Federal sentencing and collateral consequences

This practice resource is available in PDF format here.  A follow-up piece, “Federal sentencing and collateral consequences II,” is here.


 

Federal courts are frequently asked to take into account the collateral consequences of conviction in determining what sentence to impose under the criteria in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). It is generally permissible for them to do so, and in line with current proposals of national law reform organizations.  At the same time, courts must guard against the risk of socioeconomic bias favoring more privileged defendants who have the most to lose in the civil sphere, and who are likely to enjoy more vigorous and effective advocacy around collateral consequences.

The following discussion first reviews a federal court’s general obligation to understand the collateral consequences that apply in a particular case, and to ensure that a defendant considering a guilty plea has been adequately advised about them.  It then reviews post-Booker case law approving below-guideline sentences based on the severe collateral penalties applicable to a particular defendant, such as loss of employment, extraordinary family circumstances, sex offender registration, and even reputational harm (“the stigma of conviction”).  Finally, it discusses cases in which courts of appeal have refused to approve deep sentencing discounts based on collateral consequences in circumstances suggesting a bias favoring middle-class defendants.

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“Get to Work or Go to Jail”

Get-to-Work-or-Go-To-Final-copyA new report from the UCLA Labor Center with the snappy title of  “Get To Work or Go To Jail” describes how the criminal justice system may compromise employment opportunities in more ways than one, placing workers on community supervision or in debt at the mercy of employers.  Noah Zatz of the UCLA Law faculty, one of the report’s co-authors, summarizes the report’s conclusions as follows:

When many people consider work and the criminal justice system, they commonly focus on how difficult it is for people coming out of jail to find work. “Get to Work or Go To Jail: Workplace Rights Under Threat” goes further by exploring how the criminal justice system can also lock workers into bad jobs. Workers on probation or parole, facing criminal justice debt, or owing child support face a disturbing threat: get to work or go to jail. Because these workers face incarceration for being unemployed, the report finds that they cannot afford to refuse a job, quit a job, or to challenge their employers- and they can even be forced to work for free. This report identifies how the criminal justice system endows employers with this power.

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Restoration of firearms rights: 50-state surveys

We have recently converted the 50-state surveys that are part of the Restoration of Rights Resource from PDF to HTML format.  Two of these surveys deal with loss and restoration of firearms privileges as a result of a criminal conviction:  Chart # 1 is titled “Loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges,” and Chart # 2 is “State law relief from federal firearms disabilities.”   Chart # 1 is a straightforward description of the relevant provisions of each state’s laws, showing when firearms rights are lost based upon a felony conviction (or in some cases misdemeanor crimes of violence) and how firearms rights may be regained.  Chart # 1 also describes for each state when conviction results in loss of basic civil rights (voting, eligibility for public office and jury service), and how those rights are regained — a matter that is frequently relevant for avoiding the independent penalties under federal firearms dispossession laws.

Chart # 2 attempts the more complex analysis of when criminal conviction results in exposure to federal prosecution as a “felon in possession” under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Regaining firearms rights under state law does not automatically result in avoiding the federal bar, which generally depends upon an additional measure of state relief such as a pardon or expungement, or restoration of civil rights.  (The courts have generally held that automatic restoration counts.)  Surprisingly, the law is not entirely clear as to when a state conviction will trigger the federal penalty, and when state relief removes it.  Chart # 2 therefore emphasizes the importance of seeking legal counsel to avoid liability.

For those with a federal conviction, the only way to avoid liability under § 922(g) and regain the right to possess a firearm is through a presidential pardon (which would also relieve any state law liability).  The administrative restoration provision in 18 U.S.C. § 925 has not been funded for 25 years.  As reported by Alan Gura in a post on this site last winter, a few individuals with dated nonviolent federal convictions have been successful in regaining firearms rights through the courts.

The 50-state charts will remain available for download in PDF form.

 

“Future Interrupted”: The collateral damage of juvenile adjudications

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1.5 million children are arrested each year. At some point in each of these children’s lives, the record of their arrest or court involvement will impose barriers to education and employment.  At least two-thirds of post-secondary institutions conduct background checks of prospective students. More than 90% of employers conduct background checks. And, many licensed occupations and professions require FBI background checks. Yet, the reality is, these background checks are often incomplete or inaccurate and they are always stigmatizing.

