Recently, in commenting on a new expungement scheme enacted by the Louisiana legislature, we noted the disconnect between the stated reentry-related purposes of the law and its lengthy eligibility waiting periods. If people have to log many years of law-abiding conduct before they can even apply for this relief, it is not likely to be of much help to people returning home from prison. Were Louisiana lawmakers unaware that the new expungement law would be unlikely to serve its stated purposes, or did they have some reason for advertising the new law in terms they knew were inapt.
A recent issue of Governing Magazine reports that pardoning is “making a comeback” after decades of neglect. It would be nice if it were true.
But the evidence of comeback is thin. Almost all of the jurisdictions where pardoning is thriving today are the same ones where it was thriving a decade ago. In a dozen states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, pardon has never been neglected, much less abandoned by responsible officials. In these jurisdictions and a handful of others, pardon has deep roots in the justice system and is supported by accountable institutions of government.
It is certainly true that Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jerry Brown of California have made generous use of the power of their office after years in which the pardon power in their states languished unused. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is a newcomer to the small group of governors who evidently feel that pardoning is a responsibility of office. All three are to be commended for it. But three swallows do not make a summer.
Louisiana has far and away the largest prison population of any state in the country (847 per 100,000 people — Mississippi is second with 692 per), but until last year there was little that those returning home after serving felony sentences could do to unshackle themselves from their criminal records and the collateral consequences that accompany them. While Louisiana has for years authorized expungement of misdemeanor convictions and non-conviction records, the only relief available to convicted felony offenders was a governor’s pardon — very few of which have been granted in Louisiana in recent years. Most people convicted of a felony in the state, no matter how long ago and no matter how serious the conduct, were stuck with it.* That’s why we were interested to learn that in 2014 Louisiana enacted a brand new freestanding Chapter 34 of its Code of Criminal Procedure to consolidate and extend the law governing record expungement to many felonies.
We decided to find out what the new law offers to those with felony records, and how it stacks up against the three other new comprehensive expungement schemes in Arkansas, Indiana, and Minnesota. We found that while a relatively large number of people with felony convictions are newly eligible for expungement relief, the law’s effectiveness is hampered by 1) unreasonably long waiting periods and 2) limited effectiveness in mitigating collateral consequences related to employment and licensure. Read more
One of the 12 pardons granted by President Obama on December 17 went to Albert Stork of Delta, Colorado, long-time advocate for indigent criminal defendants on the rural Western Slope. Al Stork pled guilty in 1987 to filing a false tax return, and served six months in federal prison. While his conviction came about in an unusual way, what makes Al’s case so special is what he did with his life afterwards.
Al Stork’s conviction arose out of his family circumstances. In the early 1980s, one of his two older brothers was an elected prosecutor in Colorado’s Sixteenth Judicial District; the other was a fugitive from Colorado authorities, having spent most of his life (as Al put it) “either in jail or on the lam.” Al himself, then in his early 20s, was leading what his defense lawyer described years later as “an unexceptional and unmotivated middle class life,” working construction and selling a little marijuana on the side.
In 2013, the Justice Department launched its Smart on Crime Initiative, which included a call for federal agencies to review collateral consequences in their own rules and policies, to determine which could be narrowed or amended without jeopardizing public safety. According to an NPR report, the results of that long-anticipated review are now in:
Amy Solomon was appointed by Attorney General Holder to oversee the twenty federal agencies charged with reviewing their regulations and policies for potential changes. She reports that hundreds of regulations were reviewed, but the vast majority were deemed “appropriately tailored for their purposes,” including HUD’s discretionary housing policies. So far, only three agencies have submitted changes.
In assessing the “appropriately tailored” conclusion in the context of HUD housing policies, NPR reporter Monica Haywood tells the story of Maurice Alexander, a 67-year-old man who was turned away from subsidized housing in the District of Columbia based on a six-year-old misdemeanor threat conviction, despite guidance from HUD encouraging property owners and agents “to develop policies and procedures that allow ex-offenders to rejoin the community.” The HUD guidance urges property owners to consider all relevant information when reviewing applications from people with a criminal record, including evidence of rehabilitation and “probability of favorable future conduct.”
Haywood concludes that, “If Alexander’s case is any indication, owners may not be taking HUD’s advice.” Read more
Oklahoma is the most recent state to expand its expungement laws to make more people eligible for record-clearing at an earlier date. While the specific changes adopted by the Oklahoma legislature are relatively modest, involving reduced waiting periods and fewer disqualifying priors, they are significant as part of a national trend toward enlarging this type of “forgetting” relief for people with minor criminal records. Details of Oklahoma’s law are available here.
Alabama’s new expungement law is the first record-closing law in that state and applies only to non-conviction records. Arkansas and Minnesota broadened or consolidated existing expungement schemes that were already quite extensive. The Indiana expungement scheme is entirely new and particularly comprehensive and progressive. (An analysis of the new law by its primary sponsor in the Indiana legislature will be posted in this space very soon.) The effect of this type of “forgetting” relief varies widely from state to state, from complete destruction of records in states like Pennsylvania and Connecticut to more limited relief in Kansas and Indiana, where expunged records remain accessible to some employers as well as law enforcement.
The other type of individualized judicial relief from collateral consequences that is growing in popularity relies not on limiting public access to a person’s criminal record, but instead on Read more