A pardon celebrates the life of a public defender

One of the 12 pardons granted by President Obama on December 17 went to Albert Stork of Delta, Colorado, long-time advocate for indigent criminal defendants on the rural Western Slope.  Al Stork pled guilty in 1987 to filing a false tax return, and served six months in federal prison. While his conviction came about in an unusual way, what makes Al’s case so special is what he did with his life afterwards.

Al Stork’s conviction arose out of his family circumstances. In the early 1980s, one of his two older brothers was an elected prosecutor in Colorado’s Sixteenth Judicial District; the other was a fugitive from Colorado authorities, having spent most of his life (as Al put it) “either in jail or on the lam.” Al himself, then in his early 20s, was leading what his defense lawyer described years later as “an unexceptional and unmotivated middle class life,” working construction and selling a little marijuana on the side.

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“Arrests as Regulation”

Eisha Jain, a fellow at Georgetown Law Center, has posted on SSRN an important and (to us) alarming article about the extent to which mere arrests are beginning to play the s3984426260_07b0b8ca51ame kind of screening role outside the criminal justice system as convictions. In “Arrests as Regulation,” to be published in the Stanford Law Review in the spring, Jain argues that arrests are increasingly being used systematically as a sorting and screening tool by noncriminal actors (including immigration authorities, landlords, employers, schools and child welfare agencies), not because they are the best tool but because they are easy and inexpensive to access.

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Can a taxi license be revoked based on arrest alone?

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.

Wisconsin high court holds youthful offenders entitled to “a fresh start”

The Wisconsin statute that allows courts to expunge certain conviction records of youthful offenders, Wis. Stat. § 973.015, provides that the court must make its decision about whether to expunge at the time of sentencing, conditioned upon the defendant successfully completing his or her sentence.

Often, young defendants receive a probationary term for crimes that are eligible for expungement (all misdemeanors, as well as certain felonies in the lower levels of severity). Prior case law has established that, although expungement is conditional upon successful completion of probation in this situation, the court may not defer ruling on the expungement request.

In State v. Hemp, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified that expungement occurs automatically if the statutory conditions are met, and that a defendant is not required after completing probation to apply to the sentencing court for entry of the expungement order. Importantly, the court also provided some guidance regarding the legal effect of expungement that will be of interest to job applicants who have had a previous conviction expunged.

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“Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far”

We recently came across this five-part series on sex offender registries, written by three Yale Law School students and published by Slate.com.  It traces the recent history of registries since the passage of the Jacob Wetterling Act in 1994, examines some of the fallacies and flawed stereotypes underlying the expansion of registries in the past 20 years, and spotlights three areas in which the authors argue their growth has been especially unwise:

  • more non-violent “outlier” crimes are covered;
  • states are keeping people on registries for longer periods of time and making removal harder; and
  • more harsh collateral consequences attach to those required to register.

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“Decades-long Arrest Wave Vexes Employers”

The Wall Street Journal has been running a well-researched series by Gary Fields and John Emschwiller on the consequences of mass conviction.  The installment last week (“Decades-long arrest wave vexes employers”) describes the dilemma facing employers caught between legal limitations on who they can hire and legal obligations to be fair. Hiring the most capable workers seems a luxury most employers can’t afford.

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Q&A with CCRC Director Margaret Love

The following interview was published on December 17, 2014, in the newsletter of the Council Of State Governments Justice Center.

By Mai P. Tran, Program Associate

Individuals returning home from prison face collateral consequences, or legal and pollove_margaret_02_crop2_MA31053191-0003icy restrictions, penalties, and disadvantages that impede their successful reentry and reintegration in their communities. Examples of such consequences include restrictions on employment and licensing, student financial assistance, welfare benefits, and public housing. The following Q & A feature with Margaret Love (pictured right), executive director and editor of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), provides an overview of the newly launched resource established in 2014 to promote discussion of the collateral consequences of a criminal record, and how to restore legal rights and overcome social barriers.

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Indiana’s new expungement law the product of “many, many compromises”

In May of 2013, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law what is possibly the most comprehensive and forward-looking restoration of rights statute ever enacted in this country.  Under the new law, courts are empowered to “expunge” most criminal records, after waiting periods keyed to the seriousness of the offense.  The effect of an expungement order varies to some extent according to the nature of the crime, but its core concept is to restore rights and eliminate discrimination based on criminal record in the workplace and elsewhere.  This new law has already resulted in relief for hundreds of individuals, due in large part to the proactive approach of the state courts in facilitating pro se representation.

We r150px-On_the_Banks_of_the_Wabash,_Far_Away,_sheet_music_cover_with_Bessie_Davis,_Paul_Dresser,_1897ecently had a chance to talk to the person primarily responsible for shepherding this law through the Indiana legislature, and his experience should be instructive to reform advocates in other states.  Jud McMillin, a conservative former prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, might once have been regarded as a rather unusual champion of this unique and progressive legislation.  But in an age of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, apparently anything can happen.   Read more

How risky is pardoning? Not as risky as committing uninformed journalism

An AP story about the perils of pardoning, picked up by newspapers and media outlets across the country, manages to convey three pieces of misinformation in its very first sentence.  Riffing off a recent high profile pardon application, it begins like this:  “Mark Wahlberg’s plea for a pardon has focused fresh attention on excusing criminal acts – something governors rarely do because it’s so politically risky.”

But pardons do not “excuse” crimes, they forgive them; governors have been pardoning more and more generously in recent years; and pardoning, like any other government program involving personal participation by a high profile elected official, is generally not risky if done in a responsible manner with good staff support and without apology.

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Second Amendment challenges to felon-in-possession laws

Below is another excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Collat_ConsequencesConsequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming), this one about challenges to firearms-related collateral consequences based on the constitutional right to bear arms.  Criminal defense lawyers representing clients on felon-in-possession charges, and anyone seeking restoration of firearms rights after conviction, will be interested to know that the government has appealed the district court’s decision in Binderup v. Holder cited in note 8, discussed here a few weeks ago.

Binderup is a civil rights action in which the federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that the federal felon-in-possession statute could not constitutionally be applied to an individual convicted of a non-violent sex offense in 1998 and sentenced to probation.  This case, the first in which a federal court invalidated a federal statute on Second Amendment grounds, is likely to provide an early opportunity for the court of appeals to consider an issue that most commentators and some courts believe was left unresolved by the Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller.

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