Why States Should Adopt UCCCA

The Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, promulgated by the Uniform Law Commission in 2009 and amended in 2010, provides states with a process whereby defendants are both notified of indirect penalties that may attach to their convictions, and have an opportunity for partial relief from those penalties, when appropriate.  Criminal convictions frequently carry not only a prison sentence or fine, but also result in numerous disqualifications or legal disabilities (“collateral consequences”), such as bars to professional licenses and government housing, making it difficult for a person to successfully reenter society. 

The UCCCA, largely a procedural act, was designed to rationalize and clarify policies and provisions that are already widely accepted in many states.  The Act is divided into two components: notice and relief.  First, the Act includes a number of provisions related to the collection, notification, and authorization of collateral consequences.  Second, the Act provides options for relief from collateral consequences, including those associated with overturned or pardoned convictions, or those that may have been set aside in other jurisdictions.

States should adopt the UCCCA for the following reasons:

  • Fairness – By requiring that defendants be notified about collateral consequences at important points in their case, the UCCCA produces a more fair and just criminal justice system.  Specifically, under the Act the defendant must be notified: (1) at or before formal notification of charges, so that a defendant can make an informed decision about how to proceed; (2) at sentencing; and (3) when leaving custody, so that a defendant can conform his or her conduct to the law.
  • Ensures Competent Representation – In the 2010 case Padilla v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court held that in order to provide competent representation, a lawyer must inform a client whether a plea carries a risk of deportation.  The requirements in Padilla may well be extended to require accurate counseling about collateral consequences beyond immigration issues.  By requiring a defendant be notified of collateral consequences at various points in his or her case, and by instructing the courts to confirm with the defendant that he or she has been so advised, the UCCCA helps to ensure a defendant is represented by constitutionally competent counsel in keeping with Padilla.
  • Clarity – The UCCCA removes ambiguity surrounding and streamlines access to collateral consequences.  The Act requires all collateral consequences contained in a state’s laws and regulations, and provisions for avoiding or mitigating them, to be collected in a single document. Further, collateral sanctions (automatic legal disabilities) must be authorized by statute, limiting the confusion that may result from sanctions imposed by ordinance, policy, or administrative rule without notice to the public.
  • Successful Reentry – The UCCCA removes barriers, when appropriate, to successful and productive reintegration for ex-offenders.  The UCCCA carefully balances the interests of public safety with the need to provide opportunities for successful reentry.  The Act creates two forms of relief—one available as early as the sentencing phase to facilitate reentry (an Order of Limited Relief) and the other after someone has demonstrated law-abiding conduct for a certain period of time (a Certificate of Restoration of Rights).
  • Discretionary Relief – The UCCCA allows a court or agency to issue an Order of Limited Relief in appropriate circumstances.  These orders remove a collateral sanction’s automatic bar, essentially converting it into a discretionary disqualification.  A licensing agency, public housing authority, or the like, would then be free to consider whether to disqualify a particular individual on the merits.  In order to be granted an Order of Limited Relief, the petitioner must show that relief would “materially assist” in obtaining employment, education, housing, public benefits or occupational licensing, that the individual has a “substantial need” for the benefit to live a law-abiding life, and that “granting the petition would not pose an unreasonable risk to the safety or welfare of the public or any individual.”
  • Reward Rehabilitation – The UCCCA allows an individual to seek general restoration of his or her rights after a period of time has passed, so long as that the individual has adhered to the law during that time and granting the certificate would not pose an unreasonable public safety risk.  A Certificate of Restoration of Rights offers potential public and private employers, landlords, and licensing agencies concrete and objective information about an individual under consideration for an opportunity or benefit, and a degree of assurance about that individual’s progress toward rehabilitation.  The certificate thereby facilitates individuals’ successful reintegration, when their behavior demonstrates that they are making efforts to conform their conduct to the law.