Upgrades to the Restoration of Rights Project

We are pleased to announce the completion of a major project to upgrade our flagship resource, the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP).  The RRP is a free on-line compendium of legal research that describes and analyzes the laws and practices relating to criminal record relief in the United States.  The improvements we have made will make it easier for our readers to gain both a snapshot and more detailed understanding of how record relief laws and policies operate within each of the 50 states, D.C., 2 territories, and the federal system.  They will also facilitate comparisons of how different states address various types of relief, producing a national-level picture against which each state can measure its progress.

This major undertaking was a collaboration between CCRC staff and four students at Yale Law School: Jordan Dannenberg, Kallie Klein, Jackson Skeen, and Tor Tarantola.  We thank these students, as well as YLS Professor Kate Stith, for their excellent contributions to our mission of promoting public engagement on the issues raised by the collateral consequences of arrest or conviction.

The state-by-state profiles, summaries and 50-state comparison charts from the RRP are what we rely on in preparing periodic and year-end summary reports on new legislation, which we track and add to the RRP in real time throughout the year.  The research and analysis in the RRP also informs our commentary on everything from new court decisions and scholarship to politics and practice, as well as the amicus briefs we file from time to time in significant litigation.  It is the foundation of our work on model legislation.  The RRP provided the raw material for a national overview report of record relief laws and policies, Forgiving and Forgetting in American Justice, which was last revised in August 2018.  Because of this report’s value in identifying overall patterns and emerging trends, we are already at work bringing it up to date with the more than 200 new laws passed since it was last revised.

Through the upgrade project we reorganized and expanded the RRP in three major ways.

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Prosecutors’ role in deciding how long people stay in prison

A timely new article from CCRC board member Nora V. Demleitner, law professor at Washington and Lee University, considers the central role of prosecutors in determining who goes to jail and prison and how long they stay there.  Demleitner reviews—as a “case study of prosecutorial authority”—prosecutors’ actions to reduce confined populations during the COVID-19 crisis.  While prosecutors’ key role in charging and sentencing at the front end of a criminal case is well-established, in ordinary times their influence in its later stages, including in prison release decisions, is not so obvious.  Professor Demleitner shows how the pandemic “highlights the tools prosecutors have at their disposal and how they can directly impact the size of the criminal justice system.”  This in turn leads her to consider how “prosecutorial thinking” focused on public safety as opposed to public health “increasingly influences other branches of government” even in the midst of a pandemic.

Professor Demleitner’s article, “State Prosecutors at the Center of Mass Imprisonment and Criminal Justice Reform,” will be published in the April 2020 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter.  The abstract is included below:

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Federal judge certifies class for landmark Florida felony voting trial

The monumental felony voting rights case in Florida moves another step forward, expanding in scope.  On Tuesday, the federal trial judge overseeing the case certified a class of all persons who have served sentences for felony convictions, who would be eligible to vote in Florida but for unpaid court debt.  With the trial scheduled to begin via remote communication on April 27, the decision enables the court to issue a ruling on the merits in time for the November election that would apply to the entire class of several hundred thousand (or more) potential Florida voters.

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Will restrictions on banking jobs be relaxed for people with a record?

More than two dozen organizations dedicated to improving employment opportunities for people with a criminal record have written to the FDIC urging that it give regulated financial institutions greater latitude to hire qualified people without having to ask the FDIC’s permission.  The occasion is the FDIC’s proposal to reduce to a formal rule its longstanding policy on employment of convicted individuals by banks, a proposal that suggests the FDIC may be open to giving banks more hiring autonomy by relaxing several controversial provisions.  For 20 years, the FDIC has kept a tight grip on banks, requiring them to obtain a waiver before they may hire anyone with a record even in an entry-level non-professional position.  In operation, this policy has been an effective bar to bank employment for most people with a conviction record (and even for some who have never been convicted).

The letter, organized by the National Employment Law Project and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, points out that FDIC’s exclusionary policy is not required by its enabling statute, and urges the agency to bring its policy on hiring waivers into line with national efforts to further reintegration, in several different ways, some of which are discussed below.  The letter cites the bipartisan federal Fair Chance Act and corresponding reforms in states across the country (as reported by CCRC), as well as many letters from bank industry leaders urging the FDIC to relax its rigid policy that has frustrated efforts to diversify the financial sector’s work force.

