A federal judge in San Francisco has dismissed a constitutional challenge to the recently enacted International Megan’s Law, which requires specially-marked passports for registered sex offenders whose offenses involved child victims, and authorizes notification to foreign governments when they travel. The so-called “Scarlet Letter” law is specifically aimed at stopping child sex trafficking and sex tourism, and this purpose was evidently enough to justify it even though it has a far broader effect.
Lincoln Caplan writes in this week’s New Yorker about Judge Frederic Block’s decision last week to reduce a woman’s prison sentence because of the life-altering collateral penalties she faced on account of her drug conviction. After describing the facts of the case and the judge’s reasoning, Caplan concludes with the following comments about what Jeremy Travis has called “invisible ingredients in the legislative menu of criminal sanctions”:
The main conclusion of the judge’s opinion is that, while the law allowed him to take account of the civil penalties when he sentenced her, there was nothing he could do to protect her from them. He joined criminal-justice experts in encouraging Congress and state legislatures “to determine whether the plethora of post-sentence punishments imposed upon felons is truly warranted,” and suggested that they do the country “more harm than good.” He didn’t say so, but for many legislatures that would mean carefully assessing these punishments for the first time. As the criminal-justice scholar Jeremy Travis wrote, in 2002, legislatures have often adopted collateral consequences in unaccountable ways: “as riders to other, major pieces of legislation,” which are “given scant attention.” They are, Travis said, “invisible ingredients in the legislative menu of criminal sanctions.”
The judge made clear why the severity of collateral consequences—authorizing discrimination in education, employment, housing, and many other basic elements of American life—means that anyone convicted of a felony is likely to face an arduous future. This predicament has been called modern civil death, social exclusion, and internal exile. Whatever it is called, its vast array of penalties kicks in automatically with a conviction, defying the supposedly bedrock principle of American law that the punishment must fit the crime.
One of the most significant things about Mr. Caplan’s comments is that they make clear he believes collateral consequences are “punishment,” not “regulation,” and should be treated as such. Courts are beginning to regard them as such as well for purposes of applying constitutional principles. See, for example, the three cases now pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where the validity of the state’s new sex offender registration scheme is at stake. States are increasingly looking at lifetime registration as punishment under their own state constitutions. So it should not be long before the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to reconsider its 2003 holdings that such collateral consequences are immune from constitutional challenge based on the Due Process and Ex Post Facto clauses.
A federal judge in the Northern District of California has declined to block enforcement of the so-called “Scarlet Letter” provision of the recently-enacted International Megan’s Law (IML). U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled on April 12 that a challenge to the requirement that sex offenders’ passports be marked with a unique identifier was not ripe for injunctive relief, “because significant steps must be taken before the passport identifier can be implemented,” and because “it is unclear how the provision will be implemented.” The court also held that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge a separate IML provision requiring notification of a registered sex offender’s intended foreign travel.
Respecting the IML passport identifier provision, the court pointed out that
the statutory language makes clear that no such requirement is yet in effect, and that it will not take effect until after the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State and the Attorney General have developed a process for implementation, submitted a joint report to Congress regarding this proposed process, and, finally, certified that the process has been successfully implemented. See IML §§ 8(f), 9(a)-(b).
Last week a federal judge heard the first arguments in a lawsuit challenging certain provisions of the recently-enacted International Megan’s Law (IML),* including one mandating that the passport of any American required to register for a sex offense involving a minor be marked in “a conspicuous location” with a “unique identifier” of their sex offender status. Other challenged provisions of the law authorize the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to notify destination nations of forthcoming visits from those individuals. On Wednesday the court heard a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block enforcement of the challenged provisions of the law pending the suit’s final outcome. See Doe v. Kerry, Case 3:16-cv-00654 (N.D. Ca.).
