New report: 50-state guide to expungement and restoration of rights

CCRC is pleased to announce the publication of its 50-state guide to expungement and restoration of rights: “Forgiving and Forgetting in American Justice.” This report catalogues and analyzes the various provisions for relief from the collateral consequences of conviction that are now operating in each state, including judicial record-sealing and certificates of relief, executive pardon, and administrative.  Its goal is to facilitate a national conversation about how those who have a criminal record may best regain their legal rights and social status.

Given the millions of Americans who have a criminal record, and the proliferation of laws and policies excluding them from a wide range of opportunities and benefits, there is a critical need for reliable and accessible relief provisions to maximize the chances that these individuals can live productive and law-abiding lives after completion of their court-imposed sentences. Whatever their form, relief provisions must reckon with the easy availability of criminal records, and the pervasive discrimination that frustrates the rehabilitative goals of the justice system.

It is not the report’s purpose to recommend any specific approach to relief.  Rather, our goal is simply to survey the present legal landscape for the benefit of the policy discussions now underway in legislatures across the country.  We are mindful of the fact that very little empirical research has been done to measure outcomes of the various schemes described, many of which are still in their infancy.  It is therefore hard to say with any degree of certainty which approach works best to reintegrate individuals with a record into their communities. At the same time, we hope that our description of state relief mechanisms will inform the work of lawyers and other advocates currently working to assist affected individuals in dealing with the lingering burdens imposed by an adverse encounter with the justice system.

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A closer look at Indiana’s expungement law

More than four years ago, Indiana’s then-Governor Mike Pence signed into law what was at the time perhaps the Nation’s most comprehensive and elaborate scheme for restoring rights and status after conviction.  In the fall of 2014, as one of CCRC’s very first posts, Margaret Love published her interview with the legislator primarily responsible for its enactment, in which he shared details of his successful legislative strategy.  Later posts on this site reported on judicial interpretation of the law.  Since that time, a number of other states have enacted broad record-closing laws, including Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, and most recently Illinois.

We have been impressed by the evident enthusiasm for Indiana’s “expungement” law within the state, from the courts, the bar, the advocacy community, and even from prosecutors.  So we thought it might be both interesting and useful to take a closer look at how the Indiana law has been interpreted and administered, how many people have taken advantage of it, and how effective it has been in facilitating opportunities for individuals with a criminal record, particularly in the workforce.  We also wanted to see what light this might shed on what has brought to the forefront of reform so many politically-conservative states.  Spoiler alert: the Chamber of Commerce was one of the strongest proponents of the law.

We expect to be able to post our account of the Indiana expungement law shortly after Labor Day.  In the meantime, we thought it might be useful to reprint our 2014 interview with former Rep. Jud McMillan, which has been among our most viewed posts.

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Introducing the new Restoration of Rights Project

 

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center and its partner organizations, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the National HIRE Network, are pleased to announce the launch of the newly expanded and fully updated Restoration of Rights Project.

The Restoration of Rights Project is an online resource that offers state-by-state analyses of the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restoration of rights and status following arrest or conviction.   Jurisdictional “profiles” cover areas such as loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms rights, judicial and executive mechanisms for avoiding or mitigating collateral consequences, and provisions addressing non-discrimination in employment and licensing.  Each jurisdiction’s information is separately summarized for quick reference.   

In addition to the jurisdictional profiles, a set of 50-state comparison charts summarizes the law and illustrates national patterns in restoration laws and policies.   We expect to supplement these resources in weeks to come with jurisdiction-specific information about organizations that may be able to assist individuals in securing relief, and information on other third-party resources.

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Restrictions on access to criminal records: A national survey

We have recently revised and brought up to date the 50-state chart comparing laws on judicial sealing and expungement.  This chart provides an overview of the national landscape of laws authorizing courts to restrict public access to criminal records.  The chart summaries are illustrated by color-coded maps, and explained in greater detail in the state “profiles” of relief mechanisms that have been part of the Restoration of Rights Resource since that project began in 2004.  We hope this research will provide a useful tool for civil and criminal practitioners, policy advocates, and government officials.

A brief overview of research methodology and conclusions follows.

Background

A criminal record severely restricts access to many opportunities and benefits that can be indispensable to leading a law-abiding life.  Unwarranted discrimination based on criminal record was recognized as an urgent public policy problem by President Obama when he established the National Clean Slate Clearinghouse.  In the past decade, as the collateral consequences of conviction have increased in severity, state legislatures across the country have been actively exploring ways to set reasonable limits on the use of criminal records for noncriminal justice purposes, consistent with public safety.  One of the most popular measures involves restricting public access to criminal records through measures most frequently described as “expungement” or “sealing.”  Our recent report on “second chance” legislation identified 27 states that just since 2013 have given their courts at least some authority to limit access to records.

At the same time, however, judicial authority to close the record of concluded criminal cases remains quite limited, with only a dozen states authorizing their courts to restrict public access to a substantial number of felony convictions. The fact that nine of these 12 states have had broad sealing schemes in place for many years underscores how difficult it is to make much legislative progress in a risk-averse environment where criminal background checking has become big business.
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Expungement expansion round-up (2016 edition)

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.

