New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal recently issued new Guidance reminding municipal prosecutors that they cannot categorically refuse to prosecute marijuana cases while the Legislature is considering proposals relating to decriminalization. That said, the guidance reminds prosecutors that they have considerable discretion when deciding which maijuana cases to pursue. While this advice is fairly standard stuff, the second half of the guidance document is a fascinating glimpse into prosecutorial decision-making as it relates to collateral consequences. It follows a growing scholarly and legal consensus calling for opening the “black box” that is the prosecutorial mindset. For too long, the thought-processes behind prosecutorial decisions have eluded the public eye.
In essence, the guidance advises that the decision whether or not to bring charges may depend upon a defendant’s exposure to severe collateral consequences if convicted. Recognizing that prosecutors should consider collateral consequences brings their obligations closer to those imposed on defense attorneys by the Supreme Court eight years ago in Padilla v. Kentucky. Padilla required defense attorneys to know the immigration consequences faced by their clients or risk being labeled constitutionally ineffective. Many defense attorneys, public defenders, and legal aid organizations have devoted substantial effort to ensuring their clients know about housing, employment, educational, and other consequences that might attach to a conviction.
But any public defender can tell you that reliance on overburdened defense and legal aid attorneys to warn defendants and educate prosecutors about collateral consequences is bound to frustrate the goal of increasing systemic literacy. The value of the new AG guidance is in placing a burden on prosecutors to discover and take into account the effect of collateral consequences in particular cases in deciding whether or not to prosecute.
More than four years ago, Indiana’s then-Governor Mike Pence signed into law what was at the time perhaps the Nation’s most comprehensive and elaborate scheme for restoring rights and status after conviction. In the fall of 2014, as one of CCRC’s very first posts, Margaret Love published her interview with the legislator primarily responsible for its enactment, in which he shared details of his successful legislative strategy. Later posts on this site reported on judicial interpretation of the law. Since that time, a number of other states have enacted broad record-closing laws, including Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, and most recently Illinois.
We have been impressed by the evident enthusiasm for Indiana’s “expungement” law within the state, from the courts, the bar, the advocacy community, and even from prosecutors. So we thought it might be both interesting and useful to take a closer look at how the Indiana law has been interpreted and administered, how many people have taken advantage of it, and how effective it has been in facilitating opportunities for individuals with a criminal record, particularly in the workforce. We also wanted to see what light this might shed on what has brought to the forefront of reform so many politically-conservative states. Spoiler alert: the Chamber of Commerce was one of the strongest proponents of the law.
We expect to be able to post our account of the Indiana expungement law shortly after Labor Day. In the meantime, we thought it might be useful to reprint our 2014 interview with former Rep. Jud McMillan, which has been among our most viewed posts.
A new article published in the Georgetown Law Journal argues that collateral consequences are becoming a valuable tool for prosecutors in the plea bargaining process, enabling them to leverage their existing power to control the outcome of criminal cases. In Prosecuting Collateral Consequences, Eisha Jain of the University of North Carolina law faculty attributes this trend to a new awareness of collateral consequences made possible by initiatives like the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, which show that even minor convictions can trigger serious civil penalties. She explains the “structural incentives” that offer prosecutors an opportunity to avoid or trigger important civil penalties, or to bargain for enhanced criminal penalties in exchange for circumventing a particularly unwelcome collateral consequence (like deportation or eviction).
Jain concludes that, for some prosecutors, “enforcing collateral consequences serves as an administratively efficient substitute for a criminal conviction” and a way to “promote their own policy preferences.” In this fashion, prosecutors’ largely unreviewable discretion is extended to “an array of legal consequences, regulatory policies, and public interests.”
In May of 2013, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law what is possibly the most comprehensive and forward-looking restoration of rights statute ever enacted in this country. Under the new law, courts are empowered to “expunge” most criminal records, after waiting periods keyed to the seriousness of the offense. The effect of an expungement order varies to some extent according to the nature of the crime, but its core concept is to restore rights and eliminate discrimination based on criminal record in the workplace and elsewhere. This new law has already resulted in relief for hundreds of individuals, due in large part to the proactive approach of the state courts in facilitating pro se representation.
We recently had a chance to talk to the person primarily responsible for shepherding this law through the Indiana legislature, and his experience should be instructive to reform advocates in other states. Jud McMillin, a conservative former prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, might once have been regarded as a rather unusual champion of this unique and progressive legislation. But in an age of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, apparently anything can happen. Read more