The Justice Department has decided to pursue its appeal of Judge John Gleeson’s May 21 order expunging the conviction of a woman who could not keep a job because of her criminal record. Its brief in U.S. v. Doe (Jane Doe I) can be accessed here.
Meanwhile, briefing is underway in Judge Gleeson’s second expungement case (Jane Doe II), in which he has also asked the parties and a “policy expert” to advise him on his authority to issue a “certificate of rehabilitation.” Judge Gleeson commented to the New York Times on the general problem of collateral consequences:
“As a society we really need to have a serious conversation on this subject of people with convictions’ never being able to work again,” Judge Gleeson wrote in an email. “A strong argument can be made that the answer to this problem should be more systemic, through legislation, not on a case-by-case basis in individual judges’ courtrooms.”
Petitioner’s brief in Jane Doe II is due on October 5, the brief of the “policy expert” is due on October 8, and argument has been scheduled for October 15. The government’s brief is here, and briefs of petitioner and amicus will be posted here when filed.
An article from The Marshall Project published on September 17 got us thinking about the elusive term “expungement” and what it really means, both functionally and philosophically. In “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Clearing Your Record: A primer on the complicated road to expungement,“ Christie Thompson describes an unusual class action lawsuit recently filed by a public-spirited lawyer in a Tennessee county court seeking “to have the case files destroyed for hundreds of thousands of arrests and charges that never resulted in a conviction.” She proceeds to point out some of the pros and cons of expungement relief, including that expunged records may still be available from private background screening companies or the internet.
But the problems with expungement laws are deeper than the article suggests. Quite apart from theoretical objections to relief based on pretense, the fact is that expungement laws have functional flaws even where public records are concerned. For example, the Tennessee expungement law described in the Marshall Project article has no effect on records in the possession of law enforcement or prosecutors, or on appellate court records and opinions. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-32-101(b)(1). Moreover, it authorizes release of expunged arrest histories of a defendant or potential witness in a criminal proceeding to an attorney of record in the proceeding upon request. See § 40-32-101(c)(3).
What relief is available for people with a federal conviction who cannot find or keep a job? Part of the answer may soon be found in two cases from Brooklyn that raise the question whether a federal judge has the power to expunge a conviction whose validity is conceded. In the first case, U.S. v. Jane Doe (Jane Doe I), the Justice Department has appealed Judge John Gleeson’s May 21 expungement order to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In the second case, also styled U.S. v. Jane Doe (Jane Doe II), Judge Gleeson asked the Department to brief the issue of his authority to expunge. He also asked the government to advise whether he has authority to “enter a certificate of rehabilitation in lieu of expungement.” The government has now delivered its answer, and it is “No” to both questions.
The government’s brief is fairly predictable. On the expungement issue, it argues that federal courts have no “ancillary jurisdiction” to expunge the record of a lawful conviction, relying on the Supreme Court decision in Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375 (1994). As to the court’s authority to issue a certificate of rehabilitation, the government appears to assume that Judge Gleeson was referring to one of the certificates provided for under New York law, and relies on cases holding that a federal court cannot grant relief under a state law. One clue that this was not what Judge Gleeson had in mind might have been that neither of the New York certificates is called that (though they are considered evidence of rehabilitation), and that the only mention of a certificate of rehabilitation in federal law (Rule of Evidence 609(e)) is generic. Another clue is that no federal court that we know of has ever attempted to grant state relief to a federal offender (with the exception of a few assimilative crimes cases), indicating that the law on this issue is too clear to tempt even even the most creative jurist.
The petitioner’s brief is now due on October 5. The expert’s brief is likely to be due a day or two afterwards. No date has yet been set for oral argument.
For those following developments in the federal expungement case currently pending before Judge John Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York, Jane Doe v. United States (Jane Doe II), the following order was entered by the court on August 6:
ORDER: Margaret Love, a nationally-recognized authority on collateral consequences and co-author of the treatise Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy and Practice (NACDL/West 2013), is respectfully invited to submit an amicus brief addressing the issues raised in my July 28, 2015 Order (i.e., the authority of the court to enter a certificate of rehabilitation and the appropriateness of doing so in this case) as well as any other matters that may be relevant to the adjudication of defendant’s motion.
The government’s brief is due on August 28, and petitioner’s brief is due September 11. Argument is scheduled for September 18. Meanwhile, no briefing schedule has yet been set in the appeal of Judge Gleeson’s May 21 expungement order in the first Jane Doe case.
Visitors to this site are familiar with the expungement order issued by Federal District Judge John Gleeson on May 21. See Jane Doe v. United States, now on appeal to the Second Circuit. A second Jane Doe, a codefendant of the first, applied for expungement on June 23, and on June 29 Judge Gleeson ordered the government to show cause on or before August 28 why her application should not be granted. A hearing has been scheduled for September 18.
Yesterday the Judge issued a new order directing the government to include in its briefing “its view as to whether I have authority to enter a certificate of rehabilitation in lieu of expungement, and if so, the appropriateness of entering such a certificate in this case.”
The REDEEM Act currently in committee in the U.S. Senate provides the first authority for “sealing” federal criminal records since the repeal of the Youth Corrections Act in 1984. As we described in an earlier post, the Act would provide significant relief from many of the collateral consequences imposed on those with a federal rap sheet. But the Act’s limitation on eligibility to “nonviolent” crimes, together with its corresponding restriction on consideration of state priors, threaten to undermine the Act’s beneficent purpose — not simply by categorically excluding many deserving individuals from relief, but also by inviting endless wrangling over which particular individuals are deserving.
