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Convictions for misdemeanors like drug possession often trigger the same longterm consequences that felonies do
Christian Watts made a bad decision in 2002, and he has been paying for it ever since. As a 31-year-old, Watts was working for a Las Vegas limousine service when he connected a friend with someone who had a supply of the illegal party drug MDMA, or ecstasy. Federal investigators who were tracking another drug dealer got wind of the deal, and charged him with felony possession. At the advice of his lawyers, he pleaded the conviction down to a misdemeanor, and served no jail time.
But he says he still feels imprisoned by his conviction. “It’s like a have a black mark on me that disqualifies me in the forum of public opinion,” says Watts, now 40, working as a dog walker and Crossfit trainer in Las Vegas, after spending the past decade earning an associates, bachelors and working toward his Master’s degree. “My life is stuck in a standstill.”
Watts is only one of the many Americans whose misdemeanor convictions have followed them along their road to redemption. And as President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder ramp up their efforts to restore the rights and opportunities of convicted felons as part of criminal justice reform efforts, little attention has been paid to the plight of those convicted of misdemeanors struggling to turn their lives around. “The single most dangerous thing people think is that if they get a conviction and don’t go to jail they won’t face issues,” says Norman Reimer, the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Misdemeanor convictions can have serious impacts.”
Only about 10% of all federal convictions in 2010 were misdemeanors, but research shows the majority of people who find themselves in state criminal courts are facing charges for minor crimes like possession of marijuana or driving with a suspended license. Misdemeanor convictions, in fact, don’t always result in jail time. And yet, misdemeanor convictions can trigger the same legal hindrances, known as collateral consequences, as felonies. And there are fewer routes to expunging them from criminal records.
In Nevada alone, where Watts lives, a person convicted of a misdemeanor could potentially face over 200 federal and state consequences as a result of their conviction many of which bar employment and licenser for certain fields, according to an American Bar Association database. In all, there are over 45,000 state and federal consequences for convictions. “It affects housing rights, access to loans, family rights and a whole realm of things. It’s often called the secret sentence or the silent punishment,” says Reimer, whose organization will soon release a report on the impact of collateral consequences.
Although the government is taking aim at reducing both the prison population and the consequences facing those who commit felonies despite their release, the impact on those with misdemeanors flies under the radar. In fact, in the eyes of the federal government, “most civil disabilities imposed as the result of a federal conviction are triggered by conviction for a felony offense rather than a misdemeanor crime,” according to the Office of the Pardon attorney. And the office’s “limited resources,” the Department of Justice website reads, “are best utilized to review and process applications for pardon of federal convictions.” Despite the fact that criminals may find that the only remedy for their federal misdemeanor conviction is a Presidential pardon, petty criminals just aren’t bad enough to need to be completely forgiven. On the state level, things vary, but Reimer says for many crimes the options for purging things from criminal records are limited. Even when there is no connection between the crime and longterm consequence.
“It sends people down a route that limits their life chances and sets up conditions that can lead them to commit additional crime,” says Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a research analyst at the Sentencing Project. “It makes it hard for people to have stability in their life. It’s not good crime policy and it doesn’t help to promote public safety.”
There are many organizations working to curb the impact of criminal convictions, but few have turned their attention to the impact of misdemeanors. In fact, there is little research that dives deep into the impact collateral consequences have on non-felony convictions. Despite the fact that a minor conviction can get a permanent, legal resident deported. And for people like Watts, that disregard is unacceptable.
After a handful of months on house arrest and probation, Watts went back to school to try to get his life on track, first at a Nevada community college, then at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, using money he inherited from his late grandfather to afford tuition.
But employment did not follow. Because of the misdemeanor on his record, he says has been denied jobs, and was turned away by the National Guard.
“I constantly have to prove I’m not the bad guy this piece of paper says,” he says. “Felony and misdemeanors have little distinction in the effects on your life. The only real difference is the name.”
The district judge that sentenced Watts told him in 2011 the only way to clear it would be to be granted a presidential pardon, even as he praised Watts for working hard to bounce back. “I wish I had far more people before me who show the kind of self rehabilitation and effort that you’ve demonstrated,” said Judge Philip M. Pro. And not soon after, the judge stepped down from the bench to shake Watts’ hand. The judge told him, “There’s not many people that I’ve sentenced that I feel I can do that.”
