District of Columbia clemency authority sought

On March 28, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced a bill that would give the District of Columbia exclusive authority, like states and U.S. territories, to grant clemency for criminal convictions under its laws. The District of Columbia Home Rule Clemency Act is part of Norton’s “Free and Equal D.C.” series. While D.C. law appears to give the mayor authority to grant clemency (D.C. Code 1–301.76), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has opined that the mayor’s clemency authority, if any, is very narrow, and that the President of the United States has authority to grant clemency in all D.C. criminal cases and exclusive authority for D.C. felonies. Under current practice, clemency petitions for D.C. convictions, like federal convictions, are submitted to the Department of Justice for the President’s consideration. In Norton’s bill, clemency includes pardons, reprieves, or commutations of sentence.

In introducing the bill, Norton said “The District, like states and territories, should have full control of its local criminal justice system, the most basic responsibility of local government. Since the D.C. Council has the authority to enact local laws, District officials are in the best position to grant clemency for local law convictions . . . .  This bill is an important step in establishing further autonomy for the District in its own local affairs.” Norton’s full introductory statement is below.  The text of H.R. 1765 has not yet been posted; we link the text of an earlier bill introduced by Congresswoman Norton in January 2016.

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Manslaughter plea vacated to avoid licensing bar

A former University of Maryland student who pled guilty last April to throwing a punch that resulted in the death of a fellow student, has been allowed the benefit of a nonconviction disposition that will likely result in the expungement of his record. According to a report in the Washington Post,

Prince George’s County Judge Albert W. Northrop ordered the manslaughter conviction of Arasp Biparva in the 2014 killing of Jack Godfrey vacated. The judge also granted Biparva probation before judgment, which means the charges can later be expunged from public records.

The modified sentence will help Biparva, 25, as he finds a job in accounting, according to his attorney.

“Currently the conviction will interfere with the application process and prevent Mr. Biparva from obtaining the certifications he needs to advance his career,” his attorney, Barry Helfand, said in a request for the modified sentence.

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Federal sentencing and collateral consequences II

This piece follows up on the CCRC practice resource titled “Federal sentencing and collateral consequences,” available here.


 

Should federal courts be required to take collateral consequences into account when they impose a sentence – or should they at least be permitted to consider them?  Should courts also be authorized to provide federal defendants some relief from collateral consequences after their sentences have been served?   Some courts are already doing this without specific authorization, as was pointed out in a letter sent last week to the U.S. Sentencing Commission by one of its advisory committees, urging that the Commission take up the subject of collateral consequencdes as a priority for the coming year.

The Practitioners Advisory Group (PAG) urged the Commission to recognize collateral consequences as presenting issues of concern to federal courts for which it should provide some guidance:

The collateral consequences of conviction – specifically, the legal penalties and restrictions that take effect automatically without regard to whether they are included in the court’s judgment – can frequently be the most important aspect of punishment from a defendant’s perspective. In a number of recent cases, courts have has imposed a more lenient sentence in consideration of the severe collateral consequences the defendant would experience. In other cases, courts have sought creative ways to relieve defendants from the effect of collateral consequences that persist long after the sentence has been fully served. We briefly describe below the ways in which collateral consequences affect the work of sentencing courts. We urge the Commission to take this matter under advisement in the months ahead, looking toward a hearing in the spring.

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How prosecutors use collateral consequences

A new article published in the Georgetown Law Journal argues that collateral consequences are becoming a valuable tool for prosecutors in the plea bargaining process, enabling them to leverage their existing power to control the outcome of criminal cases.  In Prosecuting Collateral Consequences, Eisha Jain of the University of North Carolina law faculty attributes this trend to a new awareness of collateral consequences made possible by initiatives like the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, which show that even minor convictions can trigger serious civil penalties.  She explains the “structural incentives” that offer prosecutors an opportunity to avoid or trigger important civil penalties, or to bargain for enhanced criminal penalties in exchange for circumventing a particularly unwelcome collateral consequence (like deportation or eviction).

Jain concludes that, for some prosecutors, “enforcing collateral consequences serves as an administratively efficient substitute for a criminal conviction” and a way to “promote their own policy preferences.”   In this fashion, prosecutors’ largely unreviewable discretion is extended to “an array of legal consequences, regulatory policies, and public interests.”

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Federal sentencing and collateral consequences

This practice resource is available in PDF format here.  A follow-up piece, “Federal sentencing and collateral consequences II,” is here.


 

Federal 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.

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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

Wisconsin court rules for non-citizen years after her plea

In an unusual case involving judicial failure to warn about the immigration consequences of a guilty plea, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that the likelihood of inadmissibility (as opposed to deportation) was sufficient to set aside three guilty pleas entered more than a decade before. State v. Valadez, 216 WI 4 (Jan. 28, 2016).  The decision suggests that it may be possible to challenge guilty pleas years after the fact, in any jurisdiction where a statute or court rule requires the court to warn about immigration consequences before accepting a guilty plea.

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Federal judge’s extraordinary expungement order will be appealed

Joe Palazzolo over at the Wall Street Journal blog reports that the Justice Department will appeal Judge John Gleeson’s extraordinary May 28 expungement order in U.S. v. Doe, described on this site earlier this month.  We reprint Joe’s piece in full below, since it highlights the disconnect between the Justice Department’s avowed concern with reentry and its evident lack of interest in providing relief from collateral consequences to people with federal convictions.

The Justice Department spearheads the federal government’s efforts to help people convicted of crimes return to society after paying their dues, but a case in Brooklyn is putting its views to the test.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York signaled Friday that it will appeal a rare order by a federal judge expunging the fraud conviction of a health-care aide and mother of four who said her efforts to hold down a job have been sabotaged by her criminal record.

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Should guilty corporations avoid collateral consequences?

In the June 2 issue of the New York Law Journal, Robert J. Anello and Richard F. Albert argue that “criminal law concepts designed to punish human beings—bad boys and girls—are ill-suited to corporate beings.”  They point out that corporations convicted of crime are rarely required to live with the kind of collateral consequences that result in loss of livelihood and social stigma for individuals (“Convicted Corporations Aren’t Really Bad Boys“).   They describe how the government recently made “significant efforts to blunt the effects” of conviction on four major international banks that pleaded guilty to manipulation of foreign exchange rates, so that none of them ended up subject to “rules that would have restricted [their] ability to continue doing business in the United States.”  The banks are currently seeking a waiver of Labor Department rules that would otherwise bar them from dealing with pension and retirement plans, and the government has postponed sentencing pending the outcome of these efforts.   Read more

Should clemency substitute for the rule of law? “A Modest Proposal” says no

We cross-post a recent comment about the Obama clemency initiative from Professor Doug Berman’s Sentencing Law and Policy blog because it proposes to supplement the constitutional pardon power with a relief mechanism built into the legal system (there, a sentence reduction by the court rather than presidential commutation).  It reflects the institutional and practical concerns of Enlightenment philosopher Cesare Beccaria, who proposed in 1764 that

Clemency is a virtue which belongs to the legislator, and not to the executor of the laws; a virtue which ought to shine in the code, and not in private judgment.

Beccaria’s view that clemency should “shine in the code” has a special resonance where collateral consequences are concerned since pardons have become so rare in recent years. Indeed, Judge John Gleeson might have invoked Beccaria when he expunged the conviction of a woman who was unable to find employment because of her criminal record.  We intend to keep arguing in this space for a statutory restoration remedy for the federal system, whatever form it may take.    Read more

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