The comment below provides some background for the FDIC’s proposal, and comments on where some relaxation of its present policy is likely.  It concludes with a note about the generally confusing and inconsistent treatment of state relief mechanisms like expungement and pardon in federal laws and regulations, suggesting that this is an area sorely in need of further study and proposals for reform.

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COVID-19: State-by-state resources on how to use the pardon power

At this time of pandemic, we have been following the discussions of how jail, prison, and immigration detention conditions are highly concerning, including the very useful collection of links provided by Professor Doug Berman, the demands published by advocacy organizations, and the collection of policy responses by the Prison Policy Initiative.  We agree that every available legal mechanism must be enlisted to secure the release of prisoners and detainees who pose little or no threat to public safety, and whose health and safety are themselves severely threatened by their enforced captivity.  This includes the great constitutional powers given to governors and pardon boards.  We therefore commend our newly revised pardon resources to advocates and policy makers to support their advocacy and action.

While our pardon-related research focuses primarily on how the power is used to restore rights and status to those who are no longer in prison, much of our information about how the pardon process is structured and operates is relevant to how the power might be used (or is already being used) to commute prison sentences during the pandemic.  Our revised pardon resources are part of a major revision of the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project, not only to make sure its information is current in light of the many recent changes in the law, but also reorganizing and revising its resources for clarity and easier access.  In the process, we have updated and revamped our state-by-state material on how the pardon process operates in each jurisdiction, noting that the process has become more regular and productive in a few states in the past several years.

Our 50-state pardon comparison is organized into four sections:

  • Section 1 provides a chart comparing pardon policy and practice across jurisdictions.
  • Section 2 lists jurisdictions by frequency and regularity of their pardon grants.
  • Section 3 sorts jurisdictions by how the administration of the power is structured.
  • Section 4 provides state-by-state summaries of pardon policy and practice, with links to more detailed analysis and legal citations.

We hope this information will be helpful to advocates across the country as we work to keep all people safe and healthy, including those in our prisons and jails.

Legalizing marijuana and expunging records across the country

As the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana has now reached a majority of the states, the expungement of criminal records has finally attained a prominent role in the marijuana reform agenda.  Laws to facilitate marijuana expungement and other forms of record relief, such as sealing and set-aside, have now been enacted in more than a dozen states.  Most of these laws cover only very minor offenses involving small amounts of marijuana, and require individuals to file petitions in court to obtain relief.  But a handful of states have authorized streamlined record reforms that will do away with petition requirements and cover more offenses.  In the 2020 presidential race, Democratic candidates have called for wide-ranging and automatic relief for marijuana records.

Given these important developments that we expect will continue in the present legislative season, we have put together a chart providing a 50-state snapshot of:

(1) laws legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana;

(2) laws that specifically provide relief for past marijuana arrests and convictions, including but not limited to conduct that has been legalized or decriminalized; and

(3) pardon programs specific to marijuana offenses.

We hope this tool will help people assess the current state of marijuana reform and work to develop more expansive, accessible, and effective record relief.

As of this writing, 26 states, D.C., and one territory have legalized or decriminalized marijuana to some degree.  Eleven states and D.C. have done both.  Seventeen states and D.C. have enacted expungement, sealing, or set-aside laws specifically for marijuana, or targeted more generally to decriminalized or legalized conduct.  Four states have pardon programs for marijuana offenses.  Our 50-state chart documenting these laws is available here.  We will update this chart to cover new legislative developments as they occur.  For example, just this week both chambers of the Virginia legislature passed a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and limit access to records of such offenses.

This comment describes some of the history of marijuana decriminalization, legalization, and expungement reforms, recent trends, and the current state of the law in this area.  It attempts to provide evidence for what Professor Douglas A. Berman recently described as the “linking and leveraging” of the marijuana reform and expungement movements.

