Federal Certificate Offers New Hope for Americans in ‘Internal Exile’

The title of this post is the title of our op-ed in The Crime Report in support of a bipartisan Senate bill that would authorize judges to issue a “Certificate of Rehabilitation” to qualified individuals with federal convictions.  The bill in question was included in the Business Roundtable’s “Second Chance Agenda,” which was the subject of a post here two weeks ago.  The op ed is reprinted below:

Federal Certificate Offers New Hope for Americans in ‘Internal Exile’

The collateral consequences of a federal conviction have thrust many Americans into what some have termed an “internal exile.” Barriers that prevent full reintegration into society are liberally distributed in federal and state laws and regulations.

Congress is now weighing a new form of relief—a Certificate of Rehabilitation—intended to address the absence of any general federal restoration of rights regime, leaving aside the once-robust, now rare and erratic presidential pardon power.

Under the proposed RE-ENTER Act of 2019 (S. 2931), the certificates would be issued by a judge to alleviate the burdens of a criminal record.

The concept was pioneered by New York more than half a century ago, and is currently authorized in 12 states. It has been recommended by the major national law reform organizations.

Now more than ever, there is a pressing need for judicial relief to supplement the federal pardon power: President Donald Trump’s neglect of the Justice Department advisory process has produced a 3,000-case backlog of post-sentence pardon applications.

So far, the RE-ENTER Act has been languishing in committee, despite bipartisan support.

While the Senate is otherwise occupied at the moment, a recent endorsement by the Business Roundtable may have given it new momentum. It’s possible that S. 2931 will be considered in the lame duck session or reintroduced after the new Congress is seated.

For tens of thousands of Americans, that would be welcome news.

There are several things to like about the bill.

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NC expands certificate law, taking three steps forward, one step back

The states are on a roll in passing new “second chance” legislation.  In addition to the extraordinary new Pennsylvania bill on automatic sealing we posted about earlier today, we’ve just learned that the North Carolina legislature has approved a bill modifying eligibility for judicial Certificates of Relief.  Certificates, which are available from the sentencing court one year after sentencing, remove mandatory collateral consequences (including in employment and licensing), certify that an individual poses no public safety risk, and provide negligent hiring protection.  The bill has been sent to the Governor for signature, we will inform you as soon as he has done so.   Hat’s off to our friends at the North Carolina Justice Center, who worked hard to get this bill passed!   

The bill will provide further relief and opportunity for people with multiple convictions.  The “one step back” referred to in the title of this post is that while the bill significantly expands eligibility for misdemeanors and the lowest level felonies, it also removes from eligibility one class of felony.   It is inevitable that there will occasionally be some last-minute counter-current in pressing for extension of relief provisions.   In North Carolina, what might have been cause for discouragement has evidently (and commendably) provided advocates with additional incentive to pursue a reform agenda and to educate employers about the value of certificates.   

Here is a description of the bill from Daniel Bowes at the NCJC:     Read more