Amy Meek just sent us her colorfully titled and important new article recently published in the Ohio State Law Journal, about the collateral consequences imposed by municipal and county ordinances. As far as I know, this is the first serious effort to address consideration of conviction in connection with opportunities and benefits controlled at the local level. As the abstract below suggests, many types of entrepreneurial opportunities likely to be attractive to people with a criminal record are subject to governmental regulation below the state level. Because these local ordinances and regulations are rarely included in collections of state collateral consequences, they are invisible to defendants and unavailable to their counsel and the court at the time of plea or sentencing. Only in a few large municipalities, notably New York City, are criminal justice practitioners even aware of this locally created and administered system of restrictions and exclusions. For example, with the exception of the District of Columbia, municipal and county rules and regulations are not included in the NIJ-funded National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC). The potential for interaction between state and local authorities is a particularly intriguing subject that Professor Meek explores in her recommendations for legislative reform.
Here is the abstract:
Kelley Williams-Bolar was a single mother in Akron Ohio, a teacher’s aide who was studying to become a teacher herself. Her story made headlines in 2011, when she was accused of misusing her father’s home address to enroll her two young daughters in a public school they were not entitled to attend. After her own home was burglarized, Kelley had enrolled the girls in their grandfather’s school district, so they could spend each afternoon after school safely at their grandfather’s house. To make this possible she had signed a “grandparent affidavit” saying that the girls lived with their grandfather. The new school district ultimately rejected the affidavit, and she withdrew the girls from their new school at the end of the school year.
Ohio’s “grandparent affidavit” form contains a printed warning, advising that anyone who submits a false affidavit can be charged with “Falsification, a first degree misdemeanor.” But that warning gave no hint of what would actually happen to Kelley. Eighteen months after her daughters left the new school, the district attorney charged Kelley with felony Grand Theft, claiming she had “stolen” tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tuition for her children.
Particularly given Kelley’s career aspiration to be a teacher, her defense lawyer could have made good use of a new online resource called CIVICC (Civil Impacts of Criminal Convictions), a computerized compendium of state collateral consequences linked to the crimes that trigger them. (Kelley’s felony conviction was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor by Governor John Kasich, high level intervention that cannot be counted on to substitute for effective advocacy.)
At the CIVICC website, counsel in a case like Kelley’s could run a quick search using the keyword “theft,” and learn right away that conviction on the Grand Theft charge would expose her to 509 possible collateral consequences (“civil impacts”) under Ohio law, burdens she would bear long after her criminal sentence was complete.
In the general election on November 4, 2014, California voters approved Proposition 47 with almost 60% of the vote. The Proposition will impact a wide range of sentences in California courts, and in the federal courts as well. A number of crimes that could be, and often were, charged in California as felonies, such as commercial burglary, forgery, grand theft, and certain drug crimes, will now be charged as misdemeanors, so that their effect on a person’s criminal history will be substantially diminished. A whole range of state felony drug offenses that could result in enhanced sentences in federal drug cases, even life imprisonment, or career offender status under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, have overnight become relatively harmless misdemeanors.
Significantly, Proposition 47 applies not only to persons who are currently “serving a sentence,” but also to those who have already fully served their sentences. This means that thousands of people with California felony convictions can under certain circumstances petition to have their case recalled, the crime re-designated a misdemeanor, and be resentenced. Once reduced to misdemeanors, qualifying crimes can be set aside under California Penal Code § 1203.4 (felony or misdemeanor cases sentenced to probation) or 1203.4a (misdemeanor cases sentenced to prison). These provisions allow a defendant to withdraw his plea of guilty, enter a not guilty plea, and have the judge dismiss the case. The record can then be expunged.
The importance of this retroactive effect of the new law cannot be over-estimated. While Proposition 47 gained popular support as a way of reducing California’s prison population, its broadest and most significant long-term effect may be to reduce the impact of collateral consequences on people in the community. For criminal defense lawyers, Proposition 47 offers a significant way to reduce a client’s exposure in subsequent prosecutions.