A Federal judge ruled that state restrictions could not overcome First Amendment scrutiny, given Supreme Court's stance on campaign finance
A federal judge in New York struck down the state’s limits on donations to independent political action committees, or super PACs, citing prior Supreme Court decisions with which he himself disagreed.
District Judge Paul Crotty ruled that New York’s restrictions could not overcome First Amendment scrutiny given recent Supreme Court decisions, Reuters reports, including a ruling on campaign finance earlier this month and the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
“We know what the Supreme Court has held, whether we like it or not, and I’m bound to follow it,” he said during a hearing in Manhattan federal court, according to Reuters.
The state had limited how much individuals could give super PACS, which are supposed to operate independently from a candidate’s campaign. A federal appeals court blocked the state from enforcing the limits in October, pending a final decision, and Crotty’s ruling will now allow independent super PACs in the state to raise unlimited funds.
It was a war we won, despite the burning of Washington D.C. by British soldiers in 1814. So why does no one seem to want to celebrate its bicentennial?
Selling the burning of Washington to Washingtonians turns out to be not so easy.
This summer marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Why, one might ask, is a war that began in Canada in 1812 and ended in 1815 in New Orleans being celebrated in Washington D.C. in 2014? “Although it seems rather morbid to celebrate the burning of Washington in the summer of 1814, it was the turning point of the war. It was the force that pushed the American side to really come out and push for the victory that culminated in the battle of New Orleans with Andrew Jackson a few months later,” says Leslie Jones, public programs manager at the National Center for White House History at Decatur House, one of a dozen organizations organizing events marking the anniversary.
But even though the U.S. won it, the War of 1812 seems to be the buck-toothed stepsister of American military victories. Jones and a small battalion of historians and curators are all very eager to talk about the important milestones of America’s second war of independence—Dolley Madison saving George Washington’s portrait from the White House fire; the brave, tiny militia of Washingtonians who tried to defend the city; Francis Scott Key’s ode to the Battle of Fort McHenry, otherwise known as the Star Spangled Banner — but despite their best efforts, there seems to be little interest thus far in marking the bicentennial.
Other historical anniversaries have fared better. The bicentennial of the American Revolution, for example, saw nearly a decade of celebrations that encompassed televised fireworks, concerts, speeches, nautical and ticker tape parades and a yearlong exhibit at the Smithsonian. It was the theme of Superbowl X as well as two American bids for the Olympics. The original planned name for the first space shuttle was Constitution, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the founding document, but that was before NASA engineers got carried away by Star Trek and switched the name to Enterprise.
The 150th anniversary of the Civil War that started last year saw the Steven Spielberg biopic Lincoln, a spate of books including Rise to Greatness by my colleague David Von Drehle, a History Channel series, an exhibit of Abraham Lincoln’s papers at the Library of Congress and more battle reenactments than can be counted.
Compared to all that, the celebrations for the War of 1812 seem modest indeed. On Flag Day on June 14, the Smithsonian will hold a concert and will display the U.S. flag that inspired Key to pen the nation’s anthem during the war. The annual July 4 Independence Day celebration of the National Mall will be 1812 themed.
But you’ll need to look hard for more events around the nation. Washington, Virginia and Maryland museums and landmarks will hold a “Muster the Militias” open house weekend on July 25-26 featuring free admissions, special tours and family programs. Bladensburg, Md. will unveil a monument commemorating that pivotal battle. Alexandria, Va. will hold a commemorative weekend of events, and the White House Historical Association will hold a day-and-a-half symposium entitled “America Under Fire.”
Aug. 24, the actual day of the 200th anniversary of the burning of the Capitol, will be celebrated in Washington with little more than a 5k run at the Historic Congressional Cemetery, a family festival in Georgetown and a beer festival at Yards Park. The only sponsors signed on thus far are the British, Belgian and Canadian Embassies, WAMU radio and On Tap Magazine, who is sponsoring the beer festival. However, there are cool commemorative stamps and coins to collect.
