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!
By now you’ve probably heard at least one story of someone who was released from prison after serving time – sometimes many years – for a crime they didn’t commit. The exonerations often come through updated DNA tests and the diligent efforts of Innocence Project groups
. This work is certainly commendable. Although it must be a huge relief for individuals to have their conviction overturned, many may not realize that their criminal record still remains.
As the New York Times
, exonerated individuals often have a hard time assimilating back into society. In particular, it’s difficult to find a job. Unfortunately, many employers discard all applicants who have anything on their criminal record, regardless of the severity of the offense or whether the charges resulted in a conviction. The best way to improve your chances is to request that your state expunge the case from your record.
Some states have difficult requirements for getting a record cleared. In Alaska
, for example, you actually have to prove your innocence in order to get a record sealed. This is a bigger hurdle than proving the state did not have sufficient evidence to convict.
Thankfully, in Illinois, it’s a relatively quick and straightforward process to get your record expunged after you’ve been exonerated. If your case occurred in Illinois, contact us
at the Bryant Chavez Law Office for a free consultation.
This weekend, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law bills aimed at helping those with a criminal record to restart their lives. As previously discussed
, one of these new laws will increase a tax incentive for employers to hire ex-offenders.
However, the biggest change in the law
for record clearing purposes is a further expansion of felony convictions eligible for sealing. Previously, the only felony convictions eligible for sealing were Class 4 level drug possession or prostitution unless special authorization was granted by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board
. But under this new law, sealing eligibility will also include Class 3 and Class 4 level theft, retail theft, forgery, possession of burglary tools, and deceptive practices.
When the bill was originally introduced, it also included Class 2 level felony cases burglary, delivery of a controlled substance, and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. But, these offenses were later deleted as the bill was amended. If you were convicted of any of these felonies, your option for clearing it from your criminal record is still executive clemency (Governor’s pardon).
Today is the pardon petition deadline in Illinois, a quarterly deadline to submit petitions requesting executive clemency to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. Apart from the many living individuals asking Governor Quinn for a second chance, this time there are some 19th century names in the batch as well.
After working with historians, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon has filed petitions
on behalf of abolitionists convicted in the 1800s. Although slavery was abolished in Illinois in 1824 – well before the civil war – the law at the time still prohibited assisting fugitives from slave states. Simon’s petitioners include:
· Dr. Richard Eells
, a participant in the Underground Railroad in Quincy who was caught in 1842 assisting Charley, a runaway slave from Missouri
· Samuel and Julius Willard, father-and-son abolitionists of the Jacksonville area who were convicted in 1843 of harboring a fugitive slave
Although most people seek a pardon for better job opportunities
, there are plenty of individuals who would like a pardon primarily to clear their name. An executive pardon is an act of state-sanctioned forgiveness. It is apparently for this reason that Lt. Governor Simon has submitted these petitions. After more than 150 years, a pardon for these abolitionists from Governor Quinn would be an acknowledgement of an unjust policy, and a public gesture of gratitude for their efforts.
The 2014 Illinois Governor’s race is starting to ramp up, as former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley threw his hat into the ring
this week. If state Attorney General Lisa Madigan also decides to run, the incumbent Pat Quinn could end up with a fierce three-way battle in the Democratic primary. And that’s if Quinn decides to run for re-election, which he has not publicly announced yet. There are also several Republican candidates already in the race, including state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Senator Kirk Dillard.
Since Governor Quinn has proven himself to be one of the most pro-pardon governors
in the country, I have recently heard from clients who are nervous about what will happen if a new governor takes over in 2014. Since 2009, Quinn has steadily worked his way through the backlog of clemency petitions left over from the Blagojevich administration. By regularly issuing decisions
and granting those to individuals who have paid their debt to society and shown rehabilitation, he shows that he is respectfully reviewing the requests. Would Governor Daley, Madigan, Rutherford or Dillard act similarly? Can we point to anything in their experience that indicates a predilection to approve or deny pardons? Would any of them go the route of Blagojevich or Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and ignore the responsibility entirely?
The simple (but yes, unsatisfying) answer: we just don’t know. Granting pardons is one of the few powers that is entirely up to the discretion of the chief executive. Furthermore, on both the state and federal level, historically it has not been a partisan issue. You cannot predict how a leader will act on pardons based on his party affiliation.
Because of the uncertainty over who will take over the governor’s job, I have heard from a few individuals who are wondering if they should hurry and submit a pardon petition immediately, with the hopes it will come before Quinn while he’s still in office. My answer is that your best chance for receiving a pardon will be if you have shown years of productive rehabilitation and have taken steps to get your life back on track. If that’s not the case, it will be difficult to get your petition granted. The best time to submit a pardon is when your life is in the right place for it, not based on who is in office at the time. If you would like to discuss the merits of your particular case further, give me a call
for a consultation.
In the course of my work helping individuals to have their criminal records cleared, I’ve become very familiar with the reasons people seek expungement or sealing. Some simply seek the satisfaction of clearing their name, for their own peace of mind. Some are ashamed of labels like “ex-felon” or “criminal” and would like to serve as a better model for their family. However, the vast majority of people I speak with are seeking a clean record for one primary reason: better job opportunities. Employment is the biggest hurdle people face when they have a black mark from their past holding them back.
Criminal background checks are now used more than ever. This is partly because of the proliferation of computerized recordkeeping (making the checks easier to conduct), but they’ve also been used to a greater extent since 9/11 due to increased security concerns. Add to the mix the recession of the past few years, and employers are quick to use criminal records as an easy first filter on a pool of applicants. When they see that someone has checked “the box”
that indicates a criminal past, that person is discarded. A criminal record destroys the candidate’s chances.
Thankfully, lawmakers in Springfield have been showing they are aware of these challenges, and are crafting legislation aimed to help. The recent Illinois law
that expands eligibility for sealing means a faster process for some who were previously only eligible to request a Governor’s pardon. Expunging or sealing a criminal record greatly helps ex-offenders to find employment and get their lives on track.
But in order to prove rehabilitation to the State, there is a mandatory waiting period for an expungement or sealing. This means someone has to wait several years after the completion of their case before clearing their record. In the time immediately following their release, ex-offenders often have a very difficult time finding a job. A new Illinois bill
addresses this challenge. The proposed law would award a tax credit to employers who hire an ex-offender within three years of his release from an Illinois correctional center. The bill passed the State Senate in March, and is currently making its way through the House.
Our state representatives apparently recognize that when recent offenders struggle, they’re not contributing to their communities and the likelihood of recidivism is much higher. If enacted, this new law would benefit us all. Together with the expanded sealing law, these recent pieces of legislation show that the State is aware that a lot of talent is being wasted because of a mistake in people’s pasts. It is commendable that our lawmakers are creating ways for ex-offenders to re-enter society and lead productive lives.