility and improved procedures for petition-based discretionary expungement  relief.  New Jersey enacted two other important laws promoting reintegration.  One limited felony disenfranchisement to people in prison, immediately restoring the vote to about 80,000 people still completing their sentences in the community.  Unlike the executive orders that have this effect in New York and Kentucky, New Jersey’s law will not be easily retracted when the statehouse changes hands.  Another new law repealed provisions mandating suspension of driver’s licenses for conviction of drug and other non-driving crimes, for failure to pay court debt, and for failure to pay child support.

In commending New Jersey’s legislative accomplishments, we would be remiss not to recognize the key role played by Governor Phil Murphy in making criminal record reform the cornerstone of his legislative agenda, and by key legislative leaders, who together persuaded the legislature to enact in a single year a bolder set of reintegration laws than any other in the country to the present time.[i]

As runner-up, Colorado enacted 10 laws on criminal records, voting rights, ban-the-box, and immigration.

Colorado is runner up for our new Reintegration Champion award, based on a prolific legislative record that is a close second to New Jersey’s.  In 2019 Colorado enacted ten record reform laws, among them an ambitious rewriting of its code chapter on criminal records, a law restoring voting rights to parolees and one extending ban-the-box to private employers, and two new measures to avoid deportation as a consequence of conviction. Colorado’s productive 2019 followed an almost equally productive 2018, when its legislature regulated occupational licensing agencies and gave its courts authority to remove mandatory collateral penalties.

Honorable mention goes to 6 states (IL, MS, NV, NM, ND, WV) for productive legislative seasons, while 5 other states (AR, DE, CA, NY, UT) were recognized for a specific notable new law.    

Honorable mention for a productive legislative season goes to six states: Illinois and Nevada (with nine and eight laws, respectively, some significant); New Mexico and North Dakota (for their comprehensive first-ever record-sealing schemes, and ban-the-box bills);  Mississippi (for its extensive regulation of occupational licensing, management of diversion courts, and repeal of mandatory driver’s license penalties for drug and other non-driving crimes); and West Virginia (for two significant laws, on record relief and occupational licensing, as well as a diversion bill).  Five additional states deserve recognition for notable enactments:  Arkansas for a major revision of its occupational licensing law; California and Utah for their automated record relief laws (though Utah’s scheme is not as far-reaching as New Jersey’s, and California’s is prospective only); New York for two measures to limit access to undisposed (pending) cases; and Delaware for its first comprehensive expungement scheme.

Low marks go to three of the seven states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2019: the legislatures of Alaska, Georgia, and Michigan have been the least productive in the land in recent years where restoration of rights and status is concerned.  Kansas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania also produced no new laws in 2019, but all four states enacted major record reforms in 2018 so we give them a pass.

We conclude by noting that many of the states not mentioned in this inaugural Report Card made progress last year in limiting access to and use of criminal records, and we were hard-pressed not to single a few more of them out for credit.  It is clear to us that almost every state sees criminal record reform as an important and challenging legislative agenda.  We anticipate that in 2020 states that have been comparatively cautious in their recent law-making will be inspired to take larger steps as they see what more ambitious jurisdictions have already been able to accomplish.

Note: In response to this report, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tweeted:

Read the full report here.

[i] See, e.g., Governor Murphy’s statement accompanying his “conditional veto” in August 2019 of an early version of the bill that would become the Clean Slate law that he signed on December 19, 2019.  In that statement, after applauding the legislature’s extension of eligibility for petition-based expungement, he noted the example set by Pennsylvania’s own Clean Slate law the year before:

“Only those individuals who actually apply for an expungement, meaning those who are aware of this potential remedy and have the wherewithal to navigate the legal process or afford an attorney to assist them, would be able to seek the relief afforded by the expungement process. This method is not the most efficient means for clean slate expungement, nor will it deliver relief to all eligible individuals who need it. To avoid this shortcoming, we should follow the lead of Pennsylvania and undertake the necessary steps to establish an automated, computerized expungement system that would allow people with multiple convictions for less serious, non-violent crimes who maintain a clean record for ten years to clear their criminal histories without having to hire a lawyer or wade through a paperwork-intensive process. Our system is not set up to do this now, and undertaking this task will require buy-in and commitment from all three branches of government. On behalf of the executive branch, that is a commitment I am more than willing to make.”

See https://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/news/562019/docs/S3205CV.pdf.  Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin were particularly effective partners in the negotiations that resulted in the bill that was approved by the legislature in December.