Increasingly, scholars and advocates are questioning the glib and thoughtless distinction politicians have for years drawn between violent and non-violent crimes for purposes of sentencing. The unfairness of categorically excluding all offenses falling within a broad definition of violence, without regard to how long ago the conduct occurred or how minor, is compounded when the record sought to be sealed did not result in a conviction.
But perhaps the most persuasive reason for federal lawmakers to junk the distinction between violent and nonviolent offenses is a practical one, since it is frequently impossible to determine if a particular federal crime is violent or not, as the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Johnson v. United States demonstrates. If the distinction must be retained, definitions need to be clarified lest disputes over coverage result in few people actually getting relief. The good news is that the necessary fix is a simple one: rather than defining vaguely which offenses are eligible for sealing, the REDEEM Act should define precisely which offenses are not.
We start with a description of the REDEEM Act’s eligibility criteria, then show why they will give the government an opportunity to frustrate the Act’s intent. Indeed, a wag has described them as catnip for the litigious.
In commuting the sentences of 46 individuals serving long drug sentences, President Obama declared that America is a “nation of second chances” in a video address posted on the White House website. But that sunny optimism about our country’s willingness to forgive hasn’t led him to grant very many pardons, the relief whose purpose is to restore rights and status to those who have fully served their sentences, to give them a second chance at first class citizenship. Indeed, as Michael Isikoff reported the same day the commutations were issued, Obama’s 64 pardons are the fewest issued by any full-term president since John Adams. Indeed, the President has commuted more in the past six months than he has pardoned in his entire time in office.
The President’s determination to reduce unjustly lengthy prison sentences is commendable and historically significant. But it need and should not lead him to the neglect the other part of the clemency caseload, the petitions filed by individuals who have led exemplary lives for many years but are still burdened by severe collateral consequences and the stigma of conviction. Unfortunately those petitions appear to have have been shunted to the back burner in the excitement of the so-called “clemency initiative.”
Not surprisingly, in the wake of U.S. District Judge John Gleeson’s extraordinary May 21 expungement order in Doe v. U.S., another petition asking for the same relief has now been filed with Judge Gleeson. Also not surprisingly, since this new petition was filed by one of Ms. Doe’s co-defendants, the underlying facts in this second petition are similar. The second Jane Doe was a more culpable participant in the insurance fraud scheme, and was sentenced to 15 months in prison instead of probation.* However, she has remained law-abiding since her release more than a decade ago, and like the first Jane Doe she has had a very difficult time getting or keeping a job because of her conviction. It seems unlikely that the difference in the second Jane Doe’s role in the offense will make a difference in the way the court disposes of her petition.
Judge Gleeson has asked the government to show cause why the new petition should not be granted, which should guarantee that it gets attention at the highest levels of the Justice Department. Argument has been set for September 18. If there were any doubt about whether the government will prosecute its appeal of the first expungement order, it has probably been dispelled now that the proverbial floodgates appear to be opening. Potential amici should start lining up counsel.
As part of budget deliberations, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Commitment approved a provision that would allow courts to remove records of certain dismissed charges from the computerized statewide records system.
Under current law, although certain conviction records of youthful defendants may be expunged, anomalously dismissed charges remain accessible. The new provision would allow a judge to order removal of a record from the internet site if all charges have been dismissed; all charges carried a maximum penalty not exceeding six years of imprisonment; none of the charges were classified as violent crimes; and the charges were filed before the defendant attained age 25. These are the same criteria that apply to expungement of youthful convictions.
People who would benefit from the change include people whose only contact with the criminal justice system was a case that was ultimately dismissed after they went through deferred prosecution or a first offenders program.
The new law would apply retroactively, thus allowing individuals to apply for removal from the website of charges dismissed before the effective date of the provision. The redaction of records would apparently apply only to records accessible on the website, not to court records accessible through the local clerk of court, nor to arrest records accessible through law enforcement agencies.
The state budget still awaits approval by both houses of the Legislature and by the Governor, who has broad authority for line-item vetoes.
The REDEEM Act, introduced in the US Senate in March by Senators Corey Booker (D–NJ) and Rand Paul (R–KY), seeks to expand employment opportunities for those with federal criminal records by giving federal courts sealing authority. Because courts have generally held they do not have inherent authority to seal records — at least where an arrest or conviction is valid — the Act would open an entirely new avenue of relief from many of the collateral consequences that result from a federal arrest or conviction. While in the past similar bills have not made it out of committee, the attention that criminal justice reform is currently receiving on the national political stage and the REDEEM Act’s bipartisan support could give the Act a fighting chance.
The Act, as introduced, is not without its flaws. Chief among them are its vague definition of what crimes are eligible for relief, the broad discretion courts would have to deny relief for eligible offenses, the significant exceptions to the confidentiality of sealed records, and the uncertain effect of sealing on collateral consequences. The good news is that the Act’s defects are not structural and can be easily remedied through the legislative process.
This post contains a nuts and bolts overview of the Act. In subsequent posts, we will take a closer look at ways the Act could be improved. Since the procedures and eligibility criteria applicable to adult and juvenile offenses differ in significant ways, we look at each in turn. Read more