A few days ago we received the following communique from Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, announcing a major litigation victory that will be welcome news across the country. On December 30 a unanimous 7-judge appeals court struck down the provisions of the Pennsylvania Older Americans Protective Services Act barring employment of people with criminal records in long-term health care facilities such as nursing homes and home health care agencies. The provisions declared unconstitutional on due process grounds law include lifetime employment bans for offenses as minor as misdemeanor theft, which Sharon notes “prevented many Pennsylvanians with criminal records from working in that entire burgeoning field.” The decision in Peake v. Commonwealth is here, and NPR’s report on the decision is here.
An effective NPR piece tells the story of Tyrone Peake, a Pennsylvania man whose 1981 conviction for attempted theft barred him from employment as a caregiver in a nursing home, despite training and certification that qualified him for the job. The state law making people with a felony record absolutely ineligible for employment in any health care facility in the state was was held unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court 15 years ago on equal protection grounds. However, it remains on the books and enforced despite repeated rulings by lower courts invalidating it in particular cases. Now another lawsuit has been filed, with Mr. Peake as one of the plaintiffs, that seeks to put an end to this broad and unfair collateral sanction once and for all. The lawsuit is described in the following article from the website of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, one of the law’s challengers. Read more
The Supreme Court of Georgia has extended the doctrine of Padilla v. Kentucky to a failure to advise about parole eligibility. In Alexander v. State, decided on May 11, a defendant sentenced to a 15-year prison term for child molestation sought to set aside his guilty plea on grounds that his defense counsel had not warned him that, as a recidivist, he would not be eligible for parole. The Georgia high court agreed that this failure constituted deficient performance under the doctrine of Strickland v. Washington, overruling its 1999 precedent holding that the Sixth Amendment did not require a defense lawyer to advise a client about this “collateral consequence” of conviction. The Georgia court distinguished its 2010 post-Padilla decision declining to find a warning by the court necessary, finding a clear constitutional distinction between defense counsel’s Sixth Amendment obligation to advise a client considering a guilty plea and the court’s due process obligation to warn a defendant in the same situation.
At the same time, the court declined to approve a lower court’s earlier extension of Padilla to sex offender registration, reserving for another day the question whether this consequence is “a drastic measure” that is “intimately related” to the criminal case. Most of the post-Padilla decisions involving parole eligibility have rested on the dubious pre-Padilla erroneous advice exception to the collateral consequences rule, an exception that the Alexander court firmly rejected.
In a remarkable, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court held on March 2, 2015 that residence restrictions for sex offenders on parole were unconstitutional as applied. Although the case technically addressed the situation of four named plaintiffs in San Diego County, the decision calls into doubt the statute’s validity in the entire state.
In re Taylor tested the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act: Jessica’s Law, which, like many overwrought and unwise laws was enacted by initiative. Passed in 2006, it added Section 3003.5(b) to the Penal Code, making it “unlawful for any person for whom registration is required . . . to reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.” In 2010, in an earlier stage of the case, the Court rejected claims brought by that the law was invalid on its face because it was unconstitutionally retroactive under California law, or because it violated state or federal prohibitions on ex post facto laws. However, the plaintiffs pursued the argument that the law was unconstitutional as applied; the trial court, California Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court agreed.
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.
I went to college, and practiced law, with Dan Ackman, an outstanding New York lawyer who represents taxi drivers in a variety of contexts. One of his cases, pending in the Southern District of New York, Nnebe v. Daus, challenges the TLC’s alleged practice of automatic license suspension a upon arrest for a felony or specified misdemeanor, and automatic revocation upon conviction, even if the charges had no temporal, physical or logical relationship to driving a cab. The Second Circuit previously held that automatic revocation was constitutional, but directed a trial on whether the post-deprivation hearing was sufficient. The case was remanded, tried, and is now pending a decision before Judge Sullivan. The case has important implications for collateral consequences; mere arrests should not be the basis for any important decision, other than an inquiry into the actual facts, and even a conviction for an unrelated offense should not be the basis for license revocation.