CCRC reports on criminal record reforms in 2019

We are pleased to publish our annual report on criminal record reforms enacted during the past calendar year.  This is the fourth in a series of reports since 2016 on new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  This year we have included for the first time a Report Card grading the progress of the most (and least) productive state legislatures in 2019.  The press release accompanying the report is reprinted below:

Report finds record-breaking number of criminal record reforms enacted in 2019

February 17, 2020

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the astonishing number of laws passed in 2019 aimed at promoting reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Last year, 43 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted an extraordinary 153 laws to provide criminal record relief or to alleviate the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime and frequently have little or no public safety rationale. 

The year 2019 was the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013, a period CCRC has documented in a series of legislative reports (2013-2016, 2017, and 2018). 

CCRC’s 2019 report, titled “Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019,” is available here.

This report is our first to include a Report Card on how state legislatures performed during the year in advancing the goals of reintegration,” said CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love. “We wanted to recognize New Jersey as Reintegration Champion for having the most consequential legislative record in 2019, including three important new laws authorizing clean slaterecord relief, restoring voting rights, and curbing driver’s license suspensions.

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California poised to become third state to adopt “clean slate” record relief

On September 23, the California legislature sent AB 1076 to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has until October 13 to sign or veto this potentially transformative legislation.  If enacted, AB 1076 would make California the third state (after Pennsylvania (2018) and Utah (2019)) to authorize “clean slate” record relief, a direction to authorities to seal certain arrest and conviction records automatically. (Illinois, New York, and California have enacted automatic relief for certain marijuana convictions, and several states have automatic relief for non-convictions.)  AB 1076 creates a parallel eligibility scheme that overlaps but is not exactly coincident with the petition-based system, as well as a new procedure for automatic relief.  The specific provisions are described generally below, and more fully after the break.

AB 1076 would not modify eligibility for relief under California’s existing scheme of judicial remedies for people with criminal records, via sealing as well as dismissal and set-aside.  Rather, effective January 1, 2021, it would create a new process obviating the requirement of an individually-filed petition or motion in most cases.  If this bill is signed into law, California would break new ground in becoming the first state to extend automatic “clean slate” relief to felony convictions (other than for marijuana possession).

A less-noted but significant feature of AB 1076 is its expansion of the effect of relief for conviction records:  it provides for non-disclosure of records of convictions that have been dismissed or set aside, whether automatically or by petition, and makes this provision applicable both to court records (effective February 1, 2021) and to records in the state repository (effective January 1, 2021), except in certain specified circumstances where disclosure is mandated by law.  As it is, and notwithstanding the widespread use of the term “expungement” to describe its general relief scheme for convictions, California has no law authorizing limits on public access to most conviction records, whether held by the court or by the state repository.  This would change in 2021, if this law is enacted.  (Most non-conviction records are now eligible for sealing by petition under California law.)  Note that, like most state repositories, California’s repository permits disclosure only to government agencies and specified private entities, so that the new limits apply within the class of otherwise authorized repository users.

The sponsors of AB 1076 emphasize that making relief automatic without the need for individual action will significantly reduce “barriers to employment and housing opportunities for millions of Californians.”  They point to the key findings of J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr’s 2019 study of record-sealing in Michigan: 1) people who had their conviction records sealed tended to have improved employment outcomes and lower recidivism rates than the general population; but 2) only a small percentage (6.5%) of those individuals eligible for set-aside and sealing actually applied, likely because of the complexity and burdens of filing a petition for relief with the court.  While no comparable study has been done for California, experience with that state’s marijuana-sealing law suggests that the low “take-up” rate is similar to the one Prescott and Starr found in Michigan.

If California’s new law is enacted, beginning in 2021 the state will automatically grant relief for many arrests not resulting in conviction, for infraction and misdemeanor convictions, and for some less serious felony convictions.  For eligible non-convictions—misdemeanor and some felony arrests—sealing will become automatic.  (However, a significant set of felony arrests not leading to conviction are excluded, as discussed below, although most of these dispositions remain eligible for petition-based relief.)  For eligible convictions, dismissal and set-aside will be automatic provided that a number of additional eligibility requirements are satisfied, including that a person must not be required to register as a sex offender, or be currently subject to prosecution, supervision, or incarceration for any offense.  Prosecutors and probation officers may object to automatic conviction relief in individual cases on “based on a showing that granting such relief would pose a substantial threat to the public safety,” and such an objection may be tested in a court hearing.

A major shortcoming of AB 1076 — in contrast to the “clean slate” laws enacted in Pennsylvania and Utah—is that its automatic relief is prospective only.  That is, relief is automatic only for arrests and convictions occurring after the law’s effective date.  Those with arrests and convictions occurring before 2021 would still have to apply to the court for relief.  Though the original bill had applied retroactively, the Assembly amended the bill to exclude arrests and convictions occurring before January 1, 1973, and then the Senate further amended it to exclude those occurring before January 1, 2021.  Presumably these changes were based on financial and logistical considerations.  The annual cost for the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and courts to carry out the final bill is estimated to total between about $2 and $5 million each year.  Moreover, the bill’s effective date, January 1, 2021, is specifically subject to an appropriation in the annual budget, and the State’s Department of Justice has indicated it “would need the implementation date to be delayed to July 1, 2023 for proper implementation.”  Despite challenges in implementation, we hope that, as the new automated system is developed, it will be feasible to extend relief to records predating 2021.

Of course, as noted, the provisions providing for non-disclosure of conviction records would apply to all cases dismissed or set-aside, without regard to when or by what process this relief was granted.

