New research report: Four Years of Second Chance Reforms, 2013-2016

Introduction

4 year report coverSince 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society.  It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences.  To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief.  Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.

In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction.  As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.

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When collateral consequences drive the sentence: The David Becker case

In the wake of the Brock Turner casea new controversy was ignited in Massachusetts last month when 18-year-old David Becker, a white college-bound athlete, received two years’ probation after pleading guilty to indecent assault of an unconscious woman at a house party.  As in the Turner case, many are outraged by a penalty they regard as too lenient and the result of white privilege.  However, any perceived injustice in the Becker case may be less about an abuse of judicial discretion than about the limited ability of judges to mitigate collateral consequences.

Critics of the decision may be even more concerned to learn that David Becker was not actually convicted of a crime.  Instead, District Court Judge Thomas Estes accepted Becker’s guilty plea and ordered a “continuance without a finding” (known as a CWOF) for two years while Becker serves a term of probation.  If Becker completes the conditions of probation successfully, the charges against him will be dismissed and the record will be eligible for sealing.

The fact that Becker was not convicted is significant because it allows him to avoid both registering as a sex offender and the numerous collateral consequences that would come with having a criminal record.

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NH Supreme Court takes aim at federal felon-in-possession statute

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In an important decision for firearms-related collateral consequences, the New Hampshire Supreme Court relied on the Second Amendment to carve out an exception to the so-called federal felon-in-possession statute, declining to follow relevant federal court precedents. At stake is whether state or federal courts have the last word on the scope of the exceptions in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20).  In DuPont v. Nashua Police Department, the court held that a man convicted of a misdemeanor DUI, who as a result lost his right to possess a firearm under state and federal law, was able to avoid federal firearms disability by virtue of the restoration of his state firearms rights, even though he lost none of the traditional “core” civil rights (vote, office, jury).  In order to get to this result, the court had to conclude that the right to possess a firearm is itself a civil right, whose loss and restoration under state law is sufficient to satisfy the “civil rights restored” requirement in 921(a)(20), thus creating a narrow but significant exception to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Logan v. United States.

While the holding in DuPont applies only to a limited class of misdemeanants (those who lost and regained state firearms rights), the decision may be the opening salvo in a state backlash against federal efforts to define the scope of state relief recognized in 921(a)(20).

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State courts question mandatory lifetime sex offender registration

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003) and Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), state courts are coming to different conclusions under their own constitutions about whether sex offender registration and notification laws constitute punishment for purposes of due process and ex post facto analysis.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the most recent to invalidate mandatory registration requirements imposed on juveniles, but several state supreme courts have limited the retroactive application of registration requirements to adults under an ex post facto analysis.

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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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Collateral consequences and the curious case of Mark Wahlberg

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.

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