CCRC’s collection of scholarship on collateral consequences updated

Scholars, practitioners, and those affected by the criminal system can now more easily access relevant and timely scholarship related to collateral consequences. CCRC has updated the Books and Academic Articles page of its resources section to facilitate quicker retrieval of relevant content. Specifically, CCRC has organized the relevant books and academic articles by category. These categories offer a wide array of academic perspectives on collateral consequences, restoration of rights, and record relief.

CCRC has similarly updated the books and academic articles section with new and potent scholarship, and expanded the coverage of restoration of voting rights. New scholarship since 2020 runs the gamut of collateral consequences, and includes work on expungement and record relief, executive clemency, drug related issues, and issues of inequity. The page has also been updated to include the most recent edition of the Federal Sentencing Reporter on the past, present, and future of the Federal pardon power, guest-edited by our Executive Director Margaret Love and featuring our Board Chair Gabriel J. Chin and our Deputy Director David Schlussel.

CCRC hopes that the resource section will continue to offer an array of insightful academic pieces for scholars, practitioners, and those seeking to restore their own rights.

Arizona enacts its very first sealing law – and it’s impressive!

In July 2021, in an unheralded action in the final days of its legislative session, Arizona enacted a law that authorized its courts for the first time to seal conviction records. See SB1294, enacting Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-911. The same law authorized sealing of uncharged arrests and dismissed and acquitted charges, also for the first time. Prior to this enactment, Arizona was one of a handful of states whose legislature had made no provision for limiting public access to conviction records, and was literally the only state in the country whose courts and records repository had no authority to seal non-conviction records. Now the state will have one of the broadest sealing laws in the country when it becomes effective on January 1, 2023.

(In the November 2020 election, Arizona voters approved a proposition to legalize marijuana, which included a provision for expungement of certain marijuana-related records.  But until now no general sealing authority had been enacted by the Arizona legislature.)

As described below, the law makes all but the most serious offenses eligible for sealing after completion of sentence (including payment of court debt) and a graduated waiting period.  It also appears that 1) multiple eligible convictions may be sealed, in a single proceeding or sequentially; 2) the prior conviction of a felony (even if ineligible) does not disqualify an eligible offense from relief but simply extends the applicable waiting period; 3) a conviction during the waiting period restarts the waiting period; and 4) there is no limit on the number of occasions on which sealing may be sought.

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Access Barriers to Felony Expungement in Utah

Currently, 39 states authorize expungement or sealing of at least some felony convictions.[i]  Recent research shows that only a small percentage of eligible individuals actually complete the court petition process required to obtain such relief, which is frequently hard to understand and usually burdensome, costly, and time-consuming.[ii]

Ideally, the most efficient way to overcome these barriers would be to make sealing automatic, dispensing with the requirement of individual application entirely.  However, the move toward automatic sealing is still in its early stages, and we anticipate that in many states, at least in the near future, petition-based sealing will remain a primary method for clearing certain records, particularly felony convictions.  Accordingly, it is important to identify and minimize barriers to petition-based relief wherever possible.  That is the purpose of this project.

In February 2021, we published an analysis of strengths and weakness of the felony record clearance process in Illinois by Beth Johnson and her partners in the Rights and Restoration Law Group (RRLG).  We are now pleased to present the second study in this series, a review of Utah’s felony expungement scheme by Noella Sudbury.

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Study reveals potential for racial bias in presidential pardon process

Last week the RAND Corporation published its long-awaited Statistical Analysis of Presidential Pardons, commissioned in 2012 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics to determine whether the Justice Department process for deciding who to recommend for a presidential pardon is tainted with “systematic” racial bias. The RAND study appears to have been a direct response to an investigative report published jointly in December 2011 by ProPublica and the Washington Post, which concluded based on an examination of pardon cases granted and denied during the administration of George W. Bush, that race was “one of the strongest predictors of a pardon.”