So why the relative lack of enthusiasm about 1812? Maybe because the U.S. is now best friends with the aggressor, Great Britain. But that didn’t seem to generate any awkwardness during the Revolutionary War bicentennial, when Queen Elizabeth was happy to visit to join in the celebrations. More likely, say some historians, it’s simply a lack of awareness.
“This is an area of history that is so not well known by the broader American public,” says Karen Daly, executive director of Dumbarton House, an historic Washington property that is now a museum. “I find when people visit Dumbarton House, an incredible number of Americans don’t even know this event even happened. They tend to jump from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. This area of history is glossed over in our schooling. And yet, this is what gave us our national anthem and it is very much the event that cemented the union and the democracy. It’s an incredible piece of our history.”
So come on America, have some pride for the 1812 War! We actually won this one.
Cliven Bundy became an overnight icon for his refusal to pay the government to graze his cattle herd on public land in Nevada, but that stance lauded by some conservative media is becoming overshadowed by his recent pro-slavery comments
It doesn’t take much to mint an icon in this political climate. Cliven Bundy became one nearly overnight. The story of Bundy’s battle against federal bureaucrats fit neatly into a resonant narrative: the defiant land-owner taking a stand against government overreach.
As word of Bundy’s refusal to pay the federal government to graze his herd on public land spread, more than 1,000 armed sympathizers descended on his Nevada ranch in the desert outside of Las Vegas. When the U.S. Bureau of Land Management abandoned its effort to seize Bundy’s cattle, the rancher, 68, was celebrated as a hero in certain right-wing circles. Supporters compared the Battle of Bunkerville, Nev., to the American Revolution; there was even a hashtag, #AmericanSpring. With his ten-gallon hat and gruff rhetoric, Bundy was an irresistible symbol of a certain frontier ideal.
The reality was much different. Bundy’s herd of cattle has been illegally grazing on federal land for more than 20 years. He owes the government more than $1 million, which he refuses to pay because, he says, he does not recognize federal authority to collect it. While some conservative media outlets rushed to canonize Bundy, the vast majority of elected Republicans steered clear of the standoff, perhaps because the facts suggested Bundy was less a patriot than a deadbeat.
Or worse. Speaking to supporters on Saturday, Bundy digressed into a discussion of race. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy said, according to Adam Nagourney of the New York Times:
Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
These remarks will surely dim Bundy’s spotlight. The few national politicians who flocked to his cause have already denounced the remarks. Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who had praised Bundy’s supporters as “patriots,” released a statement Thursday morning calling his views on race “appalling.” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who said Bundy’s case raised a “legitimate constitutional question” about federal authority, called his remarks offensive. “I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” Paul said.
Conservative media and political outfits which had promoted Bundy’s cause fell silent. Fox News ignored the remarks, though journalist Greta Van Susteren, who has featured the story, released a statement condemning Bundy’s remarks. Americans for Prosperity’s Nevada branch, which also latched onto the ranch rebellion, condemned Bundy’s comments in a statement to TIME. “I think most people would agree that spending over a million dollars to chase ‘trespass cattle’ in the Nevada desert is a poor use of tax dollars,” says spokesman Zachary Moyle. “It’s important to note that our opposition to wasteful government spending in no way lends support to offensive remarks made by Mr. Bundy or anyone else.”
Calls to Bundy’s ranch and to a mobile phone belonging to his family went unanswered Thursday. Craig Leff, a spokesman for the BLM, told TIME the agency will “continue to pursue this matter administratively and judicially.” The Battle of Bunkerville is over. Now the backlash has begun.
This story was updated at 5:35 p.m. on April 24 to include comments from Americans for Prosperity
The bill signed this week by Gov. Phil Bryant that bans abortions after the midpoint of a pregnancy, and which makes no exception to cases of rape or incest, has quickly provoked adverse reactions from the pro-choice and pro-life communities
A bill signed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday that bans abortions after 20 weeks with no exception for cases of rape or incest has provoked typically split reactions from the pro-life and pro-choice communities.
