Washington, DC (Dec. 21, 2015) – Today, the Office of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo officially announced a plan to pardon many thousands of people who were convicted of a misdemeanor or a non-violent felony at the age of 16 or 17, but who have had no other convictions since. The criteria that applicants must meet are provided here. By this action, thousands of individuals stand to have multiple, significant barriers to successful re-entry into the community removed.
"Today's dramatic action by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is a tremendous victory for all who have been fighting for criminal justice reform, and in particular those who have worked tirelessly to shine the light on the myriad ways in which criminal convictions erect often insurmountable barriers to re-entry — including housing, employment, and education, among countless other areas," said E.G. "Gerry" Morris, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). "In its sweeping restoration of rights and status, the Governor's wholesale pardon initiative will go a long way toward opening doors for those who committed offenses during these formative years of adolescence, a developmental stage that the Supreme Court in recent decisions has expressly acknowledged makes youthful offenders different. The President and other states' governors should take a cue from Governor Cuomo's action today."
"Governor Cuomo's decision to issue this categorical pardon is an historic breakthrough in the national movement to promote the restoration of rights," said NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. "It is a major step forward in the effort to combat the life-altering consequences of a criminal conviction and will serve as a model for governors throughout the nation. As importantly, it reinvigorates the pardon power as an integral and apolitical component of a rational and humane criminal justice system that balances public safety with mercy and forgiveness."
Last year, after years of research and hearings across the nation, NACDL issued a groundbreaking report on the consequences of arrest and conviction affecting at least 65 to 70 million people in America. That report is entitled Collateral Damage: America's Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime – A Roadmap to Restore Rights and Status After Arrest or Conviction. Among the recommendations set forth in the report is that "full restoration of rights and status should be available to convicted individuals upon completion of sentence." The report explains the importance of the pardon process being depoliticized so that pardons are granted in appropriate cases.
In that regard, NACDL recommends that the state and federal pardon processes be made more transparent and accountable, and that grants be made generously pursuant to clear standards:
- The pardon process, at both the presidential and gubernatorial levels, should be handled by an independent executive office and staffed by attorneys with diverse backgrounds and professional experience.
- Pardons should be considered an integral part of the criminal justice system, and should be used to offer relief and restoration of rights to individuals demonstrating need for such relief.
- In the many states and the federal system where pardons are rarely if ever granted, the pardoning authority should reinvigorate the pardon process and grant pardons to deserving individuals.
The report continues, discussing the value of normalizing and routinizing the pardon process through ground rules and guidelines.
To read more about NACDL's extensive work in the area of restoration of rights and status after conviction, visit http://www.nacdl.org/restoration/.
And to access resources of the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the collateral consequences of conviction, including pardon power, visit http://www.nacdl.org/rightsrestoration/.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.