During 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:
In 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.
Alan Gura describes in this post recent efforts to persuade federal courts that people who have lost their firearms rights by virtue of a criminal conviction may be entitled to claim the protections of the Second Amendment. Alan himself has spearheaded this litigation for the Second Amendment Foundation, following up his Supreme Court victories in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. While successes have to date involved civil rights actions in behalf of people with dated non-violent convictions, these precedents may eventually find their way into felon-in-possession and related prosecutions. They also may portend, like the cases invalidating retroactive registration requirements, a greater willingness by courts to limit the scope of categorical collateral consequences that are considered unreasonable and unfair. Ed.
The certificate system for restoring rights after conviction in New York no longer serves its intended purposes, according to an investigation by City Limits. The problem is that Certificates of Relief from Disabilities (CRD) are supposed to be a means to rehabilitation for people sentenced to probation, but the judges authorized to issue them see them (in the words of one public defender) “as a gold star, as a thing you get after you’ve been rehabilitated.” The Parole Board appears similarly Read more
In a wide-ranging interview with Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith posted on February 11, President Obama was asked about the employment difficulties faced by young black men with a felony record. His response suggests that he may be interested in addressing through his pardon power the problems faced by people with federal convictions seeking restoration of rights and status, as he addressed them through law-making as a member of the Illinois legislature. This in turn suggests to us that the Justice Department may now be engaged, at the President’s direction, in a more proactive consideration of applications for a full presidential pardon. We post the exchange in full, so our readers can judge its import for themselves: Read more
On January 28, 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court settled an issue it has toyed with for several years, relating to the inherent power of courts to seal criminal records. In State v. Radcliff, a closely divided court held that judicial power to seal a conviction record, including the record of a conviction that has been pardoned, is limited by law. In Ohio, there is no statutory basis for sealing a pardoned conviction as there is in many (though not most) states. The majority evidently found this conclusion an unhappy one, lamenting that “until the General Assembly acts, we are left with the understanding that a pardon provides only forgiveness, not forgetfulness.”
“Only forgiveness.” Is pardon then such a second class prize? What makes an official determination of the recipient’s good character by the state’s highest elected official so much less attractive an option for mitigating the adverse consequences of conviction than pretending it never occurred? If the answer is that the American people are relentlessly unforgiving, we clearly have some national soul-searching to do.
As will come clear from the following discussion, I do not share the Radcliff majority’s evident belief that a pardon is worth little unless it results in a court expunging the record of the pardoned conviction (and presumably the pardon itself).
Most people with a criminal record have a general understanding of the value of expunging or sealing their criminal records. However, figuring out how to actually obtain such relief in a particular jurisdiction, and understanding its specific effects, is not so easy. The Papillon Foundation aims to change that by offering practical internet-based information about the process for obtaining expungement and sealing in all 50 states. We spoke with the Foundation’s founder Alan Courtney not long ago to find out more about how the Foundation helps people clean up their record and take charge of their past. Read more
In December 2014, Amy Solomon, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the Justice Department, testified before the U.S. Senate Addiction Forum about the review of collateral consequences federal agencies had been conducting under the auspices of the Federal Reentry Council. She reported that most of the agencies participating in the review had concluded their collateral consequences were “appropriately tailored for their purposes.” However, she also reported that Small Business Administration (SBA) had proposed amendments to its regulations to allow people on probation or parole to qualify for loans from its microloan program. (The change, proposed almost a year ago, has still not become final.)
We decided to take a look at the SBA’s proposed rule change, and at the SBA regulatory scheme more generally, to see how having a criminal record affects small business eligibility for government-backed loans. Read more
This is the fourth post in a series about European law and policy on criminal records by Professors Jacobs and Larrauri. Prior posts noted that public access is never allowed where a record has been expunged. This post discusses the types of records that are eligible for expungement, how the expungement process works, and what the effect of expungement is. (Professor Larrauri’s more detailed discussion of “judicial rehabilitation” in Europe is available here.) – Eds.
Just as there are variations in eligibility for and consequences of expungement in U.S. states, there are differences in detail in continental European countries. We focus on Spain, which we know best, though we have no reason to believe that Spain is an outlier when it comes to European countries’ law and policy. (As in most all criminal record matters, the U.K. is more like the U.S. than continental Europe, making expunged records more accessible to the public than they are on the Continent.)
A recent issue of Governing Magazine reports that pardoning is “making a comeback” after decades of neglect. It would be nice if it were true.
But the evidence of comeback is thin. Almost all of the jurisdictions where pardoning is thriving today are the same ones where it was thriving a decade ago. In a dozen states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, pardon has never been neglected, much less abandoned by responsible officials. In these jurisdictions and a handful of others, pardon has deep roots in the justice system and is supported by accountable institutions of government.
It is certainly true that Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jerry Brown of California have made generous use of the power of their office after years in which the pardon power in their states languished unused. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is a newcomer to the small group of governors who evidently feel that pardoning is a responsibility of office. All three are to be commended for it. But three swallows do not make a summer.