Specifically, the ProPublica study concluded that “White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities” while “Blacks have had the poorest chance” of receiving a pardon.

In a 224-page statistical analysis of how pardon petitions were evaluated by the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) between 2001 and 2012, the RAND researchers “[did] not find statistically significant evidence that there are racial differences in the rates at which black and white petitioners receive [favorable] pardon recommendations.” (Note that sentence commutations were not a part of the RAND study.)  At the same time, there was also “no question that non-Hispanic white petitioners as a group were more likely to receive a pardon than did black petitioners.”

The apparent contradiction between these two statements can be explained by the fact that white applicants were statistically more likely to satisfy the formal standards that apply to OPA decisions about which cases to recommend for pardon, suggesting that either the formal standards need revision or the pool of applicants needs to be expanded, or both.

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Pennsylvania expands access to 255 licensed occupations for people with a record

On July 1, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law an expansive new regulation of the state’s occupational licensing process, giving the agencies that control access to 255 occupations detailed new standards for considering criminal records in the licensing process.  Pennsylvania has not addressed these issues on a state-wide basis since the 1970’s, and with proper implementation the new law promises a path to the middle class for skilled individuals whose career prospects might otherwise be limited.

While Pennsylvania’s law is by far the most ambitious one of its kind passed this year, five other states have also passed laws since the beginning of 2020 regulating consideration of criminal record in occupational licensing.  Two were states that previously had no general law governing this issue (Idaho and Missouri) and three were states that extended laws passed in recent years (Iowa, Utah and West Virginia).

Pennsylvania’s new law is analyzed in detail below.  The provisions of the other five states’ new licensing laws are summarized briefly at the end of the post, and the laws of all six states are written up in greater detail in the relevant state profiles in the Restoration of Rights Project.

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How to expand expungement: base it in retribution instead of rehabilitation

A thoughtful new article by Brian Murray recommends a new way of conceptualizing expungement that should make it easier for reformers to justify facilitating access to this record relief.  In “Retributive Expungement,” forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Murray argues that expungement should be seen as a way to end warranted punishment rather than to recognize and incentivize rehabilitation.  The argument goes that if the legal and social disadvantages of a criminal record function as part and parcel of the criminal sentence imposed by the court, as opposed to a loosely related system of civil penalties that are activated by other laws and other actors, then the court has an obligation at some point to discharge it.  While this argument is not new, Murray places it squarely in a modern retributivist framework.

In an earlier era, the drafters of the 1962 Model Penal Code embraced this idea of tying up the loose ends of criminal punishments through court-ordered dispensation, although they chose a more transparent form of remedy in judicial vacatur or set-aside.  Before that, this function of ending punishment was performed by executive pardon.  In modern times, as ubiquitous background checking has made a criminal record a lasting Mark of Cain, most agree that the record should be made unavailable for private and most public purposes at some point, unless disclosure is ordered by the court for some purpose authorized by law.  Facilitating access to this record relief should be easier with the theoretical frame proposed by Murray.

Here is the abstract and a link:

Expungement relief was introduced in the mid-twentieth century to reward and incentivize rehabilitation for arrestees and ex-offenders and to protect their privacy. Recently, many states have broadened their expungement remedies, and those remedies remain useful given the negative effects of public criminal records on reentry. But recent scholarship has suggested an “uptake gap,” meaning many who are eligible never obtain relief. Despite broadening eligibility, petitioners face substantial obstacles to filing, pre-hearing hurdles, waiting periods, and difficult standards of review without the assistance of counsel. And even when expungement is granted, the recipients are basically left on their own to guarantee the efficacy of the remedy. Some of these attributes of expungement were originally conceived as features, designed to ensure only the most rehabilitated received relief, allowing the state to continue to pursue public safety objectives with public criminal records. But the cold reality of expungement procedure leaves many petitioners facing insurmountable obstacles that amplify the effects of the punishment originally imposed.

