Recently, the Illinois Senate passed a bill which would expand the universe of cases eligible for sealing. The Illinois House previously passed it in March. Assuming that Governor Quinn signs the bill, it will allow those convicted of most misdemeanor violent crimes to seal those cases. Previously, any violent crime conviction, misdemeanor or felony, was not eligible to seal or expunge. The only option to remove these types of offenses from a criminal record was executive clemency. Under this new bill, misdemeanor violent offenses (except for a few listed exceptions, such as domestic battery) will be eligible to be sealed by the court directly.
Former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. is hoping to receive a pardon from President Obama after the termination of Jackson’s sentence for misspending campaign money. This was recently stated in a letter composed by John Karoly, who is a fellow inmate, former attorney, and authorized by Jackson, Jr. to release his statement. According to the AP article, Karoly stated:
In the single stroke of a pen, the President, on behalf of the American people, can convert the intangible myth of America's forgiveness into what Jesse rightly insists is a matter of human entitlement. When you pay off your credit card debt in full, you no longer owe anything. The full utilization of the President's power to forgive, may be the greatest legacy any President can leave behind.
It is an interesting time to beat the drum for Presidential clemency. Last month, news broke of President Obama’s plan for broad and systematic commutations given to those who are suffering from (now-repealed) draconian sentencing guidelines.
While that particular plan would not apply to Jackson’s case, President Obama is making it clear that he is finally ready to start flexing his clemency muscle. He recently replaced U.S. Pardon Attorney Ronald Rogers with Deborah Leff. Rogers, a former military judge and drug crimes prosecutor, had a reputation for being unsympathetic for clemency petitioners. Leff represents a significant shift in the mentality for federal executive clemency. With her history of fighting for fair sentencing and helping the poor, Leff will almost assuredly send more petitions to Obama’s desk with a recommendation to grant clemency.
This will be a happy Easter weekend for many clemency petitioners. Today, Governor Pat Quinn released his latest batch of clemency decisions, which includes 43 granted and 65 denied. Since he has taken office, Governor Quinn has decided on 2,923 clemency petitions (pardon and commutation), granting 1,075 of them.
As always, congratulations to those of you receiving executive clemency! May you go into the next chapter of your life with happiness and success!
One common expungement misconception that I often hear is the notion that, after a certain length of time, the criminal record will automatically expunge. This is not the case, no matter how old a case may be. However, that may change for certain juvenile records. Under a new bill proposed by Rep. Arthur Turner, arrest records of juveniles will automatically expunge when the juvenile reaches 18 years old. The automatic expungement would only be for juveniles that were arrested and released without being charged in court.
This is a good bill because it protects juveniles that may not be well-informed of the judicial process. Most juvenile records are eligible for expunging after a certain length of time, depending on the details of the case. For those juveniles that are arrested and charged in court, they will be informed of their ability to expunge during the adjudication. Their defense attorneys or the judge will be there to explain when and how the juvenile can expunge the case from her criminal record. But if a juvenile is arrested and released right away, she may not ever speak with an attorney to learn her eligibility. She may not even realize that a record of the arrest is made and kept.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, about 75% of juvenile arrests in Cook County do not result in charges. These juveniles shouldn’t be punished for their cases not being as severe as those for whom a delinquency petition was filed. Otherwise they may only learn of their need for an expungement after a job/opportunity was already lost.
In the course of my work as pardon/expungement attorney, I occasionally encounter individuals that argue that my clients should not get to clear their criminal records. It’s a do-the-crime-do-the-time argument where “the time” extends beyond the formal sentence into any future repercussions of their offense, regardless of proportionality. Aside from the general vindictiveness of that mentality, this position also does a disservice to society as a whole.
That is why I enjoyed reading Neil Steinberg’s recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times, which takes up the defense of a University of Illinois instructor who previously served time in federal prison. The instructor had been part of a group that had committed several felonies, including a bank robbery in which a person was killed. The article goes on to examine his life after the events of that case, and argues that his rehabilitation should carry more weight than his mistakes.
The lesson here is that even smart, creative people make mistakes. While it is great that this instructor was still able to succeed, there are many for whom the burden of a criminal record is a life sentence. Right now, there are young folks with world-class potential to become professors, doctors, scientists, etc. and are picking up criminal records. Many of them will face so many roadblocks from their conviction that they never realize this potential. You can extend this reasoning further and find that there are many hard-working, rehabilitated people that are unemployed or underemployed because of background checks finding a mistake they made long ago. Most might not even realize that they have options to clear their criminal records. When as a society we allow for great reservoirs of talent to go untapped, we all lose.