CCRC reports on criminal record reforms in 2019

We are pleased to publish our annual report on criminal record reforms enacted during the past calendar year.  This is the fourth in a series of reports since 2016 on new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  This year we have included for the first time a Report Card grading the progress of the most (and least) productive state legislatures in 2019.  The press release accompanying the report is reprinted below:

Report finds record-breaking number of criminal record reforms enacted in 2019

February 17, 2020

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the astonishing number of laws passed in 2019 aimed at promoting reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Last year, 43 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted an extraordinary 153 laws to provide criminal record relief or to alleviate the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime and frequently have little or no public safety rationale. 

The year 2019 was the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013, a period CCRC has documented in a series of legislative reports (2013-2016, 2017, and 2018). 

CCRC’s 2019 report, titled “Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019,” is available here.

This report is our first to include a Report Card on how state legislatures performed during the year in advancing the goals of reintegration,” said CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love. “We wanted to recognize New Jersey as Reintegration Champion for having the most consequential legislative record in 2019, including three important new laws authorizing clean slaterecord relief, restoring voting rights, and curbing driver’s license suspensions.

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Fair Chance Act advances in Congress

NOTE:  The Fair Chance Act was signed into law on December 20, 2019, as Public Law 116-92, but its provisions will not take effect for a two-year period after enactment. 

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 passed the House on December 11 and the Senate on December 17 with bipartisan support, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.  If signed into law, this would be the first piece of federal legislation in over a decade to provide a degree of relief from discrimination based on criminal record.

The Fair Chance Act would amend Titles 2, 5 and 28 of the U.S. Code to prohibit employers in all three branches of the federal government, and private-sector federal contractors, from asking about job applicants’ arrest and conviction record until a conditional offer of employment has been extended, an approach that has become known as “ban the box.”

“By requiring employers to hold off on asking job applicants about their conviction records until after a conditional job offer has been made, more than 700,000 Americans will gain a fairer chance at finding employment and securing a better future for themselves and their families,” said Maurice Emsellem, fair chance program director with the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The Act’s prohibition on pre-offer inquiries extends to “criminal history information,” which is defined to include records that have been “sealed or expunged pursuant to law,” and sealed records of juvenile adjudications.  See proposed 5 U.S.C. § 9201(4)(B) and (C).  Certain types of employment would be excepted, including employment that otherwise requires inquiry into criminal history, and employment in the military, in law enforcement, and in national security.  The Director of OPM is permitted to designate additional exemptions, including positions that involve “interaction with minors, access to sensitive information, or managing financial transactions.”  See proposed § 9202(B) and (C).  The law contains provisions for enforcement and sanctions.

In additional to extending ban-the-box requirements to employment on federal contracts, including defense contracts, it would also prohibit agency procurement officials from asking persons seeking federal contracts and grants about their criminal history, until an “apparent award” has been made.  It is not clear how this law will apply where agency regulations rather than statutes govern consideration of conviction in the award of contracts and grants.

Presumably, once a conditional offer of employment has been extended, the Act would permit agencies and contractors to inquire into the applicant’s criminal history under other applicable authority.  For federal executive agencies, general authority to conduct background checks (“for national security and other purposes”) is in 5 U.S.C. §  9101.  This section authorizes inquiry about “arrests, indictments, informations, or other formal criminal charges, and any disposition arising therefrom,” as well as “records of a State or locality sealed pursuant to law if such records are accessible by State and local criminal justice agencies for the purpose of conducting background checks.”  5 U.S.C. §9101(a)(2).  Thus, post-offer, it would appear that non-conviction records could continue to be the subject of inquiry by federal hiring and contracting authorities, as well as any records that have been sealed or expunged – but only if they are available to criminal justice agencies for background checks.  (The Fair Chance Act states that it does not authorize post-offer inquiry into the broader set of records “sealed or expunged pursuant to law” or juvenile records that would be specifically barred from pre-offer inquiry under § 9201.  See proposed 5 U.S.C. §  9206.)  In some states, including New York and Texas, sealed or expunged non-conviction records are not available to law enforcement for any purpose without a court order, in others such records are available for law enforcement hiring only, and in still others there are no limits on law enforcement access. Our model law on non-conviction records notes that the states are roughly split on the question of routine law enforcement access to expunged or sealed records, and the question appears to be one on which there are valid arguments to be made for either position.

Perhaps, Congress will next take up the question of how agencies and contractors should consider any criminal history that is revealed after inquiry is permitted, including non-conviction records that have been expunged or sealed or convictions that have been pardoned.  In this regard, only a minority of states that have enacted ban-the-box laws also have enforceable hiring standards or fair employment laws that bar discrimination based on criminal record.  However, among the many benefits of ban-the-box laws is the accountability that comes with knowing that employers will now no longer be possible to hide the fact an applicant’s rejection is based on their criminal record.  If adverse decisions must be defended, there should be far fewer of them.

