After 30 years in business, locksmith loses his license — for 1980 crime

Collateral consequences of criminal convictions are wide. Convictions impact everything from later custody decisions to loss of driving privileges. You can peruse the 85 pages of collateral consequences for Alabama here. There are some odd ones. For instance, if you commit a felony, you cannot get victim compensation.  These are some reasons I am a proponent of strong and broad expungement statutes.

This is true of misdemeanors as well:

Misdemeanors have traditionally received short shrift in the legal scholarship and in the public debate over criminal justice. But this inattention is a mistake. Misdemeanors make up 80 percent of U.S. criminal dockets. Most convictions in this country are for misdemeanors—this is what our criminal system does most of the time to the most people.

A news story reveals further why its important:

Shayne Gatlin opened his locksmith business outside of Dallas more than 30 years ago. “Over the decades, he worked hard and grew his operation to three trucks and a retail shop, eventually acquiring more than 100,000 customers. The Better Business Bureau granted him its top rating.”

Which is why, this past June, Gatlin was perplexed to receive a letter informing him that suddenly, after 31 years of unblemished work, a dozen of those state-licensed, the very same agency had suddenly determined he posed an unacceptable threat to public safety. His application to pursue his 32nd year of locksmithing was being denied. . .

Ever since the agency began regulating locksmithing, he said, it has had a fingerprint card on file for him, part of the criminal background check it performs to ensure applicants meet the legal standards for the profession. Gatlin had also self-disclosed his 1980 crime, as required by law.

But this year the agency began collecting digital fingerprints, he said. When Gatlin submitted his, “that’s when they kicked my application back.”

That appears to have set into motion a mandatory new review of his background, said Steve Thornton, Gatlin’s attorney. But rather than acknowledging Gatlin’s long and clean track record, court records show, the Private Security Program instead treated him as a new locksmith applicant. That meant applying an inflexible rule it had adopted in 2014 stating that any applicant with a house burglary conviction, no matter how long ago it occurred, was to be rejected.

These collateral consequences are vicious. It defeats all we say we believe about repentance and “paying-your-debt.”

To rehabilitation advocates, such so-called blanket bans are vestiges of an outdated view of crime and redemption. “We either believe in the capacity of someone to achieve rehabilitation, or we believe the crime is a permanent bar on employability,” said Douglas Smith, whose work as a policy analyst for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is informed by the six years he spent in prison.

Research backs up the former, experts say. Marc Levin, vice president of Criminal Justice Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, points out that studies show steady employment to be a reliable bulwark against recidivism. After seven years without reoffending, he added, the odds of a person repeating his crime is the same as that of someone with no criminal record.

One strategy to deal with these collateral consequences is to challenge the conviction itself. One way available now is to show that the original plea was not knowingly and intelligently made. Was the person represented by a lawyer or did the the person waive the right to such counsel on the record? Alternatively, a person an seek a pardon of the conviction which would wipe the conviction out.