The justice system has long recognized that children are different from adults, and historically the public had little or no access to the records of juvenile adjudications. That is no longer the case.  The effect of juvenile records now punish kids well into adulthood.

Juvenile Law Center’s recent policy paper, Future Interrupted, urges that children must be free to grow up unfettered by their childhood mistakes—to have their court involvement remain in the past so they can move forward with their lives. This paper explores how various background check systems disseminate juvenile record information, using real-life stories from youth to illustrate the devastating effects of record retention and dissemination.

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New York Bar adopts reentry recommendations

In 2012 newly elected President of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), Seymour James, Jr., drew upon his 38 years of experience at the Legal Aid Society of New York City to establish a Special Committee on Reentry and appointed committee members who would spend the next three years researching and studying issues relating to reentry and reintegration.

The goal of this Special Committee was to develop a report and recommendations including a consideration of collateral consequences that can have an impact on reentry regarding education, housing employment, medical health, mental health and juveniles. The report identifies some of the best practices to ensure productive lives and minimize recidivism of formerly incarcerated adults and detained juveniles, and of adults and juveniles who can avoid convictions and delinquency findings through innovative diversion programs.

On January 29, 2016 the NYSBA House of Delegates adopted the report and recommendations of the Special Committee.

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How a parent’s criminal record limits children

reportcover“The barriers associated with having a criminal record do not just result in lifelong punishment for the parent with the record; they also can significantly limit a child’s life chances.” This is according to a new report by the Center for American Progress that examines the multi-generational effects of collateral consequences and the cycle of poverty and lost opportunity that those consequences perpetuate.

A parent’s criminal record can affect everything from a child’s emotional and physical well-being to future economic and educational outcomes.  This is true even if the record was for a minor conviction that did not result in incarceration or, in some cases, an arrest that did not result in conviction at all.

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White House criticizes occupational licensing restrictions

Occupational licensing requirements pose more of a barrier to employment than ever before, and perhaps no group of the population has been more affected by these barriers than people with criminal histories.  About 25% of the country’s workforce is now employed in a field that requires a state occupational license, and many of these licenses take criminal history into account for eligibility or retention purposes.  As a result, a record number of people with criminal records — many of whom have devoted their lives to a particular occupation or profession — are finding it difficult or impossible to earn a living in their chosen field.

Now the White House is weighing in on the issue, saying that “Policymakers should refrain from categorically excluding individuals with criminal records, and instead should only exclude those individuals whose convictions are recent and relevant, and pose a legitimate threat to public safety.” The White House’s urging appears in a new report aimed at curtailing the “inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary” burdens that current occupational licensing systems can place on workers, employers, and consumers.” Read more

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

Is suspension of driving privileges an effective way to collect unpaid fines?

realid-dlNo, according to a recent study of efforts to enforce monetary judgments in a Milwaukee municipal court and to a national organization with expertise in traffic safety. The Justice Initiative Institute reviewed non-criminal, municipal cases from 2008-2013 in which the Milwaukee court had ordered the detention of defendants for not having paid fines.

Not surprisingly, the report shows that most people who fail to pay fines have little if any income (a majority of those detained were unemployed). Therefore, although the prospect of sanctions might encourage payment by a population with greater financial resources, the use of incarceration for non-payment ends up costing the City of Milwaukee more than any additional amount of fines collected.

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GAO reports on use of FBI records checks for employment purposes

FBI.indexThe Government Accountability Office has made public a long-awaited report to Congress on the use of FBI records by state agencies and private companies for employment-related background checks.  The report addresses three questions:
1. To what extent do states conduct FBI criminal history record checks for selected employment sectors and what challenges, if any, do they face in conducting these checks?
2. To what extent have states made progress in improving the completeness of criminal history records and what challenges remain that federal agencies can help mitigate?
3. To what extent do private companies conduct record checks, what benefits do they provide, how are they regulated, and what challenges do they face?

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