Model law proposes automatic expungement of non-conviction records

An advisory group drawn from across the criminal justice system has completed work on a model law that recommends automatic expungement of most arrests and charges that do not result in conviction.  Margaret Love and David Schlussel of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center served as reporters for the model law.  It is available in PDF and HTML formats.

“Many people may not realize how even cases that terminate in a person’s favor lead to lost opportunities and discrimination,” says Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and one of the advisors of the model law project.  “Over the years, my legal aid program has seen thousands of cases where non-convictions cost people jobs.”

In proposing broad restrictions on access to and use of non-conviction records, the project aims to contribute to conversations underway in legislatures across the country about how to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record.  Already in 2019, states have enacted more than 130 new laws addressing the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  The group regards its model as the first step in a broader law reform initiative that will address conviction records as well.

Law enforcement officials make over 10 million arrests each year, a substantial percentage of which do not lead to charges or conviction.  Records of these arrests have become widely available as a result of digitized records systems and a new commerce in background screening and data aggregation.  These checks often turn up an “open” arrest or charges without any final disposition, which may seem to an employer or landlord more ominous than a closed case.

Very few states have taken steps to deal with the high percentage of records in repositories and court systems with no final disposition indicated.  Paul McDonnell, Deputy Counsel for New York’s Office of Court Administration and a project advisor, noted: “Criminal records that include no final disposition make it appear to the untrained eye that an individual has an open, pending case, which can have serious results for that person. New York has recently made legislative progress in addressing this problem, though more can be done.”

Current state and federal laws restricting access to and use of non-conviction records have limited application and are hard to enforce.  Eligibility criteria tend to be either unclear or restrictive, and petition-based procedures tend to be burdensome, expensive, and intimidating.  In recent years, lawmakers and reform advocates have expressed a growing interest in curbing the widespread dissemination and use of non-convictions, leading some states to simplify and broaden eligibility for relief, reduce procedural and financial barriers to access, and in a handful of states to make relief automatic.

Rep. Mike Weissman, a Colorado State Representative and model law project advisor, noted that Colorado has recently overhauled its laws on criminal records with broad bipartisan support.  “It is heartening to see similar reforms underway in other states, both red and blue, as well.  I commend the practitioners and researchers who helped formulate the model law for illustrating avenues for further progress in reducing collateral consequences.”

The model law would take this wave of criminal record reforms to a new level.  It recommends that expungement be immediate and automatic where all charges are terminated in favor of an accused.  Uncharged arrests should also be automatically expunged after a brief waiting period, as should dismissed or acquitted charges in cases where other charges result in conviction.  Cases that indicate no final disposition should also be expunged, unless there is indication that they are in fact pending.

The model law also recommends that expunged non-conviction records should not be used against a person in a range of criminal justice decisions, including by law enforcement agencies.  It would prohibit commercial providers of criminal background checks from disseminating expunged and dated non-conviction records, and civil decision-makers from considering them.

David LaBahn, President of the national Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, indicated that organization’s support for the model law, stating that the collateral consequences of non-convictions “do not serve to make the community safer,” and that “the current structures in place to expunge a non-conviction record can be confusing and difficult for the layperson to navigate alone.”

This model law sets the stage for jurisdictions to address record relief for convictions more generally, and its structure and principles can be brought to bear on that important work.

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center organized this model law project.  An early draft of the model law was discussed at an August 2019 Roundtable conference at the University of Michigan that was supported by the Charles Koch Foundation.  The model law report was supported by Arnold Ventures.

Read the model law in PDF or HTML.

Ohio governor establishes expedited pardon process

On December 3, Governor Mike DeWine announced an initiative that promises to revive the pardon power in Ohio and bring much-needed relief from collateral consequences to many hundreds of deserving individuals convicted over the years in that state.  The Expedited Pardon Project, a collaboration between the Governor’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Policy Center at Ohio State University and the Reentry Clinic at The University of Akron School of Law, aspires to expedite the process by which people apply for a pardon under Ohio’s laws by enlisting law students to assist in preparing pardon applications.  Once petitions are filed, the formal pardon process prescribed by statute will be collapsed into a period of months, with final action by the governor in less than a year.

This initiative could elevate Ohio into the small group of states that have productive and regular pardon programs, including states like Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia and South Carolina, where duly constituted pardon boards (some entirely independent of the governor) preside over programs that issue hundreds of pardons every year, granting relief to a high percentage of individuals that apply.  Another handful of states, including Arkansas, Nebraska, and Nevada, have somewhat smaller pardon programs but still issue between 50 and 100 grants each year.  With this expedited initiative, Ohio could quickly join their ranks, supplementing the state’s limited judicial sealing and certificate laws in furthering the goals of restoration and reintegration.  It could also make the Ohio pardon process one of the most efficient in the nation.

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