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September 20, 2022

Reducing the Impact of Collateral Consequences of Convictions

Collateral consequences of criminal convictions, also called “collateral sanctions,” are legal penalties that take away rights, access to programs or services, or that impose another type of disadvantage that punish but are not part of a person’s sentence. Among other examples, these sanctions may include the revocation of a driver’s license, access to human services or public assistance programs, or even the right to vote.

When properly administered, collateral sanctions can play an important role in achieving legitimate objectives. But many times people are given incentives to plead guilty without also being notified of the collateral consequences of doing so. Many such added sanctions bear no relation to an underlying offense, yet they undermine both an individual’s reintegration into society and public confidence in the justice system. In the case of voting, there is no rational basis for taking away the right or for refusing to reinstate it upon a person’s release.

Federal Legislation

The Clean Slate Act, H.R. 2864/S. 1380, by Rep. Rochester (D-DE) and Sen. Casey (D-DE), would establish a formal framework for sealing records related to certain federal marijuana-related offenses.

Democracy Restoration Act, S. 481, by Sen. Cardin (D-MD), would promote uniformity among the states to restore the one’s right to vote in federal elections upon completion of their criminal sentence and release from custody.

First Step Implementation Act, S.1014, by Sen. Durbin (D-IL), would, among other things, establish a process for sealing and expunging records for juvenile nonviolent offenses and require the Department of Justice to establish a process under which criminal justice records provided for employment-related reasons are accurate and promptly released.

The Fresh Start Act of 2021, H.R. 5651/S. 3049, by Rep. Trone (D-MD) and Sen. Van Hollen (D-MD), would provide states with grants to offset the costs of modernizing their criminal justice data infrastructure to provide for automated record sealing and expungement in appropriate cases.

The HOPE Act of 2021, H.R. 6129, by Rep. Joyce (R-OH), would make grants available to state and local governments to offset costs associated with expunging convictions for offenses involving cannabis and authorize a study into the impact that such convictions have on one’s ability to find work, recidivate, and the like.

The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act, H.R. 1924/S. 2502, by Rep. Jeffries (D-NY) and Sen. Coons (D-DE), would remove the age restriction on expungements for first-time, low-level, non-violent offenses so that adults would be eligible for such expungement, too.

The MORE Act, H.R. 3617, by Rep. Nadler (D-NY), would provide, among other things, a process for the expungement of cannabis-related convictions.

ABA Policy

Comprehensive guidance concerning the use, application, and repeal of collateral sanctions is captured in, but not limited to, the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Chapter on Collateral Sanctions and Discretionary Disqualification of Convicted Persons

ABA Support for Preserving the Right to Vote for those convicted of offenses, 2020AM116H.

ABA Advocacy

ABA Support for the Democracy Restoration Act 

On March 10, 2021, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo wrote a letter to Senator Cardin thanking him for his introduction of The Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore the right to vote for those who have been convicted of a crime unless they are serving a felony sentence at the time of an election.  Read the full letter here.