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Challenge to SORNA retroactivity reaches Pennsylvania Supreme Court

In the last few years, Pennsylvania’s courts have taken an active role in defining the propriety and scope of the state’s sex offender registration program.  Following on the heels of a December 2014 decision striking down sex offender registration for juveniles, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a sweeping challenge to the retroactive application of Pennsylvania’s adult sex offender registry. The new law, generally referred to as SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act), took effect on December 20, 2012 as part of an effort to comply with the federal laws governing sex offenders.  SORNA replaced a more lenient registration scheme where the majority of people convicted of sexual crimes had to register for only ten years.  SORNA changed the paradigm and drastically increased the number of people included on the registry, the time periods for which they would have to register, and the number of things they have to report.  Of the close to 19,500 people on the registry today, roughly three quarters have to register for the rest of their lives without any chance of removal.

In addition to making most offenders lifetime registrants, SORNA reclassified thousands of people who were ten year registrants under the old law and retroactively increased their terms of registration – in most instances to life.  Hundreds of registrants sued, raising a number of different challenges to the law.  Until now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has refused to get involved.

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50-state guide to expungement and sealing laws

The 50-state chart of judicial relief mechanisms from the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource, which is also posted on this site, is a comprehensive survey of all authorities for judicial relief in the states and federal system. We wanted to bring it to our readers’ attention in light of the new federal interest in helping individuals with a criminal record overcome barriers to employment and licensing through clearing their records.

The National Clean Slate Clearinghouse, recently announced as part of President Obama’s reentry initiative, will “provide technical assistance to local legal aid programs, public defender offices, and reentry service providers to build capacity for legal services needed to help with record-cleaning, expungement, and related civil legal services.” This joint project of the Labor and Justice Departments will doubtless make it a first priority to survey the laws providing judicial and other relief in different states, to determine what sort of assistance lawyers will need to neutralize the adverse employment consequences of conviction, though the courts or otherwise.  We hope these resources will prove useful in that effort.

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Another federal expungement case from Brooklyn – is this the beginning of a trend?

On October 8, a former chief judge of the Eastern District of New York held that he was “constrained by controlling precedent” to deny the expungement petition of a woman who feared that her 23-year-old fraud conviction would prevent her from obtaining a nurse’s license.  See Stephenson v. United States, No. 10-MC-712.  Judge Raymond Dearie declined to find the “extreme circumstances” warranting expungement under Second Circuit precedent, noting that the petitioner before him was fully employed and that her aspiration to become a nurse was realistic, in light of the protection afforded her by New York’s nondiscrimination laws.  He proposed that his own willingness to certify her rehabilitation could help satisfy the “good moral character” standard for a nursing license. (Could this be the sort of “certificate of rehabilitation” contemplated by Judge John Gleeson in his second Jane Doe expungement case?  If so, it would seem to require no specific statutory authority for him to issue it to an individual he sentenced, no matter how long ago.)

Judge Dearie contrasted the case before him with the one in which Judge Gleeson ordered expungement in May, where the petitioner’s criminal record was having “a dramatic adverse impact on her ability to work,” citing Jane Doe I at *5.   The government has appealed Judge Gleeson’s expungement order.

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“Old Writ Could Give Ex-Offenders a New Start”

Joe Palazzolo has posted at the Wall Street Journal Blog an article describing an amicus brief filed yesterday in United States v. Jane Doe (Jane Doe II), one of two federal expungement cases before Judge John Gleeson that we’ve been following.  Argument in Jane Doe II is now scheduled for October 26.  (The government has appealed Judge Gleeson’s May 21 expungement order in Jane Doe I to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.)  The brief begins like this:

This Court invited the views of Amica on the Court’s authority to issue “a certificate of rehabilitation in lieu of expungement” and the appropriateness of issuing such a certificate in this case. While there is no federal statute that authorizes a court to issue relief styled as a “certificate of rehabilitation,” Amica wishes to bring to the Court’s attention two mechanisms, each perhaps underappreciated but with deep historical roots, by which the Court may recognize an individual’s rehabilitation and otherwise address issues such as those raised by petitioner’s case. The first is by exercising its statutory authority to issue a writ of audita querela, which is available in extraordinary circumstances under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. §1651, to grant a measure of relief from the collateral consequences of conviction. The second is by recommending to the President that he grant clemency.

The blog post describing the brief is reprinted in full after the jump.

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Clemency is Not the Answer (Updated)

This piece was originally published in The Crime Report on July 13, and republished in revised form on July 16.

On Monday President Obama announced in a video address that he had commuted the sentences of 46 people sentenced to long prison terms for drug offenses.  His counsel, Neil Eggleston, stated that “While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term, it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.“

Mr. Eggleston added that “the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system.” However, judging from his speech to the NAACP the next day, clemency is the only one of those tools that is calculated to result in any more prison releases.

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