Paying Their Debt to Society: Forgiveness, Redemption, and the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act
Howard Law Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3, 2011
42 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2011 Last revised: 6 Jul 2011
Date Written: April 3, 2011
Today there are millions of Americans with a criminal record who are trapped permanently in semi-outlaw status and cannot hope to pay their debt to society. The premise of this Article is that the goal of the justice system must be the full and early reintegration of a convicted person into free society – with the same benefits and opportunities available to any other member of the general public – free of unreasonable status-generated penalties and the stigma of conviction. The development of an effective mechanism for avoiding or mitigating these collateral consequences should be a priority for every U.S. jurisdiction interested in promoting successful offender reentry. This policy goal, which finds new legal support in the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, can best be achieved by incorporating a relief mechanism into the scheme by which the penalty is imposed. An effective relief mechanism should come into play as early as the sentencing process itself to promote successful reentry, and it should also provide at some point for a fuller restoration of legal rights and social status. It must acknowledge and forgive the crime rather than attempt to conceal and deny it, if only because modern technology makes it hard to have confidence in expungement and sealing schemes.
This Article argues that the relief provisions of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (“UCCCA”) provide just such a mechanism. It begins by telling the story of Darrell Langdon, a Chicago man whose status as a “convicted felon” barred him from a job he had performed well for many years, but who was able to overcome this barrier with the help of an Illinois law similar to the relevant provisions of the UCCCA. It then reviews the dysfunctional state of relief mechanisms in most U.S. jurisdictions today and how they got that way. Finally, it describes the integrated approach to collateral consequences taken by the UCCCA, suggests how Darrell Langdon’s case would have fared in that framework, and concludes that the UCCCA provides a comprehensive and functional way of extending forgiveness and recognizing redemption, both essential capabilities of a mature justice system.
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