“Today is an important day for protecting the unborn and the health and safety of women in Mississippi,” Bryant said after signing HB 1400, which is set to become a law July 1. The bill bans abortion starting at 20 weeks’ gestational age, or since the beginning of the woman’s last period of menstruation. Pregnancies typically last 40 weeks. While the bill doesn’t provide exceptions to women who have been the victim of rape or incest, it does allow women to abort if they face risks of death or permanent injury or “severe fetal abnormalities.”
Bryant’s remarks were echoed by supporters who believe the law is a crucial step for women’s health. “A woman seeking an abortion at 20 weeks is 35 times more likely to die from abortion than she was in the first trimester. At 21 weeks or more, she is 91 times more likely to die from abortion than she was in the first trimester,” Dr. Charmaine Yoest, CEO of Americans United for Life, said in a statement. “I commend the leadership in Mississippi who worked together to achieve commonsense limits on dangerous abortion procedures.”
Opponents, however, called the new restrictions “dangerous” and “unconstitutional.” The Center for Reproductive Rights said that instances of abortions after 20 weeks were “exceptionally rare,” claiming only two were performed in 2012.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which deals with reproductive health, while 23 percent of American abortion providers offer abortions at 20 weeks, only 1.2 percent of abortions occur after that point. Still, there has been a recent trend of legislation to bar abortion at that period. Several states including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas ban abortions from the mid-pregnancy point.
But Planned Parenthood claimed that while those bans begin at the point of fertilization — or two weeks after the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle — the Mississippi law would start counting the pregnancy at gestation, prohibiting abortions two weeks earlier than most other so-called 20-week bans. “Women who make the deeply personal and often complex decision to end a pregnancy [at its midpoint] should do so in consultation with their physician, not politicians,” Felicia Brown-Williams, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told The Clarion-Ledger.
But Diane Deriz, who owns Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, says that the bill would have little bearing on actual abortion practices in the state. “[The bill is] a totally irrelevant piece of legislation that I’m sure was aimed at the clinic,” Derzis, owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, told the Jacksonville Free Press in March. “The clinic goes to 16 weeks, so what difference does that bill make?”
On the second day of his visit to Japan Thursday, President Barack Obama toured the country’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where he came face to face with the tiny Honda-built humanoid robot ASIMO.
“It’s nice to meet you,” the robot said in a metallic voice, welcoming Obama to the facility. It then proceeded to run around and kick a soccer ball at the commander-in-chief, who deftly stopped it.
But the experience left Obama spooked. He later quipped, “I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike,” he said. “They were amazing.”
The deaths of three U.S. doctors at the hands of an Afghan policeman raises questions about a continued American presence there
The killing of three U.S. medical personnel Thursday, allegedly by an Afghan policeman guarding their hospital, raises anew questions about the wisdom of a continued U.S. presence there, in uniform, scrubs or any other kind of garb. While U.S. troops may have increased protection after a spate of so-called blue-on-green attacks in recent years, the lifesavers working at Kabul’s Cure International Hospital apparently were slain by a policeman dedicated to their protection.
The murders come as two veteran reporters file on what life is like in Iraq, where the last U.S. troops left in 2011; and Afghanistan, where the U.S. troop presence has shrunk to 33,000, on the way to removing all U.S. combat troops by year’s end.
“Two years after the last American soldiers departed, it’s hard to find any evidence that they were ever there,” Dexter Filkins writes of Iraq in the latest New Yorker. Bombings are a deadly, and everyday, occurrence. Filkins notes that the U.S. started pushing for the election of Nouri al-Maliki as Iraq’s prime minister in 2006, after a Central Intelligence Agency officer recommended him to U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. “Among many Iraqis, the concern is that their country is falling again into civil war,” he writes, “and that it is Maliki who has driven it to the edge.”
A total of 4,486 U.S. troops died in Iraq.
Meanwhile, 1,800 miles away in Afghanistan, a unit from the 82nd Airborne Division recently returned and came “looking for a fight.” But it hasn’t happened. “Although they’re still preparing for the worse, the soldiers are discovering that the Afghanistan they left in 2012 isn’t the same country they returned to,” Drew Brooks of the Fayetteville Observer wrote Tuesday. “The job of fighting off insurgents now falls to Afghan national security forces.”
