District of Columbia
 Restoration of Rights, Pardon, Expungement & Sealing

    Last updated: Jan. 2, 2015 ContentsI.  Restoration of Civil/Firearms RightsA.  VoteB.  Office, JuryC.  FirearmsD.  Collateral Consequences ReportII.  Discretionary Restoration Mechanisms:A.  Executive pardonB.  Judicial sealing or expungementMisdemeanor Convictions and Non-conviction RecordsEligibilityProcedure and criteriaBurdens of proofCourt reviewEffectAssistanceJuvenile Adjudication RecordsYouth Rehabilitation ActIII.  Nondiscrimination in Licensing and EmploymentMunicipal Hiring – Ban-the-Box PolicyLimitation on Employer LiabilityLicensure of non-health related occupationsLicensure of health-related professions I. […]

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District of Columbia clemency authority sought

On March 28, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced a bill that would give the District of Columbia exclusive authority, like states and U.S. territories, to grant clemency for criminal convictions under its laws. The District of Columbia Home Rule Clemency Act is part of Norton’s “Free and Equal D.C.” series. While D.C. law appears to give the mayor authority to grant clemency (D.C. Code 1–301.76), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has opined that the mayor’s clemency authority, if any, is very narrow, and that the President of the United States has authority to grant clemency in all D.C. criminal cases and exclusive authority for D.C. felonies. Under current practice, clemency petitions for D.C. convictions, like federal convictions, are submitted to the Department of Justice for the President’s consideration. In Norton’s bill, clemency includes pardons, reprieves, or commutations of sentence.

In introducing the bill, Norton said “The District, like states and territories, should have full control of its local criminal justice system, the most basic responsibility of local government. Since the D.C. Council has the authority to enact local laws, District officials are in the best position to grant clemency for local law convictions . . . .  This bill is an important step in establishing further autonomy for the District in its own local affairs.” Norton’s full introductory statement is below.  The text of H.R. 1765 has not yet been posted; we link the text of an earlier bill introduced by Congresswoman Norton in January 2016.

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District of Columbia
Restoration of Rights & Record Relief

   Last updated:  December 22, 2023 ContentsI.  Loss & restoration of civil/firearms rightsA.  VoteB.  Office, juryC.  FirearmsD.  Collateral consequences reportII.  Pardon policy & practiceA.  AuthorityB.  FrequencyIII.  Expungement, sealing, and other record relief  A. Overview   B.  Sealing of convictions and non-conviction records  C.  Criteria for sealing   D. Procedures and burden of proof  E.  Effect of sealing   F.  Deferred dispositions G.  Expungement for […]

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District of Columbia

Restoration of Rights Project – District of Columbia Profile Guide to restoration of rights, pardon, sealing & expungement following a Washington, D.C. criminal conviction Criminal Background Checks and Access to Jobs: A Case Study of Washington, DC Urban Institute (2017) Beyond Second Chances: Returning Citizens’ Re-entry Struggles and Successes in the District of Columbia Council For Court Excellence (2016) Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions under […]

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“Advancing Second Chances: Clean Slate and Other Record Reforms in 2023”

At the beginning of each year since 2016, CCRC has issued a report on legislative enactments in the year just ended, describing and evaluating new laws aimed at reducing the barriers faced by people with a criminal record in the workplace, at the ballot box, and in many other areas of daily life. This year’s report, “Advancing Second Chances: Clean Slate and Other Record Reforms in 2023,” is now available.

Our annual legislative reports have documented the steady progress of what we characterized three years ago as “a full-fledged law reform movement” aimed at restoring rights and dignity to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system. Between 2018 and 2022, more than 500 new record reforms were enacted by all but two states.  

Last year we reported that the legislative momentum had slowed somewhat, and this year it has slowed still further.  Only a handful of states enacted significant new record reforms in 2023, most in the form of new record-clearing schemes. We attribute this slowdown in part to how much has been accomplished in legislatures across the country in the past seven years. For example, more than half the states now allow people with a felony conviction to vote unless they are actually incarcerated, a number that has doubled since 2016.  In addition, most states have also taken steps to limit public access to some criminal records, and to ensure that employers and licensing agencies do not discriminate against people with a criminal history. Many have extended diversionary dispositions well beyond the class of first offenders who were uniquely eligible for non-conviction relief a decade ago. 

In 2023, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted 36 separate pieces of legislation and took executive action to restore rights and opportunities to people with an arrest or conviction history.

