The Necessity of Post-Exoneration Expungement

By: Jordan Fries

Imagine the conflicting sensations that manifest when someone is released from prison after serving time for a crime he or she did not commit. The amorphous blend of joy and resentment, vindication and mourning for the years lost – the irretrievable time missed. It’s a heartbreaking reality to ponder, and one that invites so much emotional complexity before even touching upon some of the thornier legal implications of moving forward with a heinous crime strapped to one’s back.

Although it would be reasonable to assume that once a person is exonerated and walks freely back into the world all mention of their wrongful conviction would be wiped from every conceivable record, this is sadly not the case. Even when a judge tosses out a wrongful conviction, that exoneree still has a criminal record that must be expunged – a criminal record that can severely damage one’s ability to attain a decent job or even housing. Perhaps most troubling, expunging a criminal record – even for victims of the worst kind of injustice the legal system can inflict – is anything but automatic.

According to a 2014 study from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, one-third of exonerees surveyed over a 10-year period did not have their records expunged. This disturbing number is exacerbated by the fact that failure to seek a criminal records purge is a “significant predictor of post-exoneration offending,” a reentry problem that is even worse when that exoneree had not committed a crime before the one for which he or she was wrongfully convicted. In fact, of the exonerees surveyed, 50 percent of those who did not receive an expungement committed a post-exoneration offense; conversely, less than 32 percent with an expungement did.

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Quarterly Bowling Event

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Life After Innocence (LAI) hosted its quarterly bowling event on Sunday, February 28.  We were excited to see new and old faces as former and current student members joined in on the fun.  We welcomed our new adjunct professor, Megan Fahey, and new student director, Alejandra Barcenas, who got the bowl rolling by making all of the exonerees feel at home.  We also welcomed our two new clients, Mario Casciaro and Sean Whirl, who attended the event and had the chance to meet our other clients and to share their stories.  Exoneree Juan Rivera brought the newest addition to his family, baby daughter Ahnalia Estrellita, and shared stories of his daily sunrise viewings.

Director and founder Laura Caldwell was inspired by the event and even drafted a copy of her chapter to be included in her new collaboration, Anatomy of Innocence.  As always, we enjoyed the opportunity to be with our exonerees and to support them by having a little fun while learning from and teaching each other.  We look forward to doing this again in the future and are so pleased to welcome all of our new student members, our new leaders, and our new exonerees.

Custody After Innocence

The prison population in the United States is approximately 2,217,000. Female prisoners account for 9.3% of the US prison population.[1] Women are the minority in prisons all over the world, but their numbers steadily grow each year at a rate faster than the male population.[2] In many cases, the victim that emerges from female imprisonment is the child of those imprisoned.[3] As of 2010, more than 800,000 of the then nearly 1.5 million US prisoners were parents of children under the age of 18.[4] Of those children, 22 percent were under the age of four.

It is fairly common for women to lose custody of her children even after just a short amount of time in prison.[5] Some countries make arrangements that allow for babies or small children to actually live in the prison with their mothers until they reach a certain age.[6] This is not the case in all US prisons. Countries like Russia and Kazakhstan require that children live in buildings that are attached to prisons, which allow the mothers to have scheduled, regular access.[7] In other countries there are specialized units for inmates who have children. In these units, the women and children are allowed to live together.[8] In Illinois, the Decatur Women’s Facility has a Moms and Babies program where the child can live with the mother in prison if the mother is the primary caretaker.[9] To qualify for this program the mother must be within two years of being released from prison.[10]

Most countries that provide accommodations for children to live with their imprisoned mothers also set age limits. [11]

The Bangkok Rules are the minimum standards the United Nations propose for female prisoners. They were proposed in December of 2010 due to the overwhelming lack of support for female inmates throughout the world.[12]

In the United States there is a very different life for female prisoners.

In Illinois, as of January, custody is now referred to as allocation of parental responsibilities.[13] Visitation is now known as parenting time.[14] . “Alexandra Roffman of Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) emphasized, “People retain all rights to their children unless those rights are terminated.”[15]

Roffman explained, “When I bring cases into court on behalf of people who are incarcerated it is usually trying to get visitation.”[16] Roffman posed the hypothetical of a husband filing for divorce while the wife is in prison. It would be very difficult to have any kind of joint or shared parental responsibility of the child because the court will look at the situation and say “you’re incarcerated, you can’t possibly help out…”[17] Custody orders in Illinois last for two years, but visitation can be changed at any time. CLAIM advocates for as much visitation as possible to preserve the parent and child bond.[18] Roffman says that allowing visitation once a week would make it easier for the mother to be granted shared custody if there is a divorce.[19] Roffman further explained, “If they have had such regular contact with the kids, it would be an injustice otherwise.”[20]

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Making A Phenomenon

Making a Murderer is a Netflix original documentary series (spoilers ahead!) that details a ten year story of a Wisconsin man who was wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault and served 18 years in prison before being exonerated, just to be charged and convicted again in the murder of a young photographer. The show has captivated the nation and for the last few months has been a topic of conversation throughout the country.