It was a member of those forces who killed the three Americans earlier today.
A total of 2,317 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan.
Two countries, one lesson: there is more than one way to win, or lose, a war.
In the News: Obama in Japan; FCC proposes 'net neutrality' rules; did Sarah Palin blow the Alaska Senate race; and the 2014 TIME 100
- Obama to Japan, yes we will defend you [TIME]
- Overseas, Obama projects a whole lot of nothing [Washington Post]
- “The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday that it would propose new rules that allow companies like Disney, Google or Netflix to pay Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.” [NYT]
- From The Wall Street Journal: “This latest plan is likely to be viewed as an effort to find a middle ground, as the FCC has been caught between its promise to keep the Internet open and broadband providers’ desire to explore new business models in a fast-changing marketplace. It likely won’t satisfy everyone, however. Some advocates of an open Internet argue that preferential treatment for some content companies inevitably will result in discriminatory treatment for others.” [WSJ]
- A defiant rancher savors the audience that rallied his side [NYT]
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that sanctions against Russia need to be “widened and tightened” to prevent the crisis in Ukraine from escalating further on Wednesday [The Hill]
- Caroline Kennedy says she would ‘absolutely’ back Hillary Clinton if she decided to run for president [ABC News]
- Georgia governor signs expansive new gun law: “House Bill 60, or the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014 — which opponents have nicknamed the “guns everywhere bill” — specifies where Georgia residents can carry weapons. Included are provisions that allow residents who have concealed carry permits to take guns into some bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain parts of airports.” [CNN]
- The left’s secret club [Politico]
- LA Times reports: “The IRS handed out a total of nearly $1.1 million in bonuses in a 27-month period to more than 1,146 employees who had been disciplined for failing to pay taxes, according to an inspector general’s report.”
- How Sarah Palin threw the Alaska Senate race [Politico Magazine]
- “Sen. Elizabeth Warren claims she’s not running for president in two years. Of course, President Obama and many others said the same thing before running. But even if she does seek the Oval Office, the Massachusetts Democrat wouldn’t be 2016′s version of Barack Obama in 2008. Still, Warren may be able to transform the policy debate in the way John Edwards did in 2008.” [FiveThirtyEight]
What’s prettier in print: TIME 100 2014
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sen. Rand Paul
Former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Congressman John Lewis on Attorney General Eric Holder
Gov. Chris Christie on Gov. Scott Walker
41 women made the 2014 TIME 100 list
With Washington, D.C. mired in partisan gridlock, the nation’s political power centers have shifted outside the nation’s capital to statehouses and boardrooms across the country. That migration is reflected in this year’s TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people, where alongside must-mention names like President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are Edward Snowden, Jerry Brown, and Scott Walker.
The admitted National Security Agency leaker and Time Person of the Year runner-up is one of several political figures making their debut on the list. Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists, philanthropists, and Republican donors, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist and Democratic donor, earned spots on account of the growing influence of outside political campaign spending on American politics.
Brown, the Democratic California governor who has worked to right his state’s finances, is an established figure on the political stage but eschews the nation’s capital. Republican up-and-comers like Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, and Sen. Rand Paul, are both eyeing runs at the White House built on a disdain for the way business is done in Washington. And New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has built a name for herself taking on the Pentagon and other lawmakers in an effort to reform the way the military handles cases of sexual assault.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes the list yet again, as her consideration of a repeat bid for the presidency locks up the Democratic field and keeps the nation waiting. Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the outspoken officer twice-passed over for promotion, made the list because of his willingness to challenge the military’s conventional thinking. He will soon take over the Army’s command focused on designing the service’s future.
Here is the full list of politicos and the authors of the profiles:
California Gov. Jerry Brown by former California Gov. Gray Davis
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Malala Yousafzai
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) by former New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato
Attorney General Eric Holder by Rep. John Lewis
Secretary of State John Kerry by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
David and Charles Koch by Karl Rove
Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster by Lt. Gen. Dave Barno (Ret.)
President Barack Obama by Joe Klein
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Edward Snowden by Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Tom Steyer by former Vice President Al Gore
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde