Divided Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to extend Padilla to other serious consequences

wi-largesealLast month the Wisconsin Supreme Court held in State v. Lemere that the Sixth Amendment does not require defense counsel to advise a client that a conviction for a pending charge of sexual assault could result in future commitment proceedings under chapter 980. The case could be appropriate for certiorari review in the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the scope of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, since it reflects differing views in state high courts. 1

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  1.  Ed. Note: State high courts have reached differing conclusions about the scope of the Padilla holding under the federal Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court held in People v. Hughes that failure to warn about the possibility of civil commitment was sufficient to invalidate a plea. The Utah Supreme Court reached a contrary conclusion in State v. Trotter.

New Yorker comments on collateral consequences

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.

Federal sentences and collateral consequences

courtsFederal courts are frequently asked to take into account the collateral consequences of conviction in determining what sentence to impose under the criteria in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). It is generally permissible for them to do so, and in line with current proposals of national law reform organizations.  At the same time, courts must guard against the risk of socioeconomic bias favoring more privileged defendants who have the most to lose in the civil sphere, and who are likely to enjoy more vigorous and effective advocacy around collateral consequences.

The following discussion first reviews a federal court’s general obligation to understand the collateral consequences that apply in a particular case, and to ensure that a defendant considering a guilty plea has been adequately advised about them.  It then reviews post-Booker case law approving below-guideline sentences based on the severe collateral penalties applicable to a particular defendant, such as loss of employment, extraordinary family circumstances, sex offender registration, and even reputational harm (“the stigma of conviction”).  Finally, it discusses cases in which courts of appeal have refused to approve deep sentencing discounts based on collateral consequences in circumstances suggesting a bias favoring middle-class defendants.     Read more

Scarlet Letter law can move forward — for now

1016829040562382727EwjStKwcA 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).

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Challenge to “Scarlet Letter” travel law moves forward

passportLast 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.).

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Restoration of firearms rights: 50-state surveys

We have recently converted the 50-state surveys that are part of the Restoration of Rights Resource from PDF to HTML format.  Two of these surveys deal with loss and restoration of firearms privileges as a result of a criminal conviction:  Chart # 1 is titled “Loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges,” and Chart # 2 is “State law relief from federal firearms disabilities.”   Chart # 1 is a straightforward description of the relevant provisions of each state’s laws, showing when firearms rights are lost based upon a felony conviction (or in some cases misdemeanor crimes of violence) and how firearms rights may be regained.  Chart # 1 also describes for each state when conviction results in loss of basic civil rights (voting, eligibility for public office and jury service), and how those rights are regained — a matter that is frequently relevant for avoiding the independent penalties under federal firearms dispossession laws.

Chart # 2 attempts the more complex analysis of when criminal conviction results in exposure to federal prosecution as a “felon in possession” under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Regaining firearms rights under state law does not automatically result in avoiding the federal bar, which generally depends upon an additional measure of state relief such as a pardon or expungement, or restoration of civil rights.  (The courts have generally held that automatic restoration counts.)  Surprisingly, the law is not entirely clear as to when a state conviction will trigger the federal penalty, and when state relief removes it.  Chart # 2 therefore emphasizes the importance of seeking legal counsel to avoid liability.

For those with a federal conviction, the only way to avoid liability under § 922(g) and regain the right to possess a firearm is through a presidential pardon (which would also relieve any state law liability).  The administrative restoration provision in 18 U.S.C. § 925 has not been funded for 25 years.  As reported by Alan Gura in a post on this site last winter, a few individuals with dated nonviolent federal convictions have been successful in regaining firearms rights through the courts.

The 50-state charts will remain available for download in PDF form.

 

Employment bars in long-term health care facilities declared unconstitutional

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.

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Outgoing Kentucky governor issues order restoring voting rights

Kentucky

UPDATE: Governor Matt Bevin rescinded Governor Beshear’s order on December 22, 2015, saying:

While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people.

Governor Bevins went on to sign a major felony expungement bill in April of 2016 that gives many with felony convictions the chance to restore their voting rights.


 

 

The outgoing Democratic governor of Kentucky has signed an executive order restoring the right to vote and hold public office to thousands of people convicted of non-violent felonies who have completed their sentences.  The order from Gov. Steve Beshear — who leaves office next month — estimates that about 180,000 people in Kentucky have served their sentences yet remain disenfranchised.  As a result of the order, 140,000 of those will become immediately eligible to register.

Before today, all convicted individuals were required to apply to regain their right to vote to the governor’s office, which approved restoration of voting rights on a case-by-case basis.  The order does not restore rights to those convicted of specified violent crimes, sex offenses, bribery or treason, who will still have to apply for discretionary restoration.

“All of our society will be better off if we actively work to help rehabilitate those who have made a mistake,” Beshear said. “And the more we do that, the more the entire society will benefit.”

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Interstate restoration of rights

State_border_sign_on_NY_17Can people restored to full legal status in one state expect their status to be recognized if they move to another state, just as marriage is generally given interstate recognition?  Can a person convicted in one state qualify for restoration of rights in another? What about a federal offender seeking relief under state law, or a state offender seeking relief from federal collateral consequences?  Is there a role for Congress to play in ensuring fair treatment of people with a criminal record as they move around the country?  These questions are increasingly important both as a practical and theoretical matter, as collateral consequences multiply and begin to limit Americans’ right to travel.

So it is timely that Wayne Logan, a Florida State University law professor widely known for his work on sex offender registration and other collateral consequences, has published a fascinating new treatment of the issue titled ‘When Mercy Seasons Justice’: Interstate Recognition of Ex-Offender Rights.  The article, which appears in the UC Davis Law Review, examines the impact of federalism on the ability to obtain true relief from the collateral consequences of conviction in a mobile society.  It is an issue that is widely overlooked, and the article reminds us that a comprehensive discussion about the impact of collateral consequences must take into account their inter-jurisdictional effects. The true impact of collateral consequences and relief mechanisms must be measured by the interplay of laws between jurisdictions as well as by the interplay of laws within them. Read more

Obama again signals “expect few pardons from me”

Yesterday President Obama participated in a panel discussion of criminal justice issues moderated by Bill Keller of The Marshall Project and streamed to the public.  While the subject of clemency did not come up during the videotaped panel discussion, in a prior interview with Keller the President said that he intended to “speed up the process” of considering prisoner petitions seeking commutation of sentence.  At the same time, he again signaled that he was not similarly interested in cases involving dated convictions where a petitioner is seeking pardon to relieve collateral consequences:

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