As in past years, more than half of the new laws in 2023 involved individual record clearing. Because of the significant progress on this front in recent years, many of the laws enacted in 2022 represent measured changes to existing record relief schemes rather than radical new reforms. Nonetheless, three states enacted major new automatic “clean slate” record schemes while others expanded eligibility for petition-based sealing. A handful of states continued to remove marijuana convictions from public view, and still other states trimmed barriers to relief by automating the application process, reducing waiting periods, or eliminating obstacles represented by outstanding court debt (fines and fees).

In addition, many of the new laws limited consideration of criminal records in economic settings, regulating employment and occupational licensing, or removing barriers to restoring a driver’s license.  The U.S. Small Business Administration took important steps toward eliminating restrictions in federally guaranteed loans.

Our sixth annual legislative report card (Reintegration Awards for 2023, reprinted below) recognizes the most productive legislatures in 2023, and notes that there are now only two states that have enacted no record reforms since our reporting began in 2016. As in the past, the state legislatures that have enacted the most significant reforms span the political spectrum, from Minnesota and New York to Louisiana and South Carolina.

Detailed analysis of most of these new laws is available in the state profiles from CCRC’s Restoration of Rights Project, with a national overview in our 50-state comparison charts on various types of record relief.

Reintegration Awards for 2023

While half a dozen states enacted noteworthy laws in 2023, one state stands out for the quantity and quality of its legislation: Minnesota is our 2023 Reintegration Champion for its passage of three major pieces of record reform legislation, and several other less significant yet still noteworthy laws.

  • Minnesota – Enacted four separate laws, one of which was an omnibus criminal justice bill that accomplished several entirely independent major record reforms. The omnibus bill enacted a significant expansion of the state’s statutory expungement scheme and made most of it automatic. It also accomplished a complete overhaul of the state’s pardon process to facilitate more grants. As part of a bill that legalized marijuana, it authorized automatic expungement of misdemeanor convictions and created a new board to review nonviolent felony convictions for potential expungement. If more were necessary, it limited felony disenfranchisement to a period of actual incarceration, capped sentences for gross misdemeanors to avoid immigration consequences, extended ban-the-box to multimember agencies, and further eased the drug felony ban on SNAP and TANF benefits.

Another six states and the District of Columbia earned an Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one significant new record reform:

  • District of Columbia: DC replaced one of the most complex and restrictive record-clearing schemes in the country with an expansive one that makes all but the most serious felonies eligible for relief, and includes some automatic relief. Its major shortcoming is that it is presently not scheduled to take effect for several more years.
  • Maryland: Cut in half what were among the longest waiting periods in the country for record-clearing, from 10 years after completion of sentence to five years for misdemeanors and from 15 years to 7 years for felonies. Maryland also provided that any unpaid court fees or costs will not bar expungement, and made expungement of non-conviction records automatic.
  • New York: The Clean Slate Act substantially expanded sealing eligibility from a rather stingy maximum of two convictions (only one of which could be a felony) to all misdemeanors and all but the most serious felonies, without numerical limits, making New York’s automatic record-clearing law the broadest in the Nation by far. It also reduced some waiting periods.
  • New Mexico – Limited felony disenfranchisement to actual incarceration and encouraged registration during reentry; limited suspension of driver’s license due to unpaid court debt and allowed discharge of court debt through community service; and, extended automatic expungement of marijuana convictions to juvenile adjudications.
  • Ohio – Extended eligibility for sealing to additional categories of felonies, shortened waiting periods, authorized prosecutor-initiated sealing, and created a new authority for expungement after an additional waiting period. The law also authorized courts to seal the record of pardoned cases on the same basis as non-conviction records.
  • South Carolina – Significantly limited the discretion of the state’s licensing boards to deny licensure to people with criminal records. The law added new procedural protections for applicants with a record and prohibited boards from using arbitrary character determinations, non-conviction records, and convictions that do not “directly relate” to the license at hand, as a basis to disqualify applicants.

