Since 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.
More and more states are enacting new expungement and sealing laws, or expanding existing ones, some covering convictions for the first time. The first four months of 2016 alone saw courts given significant new authority to limit access to criminal records in four states, and bills have been introduced in several others that promise more new laws in months to come.
In April, Kentucky authorized expungement of felonies for the first time, while New Jersey reduced waiting periods for some offenses and made expungement automatic for some others. Also in April, Maryland’s Governor Hogan signed that state’s Justice Reinvestment Act, permitting expungement of misdemeanor convictions for the first time. Beginning in November, Pennsylvania courts will have new authority to seal misdemeanor offenses, and follow-up bills have been introduced in both houses to make sealing automatic for most non-felony records after a waiting period. There are also several pending proposals to significantly expand existing expungement laws in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Rhode Island.
We take a closer look at each of these new expungement authorities below.
The new laws evidence the growing momentum behind second-chance reforms. They also show how expansion of expungement and sealing mechanisms can be an incremental process. For example, the legislatures in Maryland and Pennsylvania first tested the waters by giving courts new authority to mitigate low-level conviction records in relatively limited ways, with both following up shortly after with proposals to increase both the availability and effectiveness of those mechanisms. Meanwhile, states with fairly robust expungement mechanisms already in place, like New Jersey, Missouri, and Kentucky, have taken steps to make relief available sooner and to more people. Relatedly, in the first four months of 2016, six more states enacted or expanded state-wide ban-the-box laws limiting inquiry about criminal records at early stages of the hiring process, bringing the total to 23.
In updating our book on New Jersey Collateral Consequences, J.C. Lore and I analyzed the provisions of New Jerseys’ new Opportunity to Compete Act, signed by Governor Christie in August and scheduled to become effective on March 15, 2015. The Act applies a ban-the-box requirement to most public and private employers with more than 15 employees. Having followed the bill through its passage in the House last spring, we were disappointed but not surprised to see that there were a number of employer-friendly amendments added to the Act just prior to final action in the Senate, with the result that there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the law actually accomplishes. The important provisions omitted from the bill in the Senate, after lobbying by business and industry groups, included
- A prohibition on considering certain types of criminal histories, including conviction records after a certain number of years;
- A private right of action against employers;
- A definition of “initial employment application process” that permits inspection of criminal records at an earlier stage of the employment process;
- A requirement that an employer make a good faith effort to discuss the applicants criminal record if it is of concern; and
- A provision permitting negligent hiring suits in cases of “gross negligence.”
The bill as amended also preempted local ban-the-box laws, so that Newark’s more progressive ban-the-box ordinance appears to be on life support.
Attached are the enacted version of the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, as well as the “advance law” with brackets to show which language was removed in the Senate.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Much chastened, the author of the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource has made appropriate modifications in the New Jersey profile. Note that similar last-minute amendments also substantially weakened the Delaware ban-the-box law, omitting similar provisions that would have prohibited employers from considering certain types of criminal records, notably convictions more than 10 years old. In the same fashion, last-minute amendments to Vermont’s Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act restricted its coverage to less serious offenses, disappointing its sponsors.
The lesson for advocates is that they must be eternally vigilant for last-minute lobbying by special interests to dilute provisions of progressive legislation intended to give people with a criminal record a fairer chance in the workplace. – ML
As reported in this local article, headlined “Some sex offenders can’t be forced to wear GPS monitors, N.J. Supreme Court rules,” the top state court in the Garden State issued a significant constitutional ruling holding that New Jersey cannot force sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devises if they were convicted before the monitoring program was signed into law seven years ago. The court voted 4-3 to uphold an appellate panel’s decision that said it was unconstitutional for the state Parole Board to require George C. Riley to wear the ankle monitor when he was released from prison in 2009 after serving 23 years for attempted sexual assault of a minor.
Justice Barry Albin wrote that Riley, 81, of Eatontown, should not be subject to the 2007 law because it constitutes an additional punishment that was not included in the sentence he already served. The Court agreed with the lower court that the “retroactive application” of the GPS program to Riley violates the ex post facto clauses in the U.S. and state Constitutions, which safeguard against imposing “additional punishment to an already completed crime.” The court also rejected the state’s argument that the GPS monitor is not punitive but “only civil and regulatory.”
“Parole is a form of punishment under the Constitution,” Albin wrote for the high court. “SOMA is essentially parole supervision for life by another name.” He added that “the disabilities and restraints placed on Riley through twenty -four-hour GPS monitoring enabled by a tracking device fastened to his ankle could hardly be called ‘minor and indirect.’”
The full ruling in Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, No. A-94-11 (NJ Sept. 22, 2014) is available at this link.
–Read full article at Sentencing Law and Policy.