Time to End the Scourge of Collateral Consequences: NACDL Offers a Roadmap to Restore Rights and Sta

The collateral consequences of a conviction can impact almost every realm of human endeavor, including housing and education loans, immigration status, voting rights, the right to bear arms, and the ability to seek employment in countless professions.

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

  • A young mother of four who lost a bank job because of a previous shoplifting charge that was dismissed.
  • A decorated war veteran — a legal resident of the United States — deported as a result of a misdemeanor conviction.
  • A man who worked for a school system for 25 years as a boiler room engineer struggles to avoid termination for a years-old drug conviction.
  • A woman who cannot volunteer at her children’s school because of a 15-year-old conviction.
  • A 75-year-old man barred from public housing and forced onto a sexual registry because of a single incidence of public urination.

These are the human faces of collateral consequences — the silent penalties, the secret sentences that are inflicted on those who have criminal records in this country. No judge pronounces these penalties. Prosecutors do not ask for them. And defense attorneys frequently have no idea they exist.

But exist they do. And in a nation in which it is conservatively estimated that 65 million have criminal records,1 these life-altering consequences are the collateral damage in America’s decades-long war on crime. Collectively, the morass of bars, disabilities, debarments and sanctions that are interspersed throughout the nation’s federal, state, county and municipal statues, rules and regulations have relegated millions to second-class status. They are like asymptomatic malignant cells coursing through the bloodstream of the body politic — little time bombs that detonate after cases have closed and people have paid their debt to society. For many they curtail the chance of rising above an encounter with the criminal law. They can impact virtually every realm of human endeavor: housing and education loans, immigration status, family rights, voting rights, the right to bear arms, the right to hold public office, and the ability to seek employment in countless professions, trades, and occupations. The sheer breadth of these consequences is so expansive that it is hardly possible to enumerate them, let alone repeal them.2 

Fortunately, there is a way out. And NACDL is prepared to point the way.

Collateral Damage Cover for May issue

NACDL’s report, Collateral Damage: America’s Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime: A Roadmap to Restore Rights and Status After Arrest of Conviction, chronicles the association’s nearly three-year study of collateral consequences and the m

eans and methods to tear down the barriers these consequences inflict upon people with criminal records (available at: www.nacdl.org/restoration/roadmapreport). The report, which was formally adopted by the NACDL Board of Directors this past March in New Orleans, was compiled by NACDL’s Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction. The task force conducted public hearings in six cities, taking testimony from 151 witnesses representing the perspective of every vantage point in the criminal justice system. Task force members reviewed case law, studies, and mo

The innumerable recommendations articulated in the report are distilled into 10 overarching principles, each of which is directed toward specific power loci. Some recommendations require federal action, others state and local action, and still others are directed at various players in the criminal justice system, including the criminal defense bar. But, first and foremost, the report calls for a fundamental national mind shift. It calls for society to once and for all reject the wholesale demonization of every person who has a brush with the criminal law. It points toward a new age of reconciliation, one that recognizes a principle that is at the core of the defense lawyer’s credo: transgressions that may define the low point in people’s lives should not define the rest of their lives.del statutes, made numerous site visits, and engaged in countless hours of discussion and analysis. They distilled all of this information into a comprehensive report that is intended to provide the legal profession, lawmakers, and society with a roadmap to foster the restoration of rights and status after conviction.

This noble and ambitious project, which was strongly supported by NACDL’s elected leaders and board of directors, was made possible by generous funding provided by the Foundation for Crimi

nal Justice. It was implemented by eight outstanding criminal defense lawyers from across the country, reflecting a wide array or practice settings, each of whom served with exceptional dedication: Lawrence S. Goldman, Elissa B. Heinrichs, Rick Jones, Margaret Colgate Love, Penelope S. Strong, Geneva Vanderhorst, Christopher A. Wellborn, and Vicki H. Young. Rick Jones and Vicki Young chaired the task force. Additionally, Professor Jenny M. Roberts of the American University Washington College of Law served as the project’s consultant and reporter. Her commitment to the project embodies the quintessential embodiment of collaboration between the legal academy and the practicing bar in service to society.

Furthermore, while numerous members of NACDL’s magnificent staff provided ongoing and indispensable support for the initiative at every phase, NACDL State Legislative Affairs Director Angelyn C. Frazer guided the project from start to finish. Ms. Frazer employed her tenacious organizational skills to assemble the extraordinary array of witnesses whose stories and insight exposed the magnitude of the challenge and illuminated the essential elements of the solution.

I am not one who is given to bold prediction. But in this case I will make an exception. I predict that Collateral Damage will have a lasting impact. I believe that this report will begin a national conversation that will pave the way for an entirely new approach to individuals who have a history of involvement with the criminal law. And if so, NACDL members and the criminal defense bar can take pride in the fact that those of us who are on the front line in defending the accused, who have cheerfully served as Liberty’s Last Champion, will have played a pivotal role as Restorers of Rights. And in so doing we will restore hope and opportunity for millions who have been consigned to second-class status for far too long.

  1. The Nat’l Emp. Law Project, 65 Million Need Not Apply: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment 27 n.2 (2011), available at http://www.nelp.org/page/-/65_Million_Need_Not_Apply.pdf?nocdn=1. 
  2. See Nat’l Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, available at http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org/. This inventory includes neither local rules and regulations nor policies developed and imposed by private entities. One can only imagine the extreme challenge and difficulty involved in identifying and including the state and federal consequences that are included in this ever-growing database.
About the Author

Norman L. Reimer is NACDL’s Executive Director and Publisher of The Champion.

Norman L. Reimer
1660 L Street, NW, 12th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
Fax 202-872-8690


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