In exploring this reality, this Article illustrates that expungement procedure is stuck in a rehabilitative and privacy-centric paradigm. While this framework inspired the creation of expungement remedies and recent reforms, it also has justified onerous procedural obstacles and the placing of the burden of persuasion on the petitioner rather than the state. Outside of automated expungement, which is still relatively rare and restricted to only certain types of petitions, most expungement regimes in substance or through procedure invert what should be the state’s burden to justify retention of criminal records that enable extra punishment by state and private actors. An alternative theoretical basis for expungement is necessary to convince policymakers and decision-makers of the need for broader substantive and procedural reform.

This Article suggests a different paradigm: retributive based expungement. It proposes that incorporating retributive constraints that already underlie the criminal system can benefit petitioners. Plenty of arrestees do not deserve stigma and ex-offenders have done their time, meaning punitive stigma from public criminal records can amount to unwarranted punishment. A retributive-minded expungement procedure would all but guarantee expungement in the case of arrests, where the desert basis is questionable, and would place the burden of proof on the state for convictions once desert has been satisfied. As such, this approach can supplement the case for broader eligibility, automated expungement, and favorable pre-hearing procedures that limit the uptake gap. It also has legal and political viability given that many states already maintain retributivist constraints on sentencing and given that huge swaths of the public perceive desert as a crucial component of any criminal justice issue. In fact, some states are already moving in this direction and can serve as a model for the rest of the country. In short, retributivist constraints can trim procedural overgrowth to supplement substantive reforms that already recognize the disproportionate effects of a public criminal record.

“Executive Clemency in the United States”

This is the title of CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love’s new article for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia.  The article describes the historic role played by the executive pardon power in reducing punishments (including collateral ones) and explains clemency’s diminished vitality and reliability in modern times in most states and in the federal system.  Love concludes that “[i]t appears unlikely that an unregulated and unrestrained executive power will ever be restored to its former justice-enhancing role, so that those concerned about fairness and proportionality in criminal punishments must engage in the more demanding work of democratic reform.”

Here’s the abstract:

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Pardons for immigrants: legal, legitimate, and long overdue

In the past year, California Governor Jerry Brown and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made generous use of their power to pardon state crimes committed by noncitizens, reinvigorating a much-neglected means by which long-term residents may stave off conviction-based deportation.  The personal stories of the individuals who benefited from the Brown and Cuomo pardons no doubt illustrate how individuals and families can be spared from unjustified hardship through the power to pardon.  But were the governors justified in asserting a role for state interests in tempering federal immigration enforcement policies they evidently regarded as too harsh?  In this post, I will briefly explain the legal and theoretical framework that supports a role for state pardons in the immigration context, and then argue for a more generous use of the pardon power in principled and transparent ways.

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CCRC seeking lawyer to work on Restoration of Rights Project

The CCRC is seeking a lawyer to join its staff to work primarily on the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP).  The primary duties of the RRP Legal Analyst, as described in the position description below, involve collecting and analyzing the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restoration of rights; and, updating the on-line resources that comprise the RRP.  An important part of the job is identifying and tracking bills relating to restoration of rights as they become law, which has become an increasingly important and challenging task in the past several years.  In conducting legal research, preparing reports, and responding to inquiries, the RRP Legal Analyst will have a unique opportunity to engage with CCRC staff and lawyers across the country who are working in this emerging area of scholarship and practice.

The RRP Legal Analyst position is part-time, though applicants should be prepared to commit to at least 15-20 hours per week for at least six months.  The position may be particularly attractive to individuals seeking a flexible work schedule and workplace.  The position will be compensated on an hourly basis, starting at a base rate of $26.50 per hour, a rate that may be negotiable depending on experience.

Applicants should have familiarity with criminal law and procedure, and preferably with the legislative process, and they should have proven research and writing skills.  Please see the position description for further details.  A letter of interest, resume and writing sample, as well as the names of references, should be sent to Margaret Love, CCRC executive director, at

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