President declares U.S. a “nation of second chances” but issues no pardons

In commuting the sentences of 46 individuals serving long drug sentences, President Obama declared that America is a “nation of second chances” in a video address posted on the White House website.  But that sunny optimism about our country’s willingness to forgive hasn’t led him to grant very many pardons, the relief whose purpose is to restore rights and status to those who have fully served their sentences, to give them a second chance at first class citizenship.  Indeed, as Michael Isikoff reported the same day the commutations were issued, Obama’s 64 pardons are the fewest issued by any full-term president since John Adams.  Indeed, the President has commuted more in the past six months than he has pardoned in his entire time in office.

The President’s determination to reduce unjustly lengthy prison sentences is commendable and historically significant.  But it need and should not lead him to the neglect the other part of the clemency caseload, the petitions filed by individuals who have led exemplary lives for many years but are still burdened by severe collateral consequences and the stigma of conviction. Unfortunately those petitions appear to have have been shunted to the back burner in the excitement of the so-called “clemency initiative.”

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Insurance companies undermine fair hiring efforts

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal reveals the little-known role that insurance companies play in shaping employer policies on hiring people with a criminal record.  Joe Palazzolo reports in “Criminal Records Haunt Hiring Initiative” that the “unseen hand of commercial insurers” frustrates efforts by some employers to implement fair hiring policies, and gives others an excuse for maintaining broad prohibitions on hiring convicted individuals.  “An employee is typically excluded from standard insurance policy against fraud, theft, embezzlement and other crimes—known as a fidelity bond—as soon as the employer discovers that he or she has committed a dishonest act, whether recently or in the past.”

The extent of the problem is illustrated by the story of Louis Henry, an Alabama man who lost a sales-management position at a medical-technology company after one day on the job, when a background check revealed a dated conviction for misreporting the status of a loan on the books of a bank where he worked.   “A May 1 letter from the employer, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Henry’s record placed the company in violation of its insurance policies.”

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Glenn Martin’s “prison-like” White House experience

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The Crime Report published this report about Glenn Martin’s recent experience as an invited guest at the White House, described in Glenn’s open letter to the President, giving further details of the treatment he received and describing the Administration’s response.

Glenn Martin’s “prison-like” White House experience

July 2, 2015 09:01:56 am

Two weeks after criminal justice advocate Glenn Martin was nearly denied access to a White House event he was invited to, he’s still waiting for an explanation.

In a widely distributed “open letter” to President Barack Obama last week, Martin revealed that he was required to have a special escort in order to enter the White House complex for a discussion with senior officials on breaking down barriers facing ex-prisoners.

Martin, who is one of the country’s leading advocates for ending those barriers, is an ex-inmate himself. Now head of JustLeadershipUSA, he served time for a robbery conviction 20 years ago—and has since achieved national prominence for his work with former prisoners.

Although he was invited to the meeting, along with a select group of advocates, scholars, elected officials and law enforcement authorities, he was treated as a security risk.

“The staggering symbolism of the ordeal was not lost on me, Mr. President,” Martin wrote in the June 25 letter to Obama and Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy.

“In a country where 65 million people have a criminal record on file, being selectively barred from entering the White House for a discussion about those very same people was as insulting as it was indicative of the broader problem.”

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Why we need a federal expungement law


This article originally appeared at TalkPoverty.org under the title “New Ruling Highlights Why We Need the REDEEM Act” 


On May 21, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson ordered the expungement of the 13-year-old federal fraud conviction of “Jane Doe,” a Brooklyn home health aide. His decision received national attention for being unprecedented in the federal courts, which have no explicit authority conferred on them by Congress to expunge or seal federal criminal cases. Encouraging though it is, Judge Gleeson’s decision is most important for its illustration of the need for Congress to enact such a sealing remedy, as provided for in the bipartisan REDEEM Act (S. 675).