Low marks go once again to two of the states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2023. While there are many other states in this category this year, the legislatures of Alaska and Wisconsin have earned their place at the bottom of the heap for having been equally unproductive since 2018, a period in which almost every other state passed at least some law limiting access to and use of criminal records.  Wisconsin’s one saving grace is the extraordinary record of pardoning by its governor:  Barely into his second term,Tony Evers has pardoned more than 1100 individuals, 833 in the last two years alone.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to 2024, we are cautiously optimistic that even in a presidential election year there will be a continuing expansion of eligibility for record clearing, and reduction of access barriers like lengthy waiting periods, outstanding court debt and application-related costs. We also predict efforts to improve records management to accommodate automation of record clearance. We look for further facilitation of occupational licensing, an area where bipartisan reforms have benefitted from helpful model laws, and for efforts to support entrepreneurship by people with a criminal history. We have come a long way just in the past five years, but there is still a long way to go.

Round-up of 2023 record-clearing laws

In a year that saw fewer criminal record reforms enacted than in the recent past, six states plus the District of Columbia took significant steps to expand their sealing and expungement laws.

Minnesota, New York, and the District of Columbia enacted the most ambitious record-clearing schemes, expanding eligibility for relief while also making some relief automatic for the first time. Louisiana continued to resist a full “clean slate” approach, but established an automated application system that should make it easier for individuals to seek expungement once the legislature reduces the sky-high statutory application fee. Like Louisiana, Maryland significantly improved its record relief system even without changing eligibility criteria, including by cutting waiting periods in half. Ohio and Pennsylvania expanded eligibility for petition-based sealing and reduced waiting periods, with Pennsylvania also extending automatic relief to some drug felonies.

These seven reforms are described in greater detail below, in approximate order of importance.  Further analysis of each state’s new law can be found in the relevant state profile from the Restoration of Rights Project.  All in all, considering the relatively few record reforms in other categories enacted in 2023, they make for a surprisingly productive year for record clearing.

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Many States Still Deny SNAP and TANF Benefits to People with a Drug Felony, According to a New Report

 

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 6, 2023

Media Contact:
Nick Sibilla

nick@ccresourcecenter.org

David Hebert
dhebert@arnoldventures.org

Many States Still Deny SNAP and TANF Benefits to People with a Drug Felony, According to a New Report

Washington, D.C. — Almost half the states still exclude thousands of Americans with a drug felony in their past from receiving essential public benefits, according to a new nationwide study released today by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) with support from Arnold Ventures.

A provision in President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform law imposed a lifetime ban on eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for anyone convicted of a drug felony. However, the federal law permitted states to opt out of one or both bans or to modify them with their own conditions.

CCRC’s report, “Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws,” offers a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the differing ways states have responded to this federal ban, including relevant sections of statutory text to facilitate analysis and comparison.

Today, 25 states, plus the District of Columbia, have opted out of both bans on SNAP and TANF. But a surprising number of states remain committed in some fashion to this outdated artifact of the War on Drugs.

CCRC’s report focuses on those states that have modified the federal ban by enacting their own conditions on access to benefits – 18 states for TANF and 20 states for SNAP.  In many cases these so-called “modified opt-outs” require applicants for benefits to participate in drug treatment programs and frequent drug-testing independent of any conditions imposed by the sentencing court and regardless of individual need.

“Research has found that conditions on benefits that require compliance with state-imposed behavioral requirements are counterproductive, and hardly less punitive than an outright ban,” said Margaret Love, CCRC’s Executive Director and the report’s co-author.

Some states limit the kinds of drug convictions that qualify for benefits, so that lifetime bars remain in place for drug trafficking convictions no matter how dated. Other states require waiting periods before benefits begin that frequently run from release from prison, a time when a person’s need for support is greatest.

“There is strong evidence that bans and restrictive conditions on public benefits do not improve community safety and, to the contrary, may increase crime and harm school achievement and wellbeing outcomes for children of impacted people with records,” said Juliene James, vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures. “This report is a great resource for advocates and lawmakers who are interested in reforming this ineffective practice.”

The report also found that in just in the last four years eight states have taken steps to move from full or modified bans to a full opt out for both types of benefits. Pennsylvania is the only state during this period that moved the other way, from full opt out back to modified bans for both SNAP and TANF that are among the toughest in the country. In Congress, Sens. Cory Booker and Raphael Warnock have introduced a bill to repeal the SNAP ban, but there has been no similar effort in Congress to jettison the ban on TANF.

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ABOUT CCRC

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization that researches laws and policies relating to restoration of rights and criminal record relief throughout the country, whose work makes it possible to see national patterns and emerging trends in efforts to mitigate the adverse impact of a criminal record. For more information visit https://ccresourcecenter.org/.   

