“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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Discipline for schoolgirls differs by race and skin tone

The New York Times this morning describes data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights showing that African-American girls tend to face more serious school discipline than white girls.  “For all the attention placed on problems that black boys face in terms of school discipline and criminal justice, there is increasing focus on the way those issues affect black girls as well.”  Black girls who get in trouble at school are also more frequently referred to the criminal justice system, where they can incur a criminal record that sticks with them into adulthood.

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Guess who’s driving for Uber

The background checking policies of Uber and other ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Sidecar are again in the news, after an Uber driver with an extensive criminal record allege1418261730022.cacheddly raped a female passenger in New Delhi.  Other horror stories of cab rides from hell with these popular “taxi aggregators” are surfacing.  The New York Times reports that background check requirements for taxi drivers vary widely by jurisdiction, but are “generally more rigorous” than the sketchy services used by Uber and its competitors, and “usually include searches of private databases like F.B.I. records.”  (Note to self:  Must inform the “paper of record” that the FBI records system is not a “private database.”)

Uber et al. have so far successfully resisted most legislative efforts to require them to perform particular kinds of background checks using particular kinds of background checkers, using the good offices of well-connected lobbyists to avoid this annoying speed bump on their road to a public offering.  But episodes like the New Delhi rape, and lawsuits for misleading consumers about the kinds of checks they do, may bring them around to a more responsible position. Read more

‘Tis the season for . . . . some presidential forgiveness

IMG_0291It’s that time of year again.  Odds are that sometime in the next two weeks President Obama will issue some pardons and commute some prison sentences.  I have never quite reconciled myself to the unfortunate and ahistorical  association of pardoning with the silly turkey ceremony (the Obama girls were right to roll their eyes) and Christmas gift-giving, the result of decades of presidential neglect and sometime Justice Department sabotage of the power.  But now that the season for forgiveness is upon us, I can’t wait to see what’s underneath the tree.

It was my fondest hope during the 2008 campaign that this president would want to revive the practice of pardoning, like Jerry Brown in California and Pat Quinn in Illinois, and restore a degree of regularity and accountability to the federal pardon process.  But so far President Obama has issued only 52 full pardons, making him the least generous full-term president in our Nation’s history.  And so far there is no indication that he intends to reinvigorate the federal pardon process, as Justice Anthony Kennedy urged in an iconic speech to the American Bar Association more than a decade ago, and as scholars and practitioners have regularly urged in less exalted settings ever since.  Nor has his Administration proposed any alternative procedure by which individuals with federal convictions can avoid or mitigate collateral consequences, like the set-aside authority in the Youth Corrections Act that was repealed in 1984.

But there is some reason for optimism even this late in the game.  President Obama’s evident willingness to use his constitutional power to reduce long drug sentences will hopefully have a spillover effect on the other half of the clemency caseload, the applications for full pardon from people who have long since served their sentences and gone on to live productive and law-abiding lives.  There are more than 800 applications for pardon pending in the Justice Department, many from people convicted decades ago whose lives of service have been exemplary.  They deserve something more than a gambler’s chance at forgiveness.

Federal agencies reportedly (mostly) satisfied with their collateral consequences

In 2013, the Justice Department launched its Smart on Crime Initiative, which included a call for federal agencies to review collateral consequences in their own rules and policies, to determine which could be narrowed or amended without jeopardizing public safety. According to an NPR report, the results of that long-anticipated review are now in:

Amy Solomon was appointed by Attorney General Holder to oversee the twenty federal agencies charged with reviewing their regulations and policies for potential changes. She reports that hundreds of regulations were reviewed, but the vast majority were deemed “appropriately tailored for their purposes,” including HUD’s discretionary housing policies. So far, only three agencies have submitted changes.

In assessing the “appropriately tailored” conclusion in the context of HUD housing policies, NPR reporter Monica Haywood tells the story of Maurice Alexander, a 67-year-old man who was turned away from subsidized housing in the District of Columbia based on a six-year-old misdemeanor threat conviction, despite guidance from HUD encouraging property owners and agents “to develop policies and procedures that allow ex-offenders to rejoin the community.” The HUD guidance urges property owners to consider all relevant information when reviewing applications from people with a criminal record, including evidence of rehabilitation and “probability of favorable future conduct.”

Haywood concludes that, “If Alexander’s case is any indication, owners may not be taking HUD’s advice.” Read more

“Justice Is Swift as Petty Crimes Clog Courts”

In a recent national study of case processing in the nation’s misdemeanor courts, Wall Street Journal reporters Gary Fields and John Emschwiller document how “blindingly swift” justice is for the “millions of Americans charged each year with misdemeanor crimes”:

In Florida, misdemeanor courts routinely disposed of cases in three minutes or less, usually with a guilty plea, according to a 2011 National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers study. In Detroit, court statistics show, a district judge on an average day has over 100 misdemeanor cases on his or her docket–or one every four minutes. In Miami, public defenders often hardly have time to introduce themselves to their misdemeanor clients before the cases are over. . . . In a Houston courtroom one day recently, defendants–sometimes individually, sometimes in groups of up to nine . . . , pleaded guilty, received their sentences and got a “good luck” from the judge in less than 30 seconds.

It appears that very little has changed in the forty years since the Supreme Court in Argersinger v. Hamlin bemoaned the assembly line that characterized the processing of misdemeanor offenses at that time.  The Court noted:

Wherever the visitor looks at the system, he finds great numbers of defendants being processed by harassed and overworked officials.  Suddenly it becomes clear that, for most defendants in the criminal process, there is scant regard for them as individuals. They are numbers on dockets, faceless ones to be processed and sent on their way.” (emphasis added)

The Argersinger Court noted that uncounseled defendants were pleading guilty, often at their initial appearance before a judge, and that there were harmful consequences that flowed from convictions of even so-called minor crimes.  To remedy the national crisis in misdemeanor courts that existed even in the 1970s, the Court held that the Gideon right to Read more

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