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Federal judge expunges conviction to avoid collateral consequences

In what appears to be an unprecedented action (at least if it stands), a federal judge has expunged the concededly valid conviction of a woman he sentenced 13 years before, whose difficulties in finding and keeping employment evidently moved him to take extraordinary measures.  In Doe v. United States, Judge John Gleeson (EDNY) commented on the “excessive and counterproductive” employment consequences of old convictions:

Doe’s criminal record has prevented her from working, paying taxes, and caring for her family, and it poses a constant threat to her ability to remain a law-abiding member of society. It has forced her to rely on public assistance when she has the desire and the ability to work. Nearly two decades have passed since her minor, nonviolent offense. There is no justification for continuing to impose this disability on her. I sentenced her to five years of probation supervision, not to a lifetime of unemployment.

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50-state survey of relief from sex offender registration

We have prepared a new 50-state chart detailing the provisions for termination of the obligation to register as a sex offender in each state and under federal law.  This project was inspired by Wayne Logan’s recent article in the Wisconsin Law Review titled “Database Infamia: Exit from the Sex Offender Registries,” discussed on this site on April 15.  The original idea of the project was simply to present Professor Logan’s research in the same format as the other 50-state charts that are part of the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource, supplementing it as necessary.  But getting all of the state laws condensed into a few categories turned out to be a considerably more complex task than we imagined, in part because we had to fill in a lot of gaps, and in part because of the extraordinary variety and complexity of the laws themselves.

We present it here as a work in progress in the hope that practitioners and researchers in each state will review our work and give us comments to help us make the chart most helpful to them and to affected individuals. Read more

Forgiving v. forgetting: A new redemption tool

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When is a sex offender not a sex offender in Ohio?

pixelohio_blankenshipThe Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether a young man whose conviction requires him to register as a sex offender should be excused from this collateral consequence on grounds that it violates the state constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  The transcript of the March 10 oral argument in Blankenship v. State of Ohio, Case no. 2014-0363, suggests that the Ohio high court may be poised to invalidate the mandatory sex offender classifications in Ohio law as applied to a 21-year-old who had a consensual sexual relationship with a 15-year-old.  In 2011 the court ruled in State v. Williams that the state’s registration scheme is punitive and thus may not constitutionally be applied retroactively, so it would be a short step for the court to find that the mandatory registration requirement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in this case.

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President promises a more “open” pardon process, more pardon grants

1024px-Pascal_Dagnan-Bouveret_(1852-1929)_-_Les_Bretonnes_au_pardon_-_Lissabon_Museu_Calouste_Gulbenkian_21-10-2010_13-52-01During a Town Hall in South Carolina on March 6, President Obama spoke for the second time in recent weeks about his intention to use his pardon power more generously in the final two years of his term.

Responding to a criminal defense attorney who asked what she could do to “increase the number of federal pardons,” the President explained that he was taking a “new approach” to pardons after receiving surprisingly few favorable recommendations from the Justice Department during his first term.  He said he had asked the Attorney General to “open up” the pardon process, and to work with advocacy groups and public defenders to make people more aware of the availability of this relief:

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California high court invalidates sex offender residency restrictions

326746prIn a remarkable, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court held on March 2, 2015 that residence restrictions for sex offenders on parole were unconstitutional as applied.  Although the case technically addressed the situation of four named plaintiffs in San Diego County, the decision calls into doubt the statute’s validity in the entire state.

In re Taylor tested the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act: Jessica’s Law, which, like many overwrought and unwise laws was enacted by initiative.  Passed in 2006, it added Section 3003.5(b) to the Penal Code, making it “unlawful for any person for whom registration is required . . . to reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.”  In 2010, in an earlier stage of the case, the Court rejected claims brought by that the law was invalid on its face because it was unconstitutionally retroactive under California law, or because it violated state or federal prohibitions on ex post facto laws.  However, the plaintiffs pursued the argument that the law was unconstitutional as applied; the trial court, California Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court agreed.

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