Florida’s vote restoration process held unconstitutional

In a strongly-worded opinion, a federal judge has ruled that Florida’s method of restoring voting rights to individuals convicted of felonies violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  In Hand v. Scott, a suit brought by seven individuals either denied restoration of rights by the State Clemency Board or ineligible to apply, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker held that Florida’s “arbitrary” and “crushingly restrictive” restoration scheme, in which “elected, partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards,” violates rights of free speech and association, and risks viewpoint and other discrimination.

As reported in this local press article, Governor Scott’s office issued a statement late Thursday, hinting at an appeal.  Scott was the principal architect of the current system that requires all applicants for clemency to wait at least five years after they complete their sentences, serve probation and pay all restitution, before they may be considered for restoration of the vote and other civil rights.  Throughout his 43-page ruling, Judge Walker cited the arbitrariness of Florida’s system, noting that people have been denied their voting rights because they received speeding tickets or failed to pay child support.

Scott and the Cabinet, meeting as a clemency board, consider cases four times a year, and usually fewer than 100 cases each time. It can take a decade or longer for a case to be heard, and at present the state has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases. Scott imposed the restrictions in 2011, soon after he was elected, with the support of three fellow Republicans who serve on the Cabinet, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, now a leading candidate for governor. Scott’s actions in 2011 reversed a policy under which many felons, not including murderers and sex offenders, had their rights restored without application process and hearings. That streamlined process was instituted in 2007 by former Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican and now a Democratic member of Congress.

The context in which the case was decided is described in this NPR article.  Last month, Florida elections officials approved a November ballot measure that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences, with exceptions for murder and serious sex offenses.

Michigan sex offender registration law held unconstitutional

On January 24, the Michigan Supreme Court held the state’s sex offender registration scheme unconstitutional on due process grounds as applied to one Boban Temelkoski.  Temelkoski had pleaded guilty under a youthful offender statute with the expectation that no collateral consequences would attach to the disposition if he successfully completed its conditions.  However, several years later a registration requirement was enacted and applied retroactively to his case.  Because the court decided Temelkoski’s case on due process grounds, it did not need to address arguments that application of the registration statute to him constituted constitutionally impermissible punishment.  However, the court hinted in dicta how it might decide that issue, stating that “It is undisputed that registration under SORA constitutes a civil disability.”  While a win is a win, we must wait another day for a decision on the constitutionality of Michigan’s registration scheme under the Ex Post Facto Clause and the State’s version of the Eighth Amendment.

An analysis of the Temelkoski decision by Asli Bashir, a 2017 graduate of Yale Law School, follows.

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CCRC files amicus brief in Illinois sex offender case

The CCRC has filed an amicus brief in the Illinois Supreme Court in support of the appellant in People v. Bingham, a case challenging the constitutionality of a state law requiring registration as a “sexual predator” based on the commission of a non-sexual offense.  The relevant facts of the case are as follows.

Jerome Bingham was convicted of attempted sexual assault in 1983 and served several years in prison on that charge.  At the time, Illinois did not have a sex offender registration requirement.  Thereafter, Bingham was convicted of a number of petty drug and theft offenses.  In 2012, Illinois enacted an amendment to its sex offender registration act (SORA) providing that its registration requirement would apply retroactively to anyone who had previously committed a qualifying sex offense and, subsequent to the 2012 act, committed any felony.  In 2013, Bingham stole goods worth $72 from a K-Mart storage lot.  Although this would ordinarily have been a misdemeanor, the fact that he had a prior similar offense permitted it to be charged as a felony, which it was, thereby subjecting him to the sex offender registration requirement.

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Sex offender passport law survives challenge

anchor_service_passportA federal judge in San Francisco has dismissed a constitutional challenge to the recently enacted International Megan’s Law, which requires specially-marked passports for registered sex offenders whose offenses involved child victims, and authorizes notification to foreign governments when they travel.  The so-called “Scarlet Letter” law is specifically aimed at stopping child sex trafficking and sex tourism, and this purpose was evidently enough to justify it even though it has a far broader effect.

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New Yorker comments on collateral consequences

Lincoln Caplan writes in this week’s New Yorker about Judge Frederic Block’s decision last week to reduce a woman’s prison sentence because of the life-altering collateral penalties she faced on account of her drug conviction.  After describing the facts of the case and the judge’s reasoning, Caplan concludes with the following comments about what Jeremy Travis has called “invisible ingredients in the legislative menu of criminal sanctions”:

The main conclusion of the judge’s opinion is that, while the law allowed him to take account of the civil penalties when he sentenced her, there was nothing he could do to protect her from them. He joined criminal-justice experts in encouraging Congress and state legislatures “to determine whether the plethora of post-sentence punishments imposed upon felons is truly warranted,” and suggested that they do the country “more harm than good.” He didn’t say so, but for many legislatures that would mean carefully assessing these punishments for the first time. As the criminal-justice scholar Jeremy Travis wrote, in 2002, legislatures have often adopted collateral consequences in unaccountable ways: “as riders to other, major pieces of legislation,” which are “given scant attention.” They are, Travis said, “invisible ingredients in the legislative menu of criminal sanctions.”

