While finding out the fines and prison sentences for a criminal conviction may be easily done without the need for contacting an attorney, one area that many people aren’t aware of before going into a trial (or after being convicted) are the collateral consequences of a conviction. These are the societal repercussions of being convicted of a crime after the fact, separate from the fines and prison time.
However, a new website developed by the American Bar Association (ABA) Criminal Justice Section hopes to make these consequences much clearer in an effort to assist not only the individual concerned but also lawyers, lawmakers, and advocacy groups. The Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (UCCCA) is also addressing similar issues on a larger scale.
Collateral Consequences State-by-State
According to a report by the Uniform Law Commission (the proponents of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act), the Department of Justice has estimated that if imprisonment rates as measured in 2001 continue along the same path, approximately 6.6% of Americans born in that year will serve some form of prison time during their lives. Besides those serving time, a 2003 Department of Justice report stated that nearly 25% of the U.S. population had a criminal record.
That latter statistic plays heavily into the concerns regarding collateral consequences, as they may be imposed on an individual for being convicted of a crime even if the punishment for said crime doesn’t include prison time. Such consequences may include, but are not limited to, denial of the following:
- certain forms of professional licenses
- acceptance to higher education institutions and financial aid
- other forms of government assistance
As it currently stands, many judges and lawyers are unaware of the full implications of collateral consequences in their jurisdictions as well of those of other states. This is where the free database developed by the ABA Criminal Justice Section enters the picture. Here a user can click on a state and see a full listing of the state’s collateral consequences.
For example, clicking on the state of Utah brings up 688 examples of such consequences. While some would be expected, such as the inability to serve as a law enforcement officer or lawyer with a felony conviction, some may come as a surprise to people, such as the inability to get a cosmetologist or fingernail technician license with a controlled substances offense.
According to ABA President William C. Hubbard, “While some collateral consequences of conviction serve meaningful public safety goals, many only limit a formerly incarcerated person’s ability to find work and reintegrate into society … This, in turn, imposes high social and economic costs including increased crime, increased victimization, increased family distress, and increased pressure on already-strained state and municipal budgets.”
The Universal Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act
In 2009, the Uniform Law Commission, a non-partisan group of lawyers, judges, legislators, and law professors, promoted an attempt to remedy the problems being caused by out-of-control collateral consequences. This remedy was known as the Universal Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (UCCCA).
According to the Uniform Law Commission website, in a nutshell, the UCCCA “provides states with a process whereby defendants are both notified of indirect penalties [read: collateral consequences] that may attach to their convictions, and have an opportunity for partial relief from those penalties, when appropriate.”
In order to bring this about, the UCCCA addresses several aspects of collateral consequences, including:
- Collection in one document of all collateral consequences in state law and regulations, and provisions for avoiding or mitigating them.
- Notification for defendants of such consequences at key points in a criminal case, including at or before formal notification of charges and again at sentencing. Section 5 of the UCCCA instructs trial courts to confirm that the defendant has received such notification and has the opportunity to discuss the consequences with counsel.
- Standards that decision-makers for such things as housing or employment must follow when considering imposing collateral consequences. The essential elements, facts, or circumstances of the person’s crime must be related to the benefit or opportunity at issue before disqualifying them.
- Relief from collateral consequences that may come about if a conviction has been overturned or pardoned, or if charges have been dismissed pursuant to deferred prosecution or a diversion program.
- In addition, UCCCA created two different forms of specific relief. An Order of Limited Relief allows a court or agency to lift an automatic barring of a collateral sanction, allowing licensing or housing agencies to consider whether to uphold the sanction. A Certificate of Restoration of Rights provides public and private employers, landlords and licensing agencies with “concrete and objective information about an individual under consideration for an opportunity or benefit” including their progress toward rehabilitation, in an attempt to help those individuals reintegrate into society.
Currently the UCCCA has been endorsed by the ABA; introduced in Minnesota, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and enacted in Vermont. The Uniform Law Commission hopes that more states will continue to enact the UCCCA in an attempt to increase clarity regarding collateral consequences, fairness and competence in legal representation, and successful reintegration for ex-offenders who have proven that they are capable of re-entering society.