New Mexico a new leader in criminal record reforms

This year, New Mexico enacted three significant laws restoring rights and opportunities to people with a criminal record, continuing a recent trend of major reforms in this area. The three measures involve adopting most of the provisions of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, authorizing automatic expungement for a broad range of marijuana offenses as part of legalization, and expanding existing law regulating public employment and licensure to prohibit consideration of many types of convictions. A fourth new law significantly limits burdens imposed by court debt. These developments follow 2019 reforms introducing expungement into the state’s legal system for the very first time—through a comprehensive system of petition-based relief for most types of criminal records—and adopting a private sector ban-the-box law.

For these 2019 reforms, New Mexico earned an “honorable mention” for a productive legislative season in our reintegration report card for that year. This year’s noteworthy follow-up measures, summarized below, make New Mexico a contender for CCRC’s “reintegration champion” award in 2021.

Expungement and collateral consequences relief

Two years ago, New Mexico enacted a comprehensive expungement law that extended to most non-conviction records after a one-year waiting period, and to conviction records for all but the most serious violent and sexual crimes after conviction-free waiting periods ranging from two to ten years upon a court finding that “justice will be served.” (See the New Mexico profile of our Restoration of Rights Project for more details.) This year, New Mexico enacted SB 2, described in our report last month on marijuana legalization and expungement, which will automatically expunge a wide range of marijuana arrests and convictions.

In another major development, New Mexico became the second state (following Vermont) to adopt most of the provisions of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (UCCCA), by enacting SB 183. New Mexico’s UCCCA supplements its expungement laws in several ways, by authorizing relief from collateral consequences as early as sentencing, and by recognizing out-of-state record relief. It requires collection of all collateral consequences in state law and their publication on the internet. It requires defense counsel to notify their client about mandatory collateral consequences in preliminary proceedings and prior to entering into a plea, and the court and other government agencies are required to confirm such notice at sentencing and on release. Section 10 of New Mexico’s UCCCA authorizes the court on petition, at or after sentencing, to relieve one or more mandatory collateral consequences, “if granting the petition will materially assist the individual in obtaining or maintaining employment, education, housing, public benefits or occupational licensing” and generally facilitate the defendant’s reintegration. A Section 10 order is “evidence of a person’s due care in hiring, retaining, licensing, leasing to, admitting to a school or program or otherwise transacting business or engaging in activity with the individual to whom the order was issued if the person knew of the order at the time of the alleged negligence or other fault.”

Perhaps the most unusual and forward-looking features of New Mexico’s UCCCA, also adopted by Vermont, involve the relief extended to individuals with federal and out-of-state convictions: state agencies are required to recognize relief from other jurisdictions, and state courts are authorized to grant Section 10 relief to individuals with federal and out-of-state convictions. These steps toward coordinating relief across jurisdictions will hopefully not be lost on other state legislatures.  As CCRC’s board chair Jack Chin recognized in his introduction to our survey of the national landscape of record relief last fall,

In a mobile, federal society, relief must be coordinated across jurisdictions, including within a single state. Most jurisdictions impose collateral consequences based on out-of-jurisdiction convictions, but it is not so clear that they give effect to out-of-jurisdiction relief or open their own relief systems to outsiders. People should not, ideally, be required to seek relief from multiple jurisdictions to avoid collateral consequences flowing from a single conviction.

The New Mexico UCCCA excepts certain consequences related to sex offenses, driver’s license suspension, firearms dispossession, and law enforcement certification. The law is effective January 1, 2022, but will not affect imposition of a collateral consequence until six months after publication of the consequences provided for in Section 4.

Public employment and occupational licensing

The third new law, discussed in a posting last week, revised New Mexico’s 1970’s-era law regulating public employment and licensure to prohibit consideration of many different types of convictions, including those that have been expunged or pardoned, juvenile adjudications, and convictions that are “not recent enough and sufficiently job-related to be predictive of performance in the position sought, given the position’s duties and responsibilities.” The new law also prohibits consideration of misdemeanor convictions by public employers and licensing agencies, including even convictions involving sexual or violent conduct except in the narrowest circumstances, giving New Mexico the broadest misdemeanor protections in the nation.  (New Mexico’s public employers and licensing boards were already prohibited under existing law from considering non-conviction records, and felony convictions that were not “directly related” to the employment or occupation at issue.)

Relief from court debt

Another noteworthy new law, though not directly providing for record relief or restoration of rights, significantly limits the burdens imposed by court debt, particularly for juveniles. HB 183 requires the court to pay the cost of court-appointed counsel, as well as the cost of a court-appointed guardian ad litem and witness travel in juvenile cases. It also bars imposition of any court costs, fees or fines on juveniles. Fines and fees and other court costs are not only a significant burden on individuals and communities, but they may also serve as barriers to restoring voting rights, obtaining expungement, and pursuing economic opportunities.

Other relevant legislative action

New Mexico’s legislature left a House-passed bill on the table that would have restricted disenfranchisement to the period of actual incarceration.  It would also have directed efforts to encourage people leaving prison to register to vote.  We hope the legislature will return to the issue of voting when it reconvenes.