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New Jersey steps out as Reintegration Champion of 2019

Editors’ note: CCRC recently released its report on 2019 criminal record reforms, which recognized New Jersey as the “Reintegration Champion” of 2019, for having the most consequential legislative record of any state in the past year.  The following comment describes New Jersey’s laws enacted in 2019.  New Jersey’s various restoration of rights laws are further described in the state’s profile in the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project.

In December 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S4154, now L.2019, c.269, as part of his Second Chance Agenda.  The law is a strong step towards criminal justice reform, and places New Jersey on the map as a leader in expungement policy.  Along with easing access to the existing expungement process,  it creates a new “clean slate” system that provides for expungement of all but the most serious violent offenses after ten years. It additionally sets in motion a process aiming to automate all clean slate expungements.  The substantive provisions of the law are set to go into effect on June 15, 2020, and we anticipate a large increase in expungements following its implementation.

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Report Card: Grading states on 2019 record reforms

The following is an excerpt from our recent annual report on legislative reforms, Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019.

Report Card

For the first time this year we have prepared a “Report Card” on how state legislatures performed in 2019 in advancing the goals of reintegration.  We have not covered all states, only those we thought most and least productive.  We hope this new feature of our annual reports will provide an incentive to legislatures across the nation, and a tool for legislative advocates.

New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.

In this inaugural year, New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.  New Jersey’s “Clean Slate” law authorized an automated record-clearing process for many thousands of misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades, and extended eligibility and improved procedures for petition-based discretionary expungement  relief.  New Jersey enacted two other important laws promoting reintegration.  One limited felony disenfranchisement to people in prison, immediately restoring the vote to about 80,000 people still completing their sentences in the community.  Unlike the executive orders that have this effect in New York and Kentucky, New Jersey’s law will not be easily retracted when the statehouse changes hands.  Another new law repealed provisions mandating suspension of driver’s licenses for conviction of drug and other non-driving crimes, for failure to pay court debt, and for failure to pay child support.

In commending New Jersey’s legislative accomplishments, we would be remiss not to recognize the key role played by Governor Phil Murphy in making criminal record reform the cornerstone of his legislative agenda, and by key legislative leaders, who together persuaded the legislature to enact in a single year a bolder set of reintegration laws than any other in the country to the present time.[i]

As runner-up, Colorado enacted 10 laws on criminal records, voting rights, ban-the-box, and immigration.

Colorado is runner up for our new Reintegration Champion award, based on a prolific legislative record that is a close second to New Jersey’s.  In 2019 Colorado enacted ten record reform laws, among them an ambitious rewriting of its code chapter on criminal records, a law restoring voting rights to parolees and one extending ban-the-box to private employers, and two new measures to avoid deportation as a consequence of conviction. Colorado’s productive 2019 followed an almost equally productive 2018, when its legislature regulated occupational licensing agencies and gave its courts authority to remove mandatory collateral penalties.

Honorable mention goes to 6 states (IL, MS, NV, NM, ND, WV) for productive legislative seasons, while 5 other states (AR, DE, CA, NY, UT) were recognized for a specific notable new law.    

Honorable mention for a productive legislative season goes to six states: Illinois and Nevada (with nine and eight laws, respectively, some significant); New Mexico and North Dakota (for their comprehensive first-ever record-sealing schemes, and ban-the-box bills);  Mississippi (for its extensive regulation of occupational licensing, management of diversion courts, and repeal of mandatory driver’s license penalties for drug and other non-driving crimes); and West Virginia (for two significant laws, on record relief and occupational licensing, as well as a diversion bill).  Five additional states deserve recognition for notable enactments:  Arkansas for a major revision of its occupational licensing law; California and Utah for their automated record relief laws (though Utah’s scheme is not as far-reaching as New Jersey’s, and California’s is prospective only); New York for two measures to limit access to undisposed (pending) cases; and Delaware for its first comprehensive expungement scheme.

Low marks go to three of the seven states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2019: the legislatures of Alaska, Georgia, and Michigan have been the least productive in the land in recent years where restoration of rights and status is concerned.  Kansas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania also produced no new laws in 2019, but all four states enacted major record reforms in 2018 so we give them a pass.

