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.
Below is another excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Consequences 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.
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.
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 allegedly 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
It’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.
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
Actor-producer Mark Wahlberg has filed an application for pardon with the Governor of Massachusetts, seeking forgiveness for a 25-year old assault conviction that occurred when he was 16 years old. The “onetime ruffian from Dorchester” bases his request for pardon on his rehabilitation and contributions to society since his conviction. He also specifies his desire to avoid certain legal restrictions that he claims are impeding his business endeavors and civic activities.
By his own account, Mr. Wahlberg was a troubled teen who had a history of scrapes with the law by the time of the 1988 assault. He states in his pardon application that, if he
had not turned his life around with the help of “faith, hard work, and guidance from some incredible mentors,” he “would likely have ended up like so many of my childhood friends from Dorchester: dead or in prison for a prolonged period of time.” He expresses remorse for his actions on the night of the assault, as well as “any lasting damage that I may have caused the victims.” He does not specify what that damage might have been, though news reports indicate that it was serious and possibly permanent.
As to his reasons for seeking a pardon, he claims that “my prior record can potentially be the basis to deny me a concessionaire’s license in California and elsewhere, “an important consideration given my personal involvement in various restaurant ventures,” presumably a reference to the fast-expanding chain of Wahlburgers. He believes that, if pardoned, “I could not be denied a concessionaire’s license on the basis of my prior record,” which may or may not be the case.*
Wahlberg also proposes that a pardon would enable him to become “more active in law enfor
cement activities, including those that assist at-risk individuals.” He states that only a full and unconditional pardon would, under California law, enable him to “obtain a position as a parole or probation officer.” True enough, but an improbable ambition for an A-List movie star. He disavows in his application any immediate interest in obtaining a firearms permit — leading this writer to wonder if one is required on location.
Update (5/14/15): We have published a 50 state chart detailing relief from registration requirements on the Restoration of Rights page. The chart is based in part on Wayne Logan’s work. You can find the chart at this link.
Wayne Logan has summarized his research on relief from sex offender registration and community notification requirements for a forthcoming Wisconsin Law Review article in an excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming). This is the first of many tidbits from the book that will appear in this space from time to time:
2:42. Sex offense-related collateral consequences — Constitutional challenges to registration and community notification laws: post-application challenges
Given the extended potential duration of registration and community notification (RCN) application, ranging from ten years to life, the question naturally arises over whether relief from its requirements and burdens can be attained at some point. While the federal Adam Walsh Act allows states to provide relief to registrants with a “clean record” for ten years, states typically afford only very limited opportunity to registrants to exit registries.
South Carolina is most limited, offering no opportunity to petition for relief from lifetime registration and community notification; only a pardon will trigger removal, and then only if the pardon is based “on a finding of not guilty specifically stated.” In other states, opportunity for relief is only somewhat broadened, to include such sub-populations as juvenile offenders and those convicted of less serious offenses. In still others, the eligibility group is again broadened, and petition is allowed after a period of years (e.g., 25), and in several states select registrant groups can seek early relief. Early relief, however, can be less than it seems: in Hawaii, for instance, only lifetime registrants can petition for early relief—after forty years on the registry; ten- and 25-year class registrants must satisfy their terms.
Earlier this week, the Center for American Progress published a new report on the effect of the proliferation of criminal records in a nation of mass incarceration and criminalization. The report (“One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records”) explores the debilitating effect that a criminal record – including records for relatively minor offenses and for arrests that did not result in a conviction – can have on an individual’s access to housing, public assistance, education, family stability, and, in turn, their prospects for economic stability. The report’s authors are Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty and Prosperity Program, and Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (and of our own CCRC Board).
The report makes the point that the proliferation of criminal records, and the ease with which they can be accessed, harms not only individuals but society as a whole. The collateral consequences of a criminal record result in employment losses of $65 billion a year in GDP according to one study cited. Another study estimates that the national poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the accompanying criminal record crisis. The report notes that the war on drugs and the “criminalization of poverty” has resulted in a disproportionately high incidence of justice system contact in communities of color. Criminal records are thus both a cause of poverty and a consequence of poverty.