The documentary was produced and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos over the course of ten years as the directors investigated all the intricacies of the case.[1] In 1985, Steven Avery was picked up by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department after a prominent member of society was sexually assaulted. The victim was able to positively identify Avery as her attacker, but Avery maintained his innocence. With the assistance of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, Avery was exonerated by DNA evidence and released from prison after serving 18 years for a crime he did not commit.[2] DNA testing also indicated who the actual perpetrator was. That man was Gregory Allen, an individual who had a history of criminal activity and was then imprisoned for another assault he had committed.

After Avery’s release, the public soon learned that a local police officer had gone to the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department and told them that they should look into Gregory Allen for the assault because he had committed similar acts and fit the description. The department actively chose not to do so because they were convinced Avery was their guy. Years later while serving time for a different assault, Allen confessed to the crime that Avery had been convicted of. It was discovered that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department was notified of the confession and again chose not to act. With evidence to support the sheriff’s department’s failures, upon his release, Avery filed a civil lawsuit for 36 million dollars against Manitowoc County and the Sheriff’s Department. In 2005, while depositions were being conducted in the civil suit, Avery was arrested again, but this time for the murder of a young woman. Teresa Halbach was a 25-year-old photographer who had been to the Avery property to photograph a vehicle before she disappeared. After days of relentless searching, her vehicle and some of her burnt remains were discovered on Avery’s property. Four months later, Avery’s 16 year old nephew, Brendan Dassey, was arrested after confessing to helping his uncle Steven assault and murder Halbach.[3]

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Student Spotlight: Ashley Stead

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

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Carly Chocron (left), Exoneree Amanda Knox (middle), Ashley Stead (right); at Knox’s book signing

Meet Ashley Stead. Previous Life After Innocence student director. Political Science and Communication degree holder. Aspiring civil rights litigator.

Ashley received her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Though Ashley studied political science during her undergraduate career, her passion for civil rights began early. As a junior in high school Ashley spoke to her guidance counselor and decided she wanted to go to law school.

“I told my guidance counselor how when I was a child I wanted to became the first female president,” Ashley said. “I have always had a desire to advocate for others and fight injustice. She recommended the field of law and that was the beginning of my journey.”

After completing college, Ashley’s desire to help others reclaim their lives became obvious through her adoption of an older dog. At six years of age, her Siberian Husky, Lobo, was an untrained breeding dog. Ashley took him in and worked hard to overcome his anxiety and aggressive side. Now, she couldn’t imagine her life without him.

“I’ve had him for about two and half years now and it has been an adventure,” Ashley said. “It has taken a lot to train an older dog as well as to cope with his aggression and anxiety issues but he has brought to much joy into my life. I also started running with him to workout some of his energy and it got me back into running. Last year I completed my first half marathon and most of my training was done with Lobo by my side.”

When Ashley came to Loyola, she discovered a new road for her passion. Though she had not worked with wrongful convictions before, she found a home at Life After Innocence.

However, her aspirations originally stemmed from her family.

“I had an interest in prison reform after learning about the prison system from my mother who was a correctional officer in cook county jail for nearly ten years,” Ashley said. “I was not familiar with wrongful convictions but Life After Innocence worked with people upon their release, so I became interested and wanted to learn more.”

Ashley found a shared passion for advocating with founder and director Laura Caldwell and adjunct professor Emily DeYoe. She undertook a wide variety of tasks for the clinic during her second semester of law school when she accepted the job as the student director. Her tasks included legal, social, and administrative activities.

“I felt their passion for advocating for the wrongfully convicted,” Ashley said. “I quickly shared that sentiment. I decided I would accept the job immediately if it was offered.”

Working for LAI helped Ashley develop as a professional and gave her the confidence to work with clients and others in the legal profession. Her time with the clinic will continue to inspire her to fight for those in need in the future.

