Federal Conviction Expunged

Federal Conviction Expunged by Judge 12 Years Later

Last month a federal court judge in New York took the unusual step of expunging a federal conviction. The judge had sentenced the defendant 12 years earlier.  What made the judge's decision unusual is that people who commit federal crimes don't ordinarily get to eliminate their criminal record.

The Conviction that Keeps Giving

In 2002, Judge Gleeson sentenced Jane Doe, a single mother of four children, to five years probation. In 1997, Doe masqueraded as an injured automobile passenger to collect insurance monies.  She pocketed $2,500. It was the only time Doe had been in trouble with the law. Doe ended up owing $45,701 in restitution.

In her application for expungement, Doe explained how she repeatedly got let go from jobs once employers discovered she was a convicted felon.

Despite the passage of time, Judge Gleeson found that Doe’s conviction had “become an increasingly insurmountable barrier to her ability to work.”  Judge Gleeson realized he'd sentenced Doe “to a lifetime of unemployment.”

Some federal judges believe they can expunge someone's criminal record when “sufficiently extraordinary circumstances” are present.  But few judges have done so. Judge Gleeson concluded that such circumstances were present.  His decision is certain to be appealed.  If his decision is reversed, what is someone like Doe to do?

Is Congress Ready to Pass Second Chance Legislation?

So far, the U.S. Congress has been slow to respond to the plight of people like Doe.  Currently, a bill pending in the Senate would give non-violent offenders the right to petition to seal their federal convictions.  The fate of this bill remains in doubt.

The bill, known as the REDEEM Act, has been considered by the Senate once before.  Senators Corey Booker and Rand Paul reintroduced the bill earlier this year.  Since then, not one senator has agreed to support the bill.

Congress needs to borrow a page from the playbook of those states who have figured out that everybody benefits when ex-offenders are given a second chance.