ABOUT ARNOLD VENTURES

Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. Driven by a mission to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice, it invests in sustainable change, building it from the ground up based on research, deep thinking, and a strong foundation of evidence. Arnold Ventures is headquartered in Houston, with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. For more information about Arnold Ventures, visit www.arnoldventures.org

 

Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws

We are pleased to present a new report, “Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws.” This report offers a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the differing ways states have responded to the 1996 federal ban on access to SNAP and TANF benefits for those with a felony drug conviction, either by opting out of the ban or by modifying it, and includes illustrative maps and relevant sections of statutory text to facilitate analysis and comparison.

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The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) imposed a lifetime ban on federal food assistance benefits (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for anyone with a drug felony conviction obtained after passage of the Act.1 PRWORA allowed states to opt out of the ban or to modify it, and over the years all but one state has opted out of the ban or modified it for at least one of the two benefit programs. That said, fully half the states remain committed in some fashion to this outdated artifact of the War on Drugs.

Over the years there have been numerous reports critical of the policy underpinnings of the categorical ban on public welfare benefits imposed by PRWORA, and researchers have generally concluded that the ban is counterproductive even in modified form, including in criminal justice terms.2 Indeed, a recent empirical study of modified versions of the SNAP/TANF bans concluded that by “introducing greater state scrutiny of recipients’ conformity to state-sanctioned behavioral norms,” modified bans are “not inherently less punitive” than full bans.3

We do not intend to dwell on the policy arguments against the PRWORA ban in this report. Rather, our purpose here is the more modest one of providing a detailed description of state laws that currently modify participation in the SNAP/TANF bans, for use by policymakers and advocates seeking further reforms.

Surprisingly, this has not been done in the more than 25 years since PRWORA’s enactment. Two recent private sector studies have identified the extent of state participation in one or both of the PRWORA bans, but their conclusions are not consistent with one another or, in all cases, with our own research.4 Notably, neither of these studies documents the specific features of modified bans, which can vary widely from state to state in scope and effect.

Significantly, no previous report on the SNAP/TANF bans has included statutory text that would permit analysis of the ways various states have modified them, and comparisons between and among states. Our report attempts to remedy this shortcoming.

We illustrate the national landscape of participation in the SNAP/TANF bans through a set of maps: one map shows the national landscape of participation in the PRWORA ban for all 50 states, and two additional maps show how states have modified the ban for each of the two benefit programs. A 30-page Appendix includes the text and an analysis of each state’s relevant law(s), providing additional detail about how access to benefits may be controlled differently even within the same general category of modification.

We hope that advocates in states that have not yet fully opted out of both the PRWORA bans will find this unique collection of research tools helpful as they work to complete this important law reform project. 

Preparation of “Access to SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws” was made possible by a generous grant from Arnold Ventures.

Citation: Margaret Love & Nick Sibilla, Access to SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws, Collateral Consequences Res. Ctr. (December 2023)

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Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws

We are pleased to present a new report, “Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws.” This report offers a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the differing ways states have responded to the 1996 federal ban on access to SNAP and TANF benefits for those with a felony drug conviction, either by opting out […]

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DC enacts progressive new record-clearing law

Until last month, the District of Columbia had one of the most complex and restrictive record relief laws in the country. D.C.’s sealing law even applied the same burdensome petition-based procedures, extended waiting periods, and onerous burdens of proof to non-conviction records that applied to convictions. In testimony before the D.C. Council in 2021, CCRC’s Margaret Love noted: “Compared to states across the country, DC’s record relief laws are very prohibitive and unusually complex.” CCRC’s Reintegration Report Card published in March 2022 commented that “the restoration laws in the District of Columbia are noteworthy for a remarkable study in contrasts: D.C. has extraordinarily progressive laws in civil areas like voting, employment, housing, and occupational licensing, and among the most regressive laws in the Nation in every category of criminal record relief, likely reflecting the heavy hand of the federal authorities that are responsible for most prosecutions under the D.C. Code.”

Last month, everything changed. The Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022 (D.C. Law 24-284, codified at D.C. Code § 16-801 et seq.), which became final after the required period of congressional review on March 16, 2023, gave the District one of the broadest record-clearing laws in the country, including both petition-based relief for all but the most serious violent felony convictions, and automatic relief for misdemeanors and non-conviction records.  D.C. now becomes the 11th U.S. jurisdiction to enact a “clean slate” law that applies to both conviction and non-conviction records.