The judge made clear why the severity of collateral consequences—authorizing discrimination in education, employment, housing, and many other basic elements of American life—means that anyone convicted of a felony is likely to face an arduous future. This predicament has been called modern civil death, social exclusion, and internal exile. Whatever it is called, its vast array of penalties kicks in automatically with a conviction, defying the supposedly bedrock principle of American law that the punishment must fit the crime.

One of the most significant things about Mr. Caplan’s comments is that they make clear he believes collateral consequences are “punishment,” not “regulation,” and should be treated as such.  Courts are beginning to regard them as such as well for purposes of applying constitutional principles.  See, for example, the three cases now pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where the validity of the state’s new sex offender registration scheme is at stake. States are increasingly looking at lifetime registration as punishment under their own state constitutions.  So it should not be long before the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to reconsider its 2003 holdings that such collateral consequences are immune from constitutional challenge based on the Due Process and Ex Post Facto clauses.

Scarlet Letter law can move forward — for now

1016829040562382727EwjStKwcA federal judge in the Northern District of California has declined to block enforcement of the so-called “Scarlet Letter” provision of the recently-enacted International Megan’s Law (IML). U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled on April 12 that a challenge to the requirement that sex offenders’ passports be marked with a unique identifier was not ripe for injunctive relief, “because significant steps must be taken before the passport identifier can be implemented,” and because “it is unclear how the provision will be implemented.” The court also held that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge a separate IML provision requiring notification of a registered sex offender’s intended foreign travel.

Respecting the IML passport identifier provision, the court pointed out that

the statutory language makes clear that no such requirement is yet in effect, and that it will not take effect until after the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State and the Attorney General have developed a process for implementation, submitted a joint report to Congress regarding this proposed process, and, finally, certified that the process has been successfully implemented. See IML §§ 8(f), 9(a)-(b).

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Challenge to “Scarlet Letter” travel law moves forward

passportLast week a federal judge heard the first arguments in a lawsuit challenging certain provisions of the recently-enacted International Megan’s Law (IML),* including one mandating that the passport of any American required to register for a sex offense involving a minor be marked in “a conspicuous location” with a “unique identifier” of their sex offender status.  Other challenged provisions of the law authorize the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to notify destination nations of forthcoming visits from those individuals. On Wednesday the court heard a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block enforcement of the challenged provisions of the law pending the suit’s final outcome. See Doe v. Kerry, Case 3:16-cv-00654 (N.D. Ca.).

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Employment bars in long-term health care facilities declared unconstitutional

A few days ago we received the following communique from Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, announcing a major litigation victory that will be welcome news across the country.  On December 30 a unanimous 7-judge appeals court struck down the provisions of the Pennsylvania Older Americans Protective Services Act barring employment of people with criminal records in long-term health care facilities such as nursing homes and home health care agencies.  The provisions declared unconstitutional on due process grounds law include lifetime employment bans for offenses as minor as misdemeanor theft, which Sharon notes “prevented many Pennsylvanians with criminal records from working in that entire burgeoning field.”  The decision in Peake v. Commonwealth is here, and NPR’s report on the decision is here.

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Lawsuit challenges Pennsylvania bar to nursing home employment

An effective NPR piece tells the story of Tyrone Peake, a Pennsylvania man whose 1981 conviction for attempted theft barred him from employment as a caregiver in a nursing home, despite training and certification that qualified him for the job.  The state law making people with a felony record absolutely ineligible for employment in any health care facility in the state was was held unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court 15 years ago on equal protection grounds.  However, it remains on the books and enforced despite repeated rulings by lower courts invalidating it in particular cases.  Now another lawsuit has been filed, with Mr. Peake as one of the plaintiffs, that seeks to put an end to this broad and unfair collateral sanction once and for all.  The lawsuit is described in the following article from the website of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, one of the law’s challengers.   Read more

Georgia high court extends Padilla to parole eligibility

The Supreme Court of Georgia has extended the doctrine of Padilla v. Kentucky to a failure to advise about parole eligibility.  In Alexander v. State, decided on May 11, a defendant sentenced to a 15-year prison term for child molestation sought to set aside his guilty plea on grounds that his defense counsel had not warned him that, as a recidivist, he would not be eligible for parole.  The Georgia high court agreed that this failure constituted deficient performance under the doctrine of Strickland v. Washington, overruling its 1999 precedent holding that the Sixth Amendment did not require a defense lawyer to advise a client about this “collateral consequence” of conviction. The Georgia court distinguished its 2010 post-Padilla decision declining to find a warning by the court necessary, finding a clear constitutional distinction between defense counsel’s Sixth Amendment obligation to advise a client considering a guilty plea and the court’s due process obligation to warn a defendant in the same situation.

At the same time, the court declined to approve a lower court’s earlier extension of Padilla to sex offender registration, reserving for another day the question whether this consequence is “a drastic measure” that is “intimately related” to the criminal case.  Most of the post-Padilla decisions involving parole eligibility have rested on the dubious pre-Padilla erroneous advice exception to the collateral consequences rule, an exception that the Alexander court firmly rejected.

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