We conclude by noting that many of the states not mentioned in this inaugural Report Card made progress last year in limiting access to and use of criminal records, and we were hard-pressed not to single a few more of them out for credit.  It is clear to us that almost every state sees criminal record reform as an important and challenging legislative agenda.  We anticipate that in 2020 states that have been comparatively cautious in their recent law-making will be inspired to take larger steps as they see what more ambitious jurisdictions have already been able to accomplish.

Note: In response to this report, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tweeted:

Read the full report here.

[i] See, e.g., Governor Murphy’s statement accompanying his “conditional veto” in August 2019 of an early version of the bill that would become the Clean Slate law that he signed on December 19, 2019.  In that statement, after applauding the legislature’s extension of eligibility for petition-based expungement, he noted the example set by Pennsylvania’s own Clean Slate law the year before:

“Only those individuals who actually apply for an expungement, meaning those who are aware of this potential remedy and have the wherewithal to navigate the legal process or afford an attorney to assist them, would be able to seek the relief afforded by the expungement process. This method is not the most efficient means for clean slate expungement, nor will it deliver relief to all eligible individuals who need it. To avoid this shortcoming, we should follow the lead of Pennsylvania and undertake the necessary steps to establish an automated, computerized expungement system that would allow people with multiple convictions for less serious, non-violent crimes who maintain a clean record for ten years to clear their criminal histories without having to hire a lawyer or wade through a paperwork-intensive process. Our system is not set up to do this now, and undertaking this task will require buy-in and commitment from all three branches of government. On behalf of the executive branch, that is a commitment I am more than willing to make.”

See https://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/news/562019/docs/S3205CV.pdf.  Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin were particularly effective partners in the negotiations that resulted in the bill that was approved by the legislature in December.

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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New 2019 laws on immigration consequences and driver’s license suspension

This is the fifth and final comment on new 2019 laws restoring rights or delivering record relief.  The laws included cover immigration consequences, driver’s licenses, pardon procedures, and several miscellaneous topics.  The full report on 2019 laws is available here.

Immigration consequences

In 2019, four states took steps enabling non-citizens charged with offenses to avoid deportation based on sentence or guilty plea.  Colorado, New York, and Utah capped prison sentences for misdemeanors at 364 days, to avoid mandatory deportation based on a one-year prison sentence, with the first two states giving the law retroactive effect.  New York also restricted the dissemination of certain criminal record information to federal immigration authorities.  Oregon revised its law on deferred judgments to prohibit guilty pleas that would trigger deportability.  Oregon also, along with Nevada, regulated the questioning of criminal defendants or detained individuals about their immigration status.

  • Colorado passed three laws aimed at mitigating the immigration consequences of conviction.   The first two relate to mandatory deportation for state misdemeanors carrying a potential one-year sentence.  See 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2).  To avoid this consequence, Colorado reduced the maximum jail sentence for various offenses from one year to 364 days. (HB 1148; HB 1263).  Colorado also authorized individuals to withdraw guilty pleas where they had pled guilty pursuant to a deferred adjudication or drug offense dismissal scheme, and thereby unknowingly exposed themselves to immigration consequences (federal immigration law treats such pleas as convictions, even though state law may not, see 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(48)(A), 1227(a)(2)) (S 30).
  • New York not only capped misdemeanor penalties at 364 days, but it gave the provision retroactive effect by authorizing resentencing in cases where the penalty originally imposed would result in “severe collateral consequences.”  (S 1505).  In addition, New York barred access by federal immigration authorities to some motor vehicle records, which may include criminal record information (A3675).
  • Utah reduced the maximum prison term for misdemeanors to “one year with a credit for one day,” but made no provision for retroactive application (HB 244).
  • Oregon removed a guilty plea requirement from the controlled substances diversion statute, making this benefit available to non-citizens without exposing them to deportation (HB 3201).  The law specifically provides that “[e]ntering into a probation agreement does not constitute an admission of guilt” and is “not sufficient to warrant a finding or adjudication of guilt by a court.”  As noted in the diversion section, however, the bill added a provision requiring defendants to agree to pay restitution to victims and court-appointed counsel fees as a condition of participation, with no provision for waiver.  Another new Oregon law prohibits a criminal court from inquiring about a defendant’s immigration status, and requires the court to allow a defendant additional time to consider a plea after being informed of immigration consequences (HB 2932).  Last year Oregon limited sentences for minor crimes to 364 days to avoid deportation (much as Colorado, New York and Utah did this year).
  • Nevada passed a law prohibiting anyone from questioning a person in a jail or other detention facility about their immigration status, unless they first informed the detainee of the purpose of the questioning (AB 376).