Recently, two state legislators announced that they will co-sponsor a bill to eliminate Cook County’s boot camp program. The main thrust of their opposition to the program comes from a Sun-Times investigation which discovered that some ineligible defendants were given boot camp. They argue that the program is flawed and fundamentally unfair to those convicted in the rest of the state.
I strongly disagree with their proposal. For one, conviction rates and sentence severity has always varied from county to county. So the “fairness” argument rings hollow when the location an offense is committed has always affected how the case will play out.
In my line of work, I have come across many former offenders that truly credit boot camp for turning their life around. Boot camp serves as the wake-up call that these people need to rehabilitate. In addition, because those convicted serve months rather than years, they are less of a strain on the overburdened and overfilled Illinois prison system. But make no mistake, boot camp is no walk in the park. It is an intensive program, but still allows defendants to avoid the pitfalls of spending years in prison. It is much easier to rehabilitate when you re-enter the world quickly with a new outlook than it is after you have become habituated to prison life.
Even if some people convicted were wrongly given boot camp, abolishing the whole program amounts to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Now that there has been so much attention brought to the sentencing guidelines as it relates to boot camp, I do not imagine that there will be such widespread error in sentencing anymore. If there are still flaws, then work to fix them rather than lazily throwing out something that does have positive results.
This Christmas Eve, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn decided on more executive clemency petitions by granting 38 and denying an additional 129. All 38 clemency petitions came in the form of pardons with authorization to expunge them from their criminal record. Since taking office, Governor Quinn has now acted on 2,815 clemency petitions, granting 1,032.
I am sure this will be a very merry Christmas and happy New Year for those 38 deserving individuals. Congratulations and happy holidays!
This week, President Obama granted clemency to 21 individuals, including 8 commutations. It is good to see the President pick up the pace on clemency decisions, as he has been among the lowest in US history for clemency actions.
The commutations were for those sentenced under the harsh federal guidelines which, at that time, mandated a life sentence for selling crack cocaine. Among those was an Illinois man sentenced as a teenager almost 20 years ago, despite it being his first offense.
Congratulations to those that received the clemency actions! And thank you to President Obama for making this a truly special holiday season for these individuals!
Every fall, one high-profile pardon case predictably dominates the news cycle. Every news broadcast will show footage of the pardoning and every newspaper will feature a blurb about it. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey by the president.
Later this month, President Obama will hold a press conference outside the White House and present the turkey that he’s decided to pardon from being executed. It’s meant as a light moment during the holidays, a wholesome White House publicity event akin to the Easter Egg roll. The President usually cracks a few jokes and the press chuckles. (It provided some good material for an episode of the West Wing – the fictional President Bartlet asked before a pardoning, “Won’t I get a reputation for being soft on turkeys?”)
However, as an attorney who represents pardon candidates before the Illinois Governor, I’m not fond of the message the turkey clemency sends to the public. It represents what critics point to as a potential problem with executive pardons – the possibility for the power to be applied arbitrarily. Out of the many turkeys sentenced to death each year, the White House selects one at random to be spared.
This is not how actual pardons are decided. The vast majority of granted pardons, whether on the state or federal level, are for individuals who served their debt to society and have since spent years rehabilitating themselves. By issuing a pardon, the executive office decides to grant them forgiveness for their act, and a second chance with a clean slate. In Illinois, pardon petitions are carefully considered first by the Prisoner Review Board, and then by Governor Quinn and his staff.
So this Thanksgiving, when the President pardons a turkey, just keep in mind the process works a little differently for our non-feathered citizens.
Yesterday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn decided on 189 executive clemency petitions, granting 65 of them. This is Governor Quinn's first batch of decisions released since March. This batch came from dockets ranging from 2004-2012. As is typically the case, the considerable majority of the clemency decisions come in the form of pardon with authorization to expunge.
Including yesterday's decisions, Governor Quinn has now acted on 2,648 clemency petitions, granting 994. While Quinn has worked through most the petition backlog that built up under former governor Rod Blagojevich, there are still some left over as this latest batch indicates.
Congratulations to all of those who received pardons and will now be able to seek expungements! For most of you, the wait was long and difficult, but now you may finally move forward in your lives without the burden of a criminal record. We must also extend our gratitude to Governor Quinn for realizing the importance of giving a second chance to those who have earned it!