We will now describe in detail California’s clean slate legislation, which would add two new sections to the Penal Code, 851.93 and 1203.425, dealing with arrests and convictions, respectively, and amend the section of the Penal Code that deals with state records systems, 11105.

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Updated report on 2018 fair chance and expungement reforms

On January 10, 2019, we released a report documenting the extraordinary number of laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Since that time, we discovered five additional laws enacted in 2018 (in AL, PA, OR, MO, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and have updated our report accordingly.

In 2018, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted at least 61 new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime. The CCRC report analyzes last year’s lawmaking and summarizes all 61 new authorities, which include 57 statutes, 3 executive orders, and one ballot initiative.

Last year saw the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013.  CCRC documented these earlier developments in reports on the 2013-2016 reforms and 2017 reforms.  In the period 2012–2018, every state legislature has in some way addressed the problem of reintegration.  Congress has not enacted any laws dealing with the problems presented by collateral consequences for more than a decade.

The state laws enacted in 2018 aim to break down legal and other barriers to success in the courts, the workplace, the pardon process, and at the ballot box:

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Press release: New report on 2018 fair chance and expungement reforms (updated)

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the extraordinary number of laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  In the past twelve months, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted 61 new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime.  The CCRC report analyzes the past year’s lawmaking and summarizes all 61 new authorities, which include 57 statutes, 3 executive orders, and one ballot initiative.  The report, titled “Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: Fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018,” is available to download here

Last year saw the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013.  CCRC documented these earlier developments in reports on the 2013-2016 reforms and 2017 reforms.  In the period 2012–2018, every state legislature has in some way addressed the problem of reintegration.  Congress has not enacted any laws dealing with the problems presented by collateral consequences for more than a decade.

The state laws enacted in 2018 aim to break down legal and other barriers to success in the courts, the workplace, the pardon process, and at the ballot box:

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When does the Second Amendment protect a convicted person’s right to bear arms?

GUNSEarlier this month eight judges of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit blocked enforcement of a federal gun control law in two cases involving Pennsylvanians convicted of non-violent misdemeanors many years ago, invoking the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.  The appeals court affirmed lower court decisions upholding the constitutional right of Daniel Binderup and Julio Suarez to possess firearms despite the fact that they are barred by federal statute from doing so.  Seven other judges of the appeals court thought the Second Amendment should never be applied on a case-by-case basis to convicted individuals, and proposed that the federal statutory bar should determine the constitutional issue.  The 174-page appellate decision in Binderup v. Holder has been widely reported but only in the most general terms, and not always entirely accurately.

Other as-applied Second Amendment challenges to firearms dispossession statutes are percolating through the courts.  For example, Hamilton v. Palozzi will be argued next month in the Fourth Circuit, offering another opportunity for a court to hold that people convicted of non-violent crimes should not lose their firearms rights, there under a state dispossession statute rather than a federal one.  Because the constitutional issues may shortly be before the Supreme Court for resolution, it seemed worth taking a closer look at the Binderup holding.

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Misdemeanants win challenge to federal firearms law

The Third Circuit has held that the federal bar to gun possession by convicted individuals cannot constitutionally be applied to two misdemeanants convicted years ago who were not sentenced to prison.  In a fractured opinion, the Third Circuit sitting en banc ruled that the two challengers never lost their Second Amendment rights, and that the government offered no persuasive justification for depriving them of the right to bear arms.  Five concurring judges thought the ruling too narrow, and would have limited this collateral consequence to individuals posing a public safety risk.  Seven judges would not allow any “as applied” Second Amendment challenges to the federal bar to gun possession by convicted individuals.

We plan to post analyses of the opinion in coming days.  In the meantime, here is Gene Volokh’s analysis from the Washington Post:

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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.

 

President plans “aggressive” use of pardon power to commute drug sentences but perhaps not to relieve collateral consequences

HUFFFor the third time in six weeks, President Obama has spoken on the record about his intention to make more “aggressive” use of his pardon power in the final months of his term to commute long drug sentences.   It appears he really means it — and the only thing that may stop him from setting a modern record (perhaps even more impressive than the drug commutations of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) is the pace of recommendations coming from the Justice Department via Clemency Project 2014.  (Comments on his other recent statements are here and here.)

Hopefully the President will grant more full pardons as well, though his comments on that score have been less encouraging.

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NH Supreme Court takes aim at federal felon-in-possession statute

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In an important decision for firearms-related collateral consequences, the New Hampshire Supreme Court relied on the Second Amendment to carve out an exception to the so-called federal felon-in-possession statute, declining to follow relevant federal court precedents. At stake is whether state or federal courts have the last word on the scope of the exceptions in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20).  In DuPont v. Nashua Police Department, the court held that a man convicted of a misdemeanor DUI, who as a result lost his right to possess a firearm under state and federal law, was able to avoid federal firearms disability by virtue of the restoration of his state firearms rights, even though he lost none of the traditional “core” civil rights (vote, office, jury).  In order to get to this result, the court had to conclude that the right to possess a firearm is itself a civil right, whose loss and restoration under state law is sufficient to satisfy the “civil rights restored” requirement in 921(a)(20), thus creating a narrow but significant exception to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Logan v. United States.

While the holding in DuPont applies only to a limited class of misdemeanants (those who lost and regained state firearms rights), the decision may be the opening salvo in a state backlash against federal efforts to define the scope of state relief recognized in 921(a)(20).

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Putting teeth in Heller’s promise for people with a conviction: Second Amendment litigation round-up

1024px-Statue_in_Minute_Man_National_Historical_ParkAlan 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.

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