In addition, Indiana reduced selected misdemeanors to non-criminal civil infractions, taking them out ac riminal category, and avoiding immigration consequences (SB 336).

Driver’s License Suspension 

Six states repealed laws mandating suspension of a driver’s license for non-driving offenses.

  • Mississippi (HB 1352) and New York (S 1505) repealed provisions making loss of a driver’s license a mandatory penalty for a drug crime.
  • Montana (HB 217) and Virginia (HB 1700) repealed laws mandating suspension of a driver’s license for failure to pay court costs.
  • New Jersey addressed both of these issues, repealing provisions mandating suspension of driver’s licenses for conviction of drug and other crimes, and for failure to pay court debt (S1080).
  • Florida modified or deleted provisions for driver’s license suspension or revocation for underage tobacco and alcohol sales or consumption, misdemeanor theft, and drug crimes (HB 7125).Fla. Stat. §§ 569.11, 877.112, 562.11, 562.111, 812.0155, 322.055, 322.056.

In addition, Minnesota authorized cities and counties to create a driver’s license reinstatement diversion program (SF 8).

Housing discrimination

Illinois extended two laws, including its Human Rights Law, to bar private parties’ reliance on certain criminal records to deny housing.  Previously both laws applied only to employment.

  • Illinois barred housing discrimination through an amendment to its Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination based on “arrest record” in any “real estate transaction,” including both rental and sale of real property. The term “arrest record” was defined to include non-conviction records, juvenile adjudications, and sealed or expunged convictions.  (SB1780).  (This same enactment also extended the Law’s employment discrimination provisions to non-conviction records, since the other categories of records were already covered.)
  • Illinois also extended the effect of its certificate of good conduct to lift mandatory licensing and housing bars, in additional to employment bars. (SB 3580).  However, a certificate of good conduct does not limit any employer, landlord, judicial proceeding, administrative, licensing, or other body, board, or authority from accessing criminal background information; nor does it hide, alter, or expunge the record.  Nor does the existence of a certificate of good conduct does not preclude a landlord or an administrative, licensing, or other body, board, or authority from retaining full discretion to grant or deny the application for housing or licensure.

Pardon procedure 

Nevada and South Dakota took steps to further streamline their already productive pardon systems.

  • The Nevada legislature proposes to repeal a requirement in the state constitution that the governor must approve all clemency grants by the Board of Pardons Commissioners, on which the governor sits as a member (SJR 1A). This proposal, which also requires the Board to meet at least quarterly, must be approved by popular vote in 2020.
  • The South Dakota legislature authorized a hearing panel of the Board of Pardons to make clemency recommendations to the governor, rather than the entire Board as under preexisting law. (HB1005).

Miscellaneous relief provisions

Among the more notable miscellaneous collateral consequences provisions enacted in 2019 is Utah’s new law giving courts new authority to terminate sex offender registration obligations, and loosening restrictions on driver’s licenses for people on the registry.  Another interesting new law is Connecticut’s establishment of a high-level study group to make recommendations on reducing various forms of discrimination based on criminal history.

  • Utah loosened restrictions on registered sex offenders, including rescinding a requirement that they renew driver’s licenses annually, expanding the number of offenses that qualify for removal from the registry after 5 years, and enacting a new provision authorizing the court to terminate registration after 10 years (HB298).
  • Connecticut established a “Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record,” composed of high-ranking members of the legislature and the executive branch and representatives of advocacy groups and unions, and charged it with making recommendations by February 1, 2020, for legislation to reduce or eliminate discrimination based on criminal history (HB6921).
  • Louisiana relaxed restrictions on fostering and adoption for people with convictions (HB 112).
  • New York outlawed release of booking information and “mugshots” by police departments without a law enforcement purpose (S1505).
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