“The most rewarding part of the clinic has been to meet the exonerees and to hear their stories firsthand,” Ashley said. “They are truly inspiring. I have never met individuals who appreciate life more than our clients. Even after all the horrors they have experienced, many of them face the world in an optimistic and grateful manner. It really puts into perspective the things that truly matter in life.”

In the future, Ashley would like to work in both the public and private sectors. She would like to litigate in criminal law for a few years before moving to the private or nonprofit sector where she can advocate for those who have been adversely affected by our criminal justice system. Although Ashley is a student clinician at LAI this semester and not the student director, her work with LAI has been invaluable.

Ashley remembers the most inspirational statement a client said to her.   “I’d rather spend the rest of my life in jail as an innocent man, than plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.” The statement speaks to the level of perseverance exonerees have. Their drive is inspiring not only for Ashley but for all members of the community, any of whom could one day end up exactly where our exonerees were placed.

Student Spotlight: Joan Williams

By: Sarah Patarino

“For who much is given, much is required.”

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Meet Joan Williams. Accountant. Education enthusiast. Nearly completed law student.

Joan completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Joan then went on to receive a Master’s in Education from Northwestern University. Joan decided to attend law school as a way to complement her background.

“I am a CPA and spent most of my career focused on audit and financial compliance matters,” Joan said. “I wanted to transition my career a bit to deal with broader compliance matters, not just financial issues. I knew that law school would complement my existing background and assist in the career transition.”

Along with Joan’s impressive background, her unique level of experience allowed her to truly make a difference in the clinic. Her full-time work gave her an edge that completed the experience for her.

“Loyola’s Life After Innocence program has definitely enhanced the empathy that I have for others,” Joan said. “The clinical experience taught me to listen to others more attentively and to really hear what others are saying. I knew I wanted to work in the clinic, but I was not sure if my schedule would permit participation since I work full time and am a part time student. I am glad that my schedule this semester allowed me to participate. There were many nuggets of wisdom shared by exonerees during LAI classes and events.”

As the clinic benefited from Joan’s expertise, Joan also found the work to be a rewarding part of her time at Loyola.

“I started law school in the part time cohort with Jarrett Adams, who was an exoneree,” Joan said. “I later took the Wrongful Convictions course, which provide a compelling legal and social perspective on the issues affecting exonerees. The ability to assist exonerees with current life matters is rewarding,” Joan said. “You know the work that you are doing has an immediate impact on their lives. The skills and abilities I have are not just to benefit me, but to serve others.”

After Joan graduates Loyola in December, she hopes to work in a less traditional field of law by working with a not-for-profit.

“My career aspirations do not include a traditional law trajectory,” Joan said. “I want to assist not-for-profits deal with their business and legal matters. My ideal career would include being a compliance officer at a not-for-profit/higher education institution.”

LAI is proud to have been a part of Joan’s legal career and wishes her the best future. Joan herself looks back at her time at Loyola as a mix of moments that led her to where she is today.

“As I reflect upon my time at Loyola, there are mixed emotions,” Joan said. “Law school has been bittersweet. My father passed away after my first year, but my son was born in my last year. I will be the first person on either side of my family to graduate with a law degree. Outside of a stellar legal education, I am most appreciative of the people that I met. The faculty, staff, and students have added tremendous value to my legal education and experience. They have also made the personal life transitions easier to cope with.”

LAI would like to offer its sincerest congratulations and gratitude to Joan for all of her hard work. We look forward to the insightful work she will do in the future.

Financial Planning 101

By: Carly Chocron

Exonerees and Members of the Life After Innocence Clinic join Kupe (second from the left) after Financial Planning

Exonerees and Members of the Life After Innocence Clinic join Kupe (second from the left) after Financial Planning

Financial Planning 101
Life After Innocence was honored to welcome Oliver Kupe, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor, to our seminar class this past week for a session on financial planning. Kupe, who has been working with exoneree Jonathan Barr, helps clients to achieve their financial goals. He discussed with students and exonerees the importance of financial planning and how to take control of your finances.

As a wealth advisor, Kupe helps clients, such as professional athletes who come into large sums of money, manage their wealth. During the session, he explained the role of a financial advisor and the importance of budgeting—information that is useful to both the exonerees and law students.  He also stressed the importance of articulating your budgeting goals and creating a plan of action before receiving money.

The informational session was beneficial to all. We are grateful to Oliver Kupe for his time and invaluable advice, and look forward to working with him again!