The new D.C. record-clearing law is the product of more than two years of hard work by the D.C. Council and a broad coalition of advocacy groups in the District. When coupled with the District’s progressive civil restoration laws referenced above, this new law propels DC from middle-of-the-pack to the top tier of jurisdictions in the Nation where fair treatment of justice-affected individuals is concerned. It will certainly advance DC’s candidacy for Reintegration Champion of 2023.

Though D.C. Law 24-284 is enacted, it is unfunded, which means it cannot be used. Currently, the FY24 Budget Support Act of 2023 set the effective date for the Second Chance Act as 1/1/26 for most of the law and 10/1/29 for the automatic sealing provisions.

The new law’s specific provisions are described in greater detail below, and in the DC profile from CCRC’s Restoration of Rights Project.

The new D.C. law provides for petition-based sealing for all non-conviction records at disposition, for all misdemeanors after a five-year waiting period, and for all but a specified group of the most serious felony convictions after an eight-year waiting period.  The waiting period begins following completion of all aspects of the sentence, except that it does not require payment of fines and other court debt. The law also facilitates procedures: e.g., not all eligible records need be sealed at the same time, as under the old law, and there are no “disqualifying offenses” that could extend the waiting period even for non-conviction records.

It also eases standards, particularly for sealing non-conviction records: it deleted a provision allowing the court to consider “the weight of the evidence against the person” and any priors sealings of arrest records.  It specifically directs the court in all cases to consider “The community’s interest in furthering the movant’s rehabilitation and enhancing the movant’s reintegration into society through education, employment, and housing.” As noted, D.C.’s existing sealing law extended to same burdensome procedures and standards to non-conviction records that applied to sealing of convictions.

The new law makes sealing automatic beginning in 2027 for non-conviction records, and for most misdemeanor convictions after a 10-year waiting period. It also provides for automatic expungement of marijuana convictions effective January 1, 2025, and for expungement by petition on grounds of actual innocence. Provisions in existing law authorizing expungement for victims of human trafficking and sealing for juvenile defendants were not changed.

D.C. now joins the 19 states that have enacted automatic record-clearing relief for arrest records and other non-convictions.  More than half of these state laws have been enacted in the three years since publication of CCRC’s Model Law on Non-Conviction Records, which advocated for automatic expungement of all non-conviction records, including records with no final disposition, except for pending matters. Like CCRC’s model law, which was cited as authority by several parties during the hearings before the D.C. Council, the new D.C. law recommends restrictions on accessing, inquiring about, and commercially disseminating non-conviction records.

Sealed records are placed in a non-public file but remain available to law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, licensing agencies, public employers, and schools and child care facilities, to be used “for any lawful purpose.” Sealed records may also be used in civil litigation relating to the arrest or conviction, and may be made available to others “upon order of the Court for good cause shown.”  An individual whose record has been sealed may deny the arrest or conviction “for any purpose”, without penalty of perjury or other provision of the law for giving a false statement. This appears to be a change from the 2006 law, which required testimony about prior arrests and convictions “in response to an inquiry from one of the entities expressly authorized to access the records.” In other words, while certain entities may gain access to sealed records, the subject of the record may lawfully deny its existence without penalty.

The 2022 law imposes certain requirements on “criminal history providers” that provide criminal history background screening reports, requirements that mirror those provided by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.  It requires providers to provide the subject of a background report with a copy of the report and identify the source of the report, and to use at least two identifiers (e.g., birthdate and name); prohibits reporting records that have been sealed, expunged or set aside; and pohibits reporting information that has not been updated within 30 days of the report.  Complaints of a violation of these provisions may be filed with the DC Office of Human Rights (but not in court), and fines are specified for violations.

There are still ways that D.C.’s sealing law could be improved.  For example, there appears to be no good reason why sealed non-conviction records should remain available to employers and licensing agencies, and in most states they are not. Automatic relief should be extended to all convictions now subject to sealing by petition, and the waiting periods for both petition-based and automatic relief seem excessive by standards in recently enacted record-clearing laws.  See CCRC’s 2022 report on waiting periods, Waiting for Relief: A National Survey of Waiting Periods for Record Clearing (February 2022).  But those caveats aside, the new law represents the most substantial progress in record clearing of any U.S. jurisdiction since 2018, when North Dakota and New Mexico enacted a broad sealing scheme for the first time.  Congratulations to the D.C. Council!

 

 

 

 

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