FREE Resource from Clearinghouse Community

April 21, 2015

Law students interested in the real world of public interest law practice are invited to join the Clearinghouse Community, the new free resource from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

The Clearinghouse Community follows on the rich tradition of Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy and covers—in a practice-oriented way—developments in a wide range of poverty law topics of interest to students in the Civil Rights Clinic. For example, this month the Clearinghouse Community is featuring content on criminal records: an article on expungement as a gateway to workan advocacy story on preventing commercial background screeners from reporting expunged cases, and a Google+ Hangout on Air scheduled for April 29 with a professor and student in the Record Clearance Project at San José State University. Students may also want to check out curated collections of articles on criminal records, racial justice, and fair housing.

In fact, the Clearinghouse Community archives include an advocacy story by Charlotte School of Law’s own Prof. Jason Huber on the Civil Rights Clinic’s successful Ban the Box campaign.

The Shriver Center no longer requires a subscription to access these materials. Readers can simply register on the site (see the link in the upper right hand corner). Be sure to sign up to receive a monthly email linking to all of that month’s new content.


Pay Me What I Deserve: Restitution for Victims of Sex Trafficking

April 14, 2015

By: Jessica Petitt

Photo credits: http://www.jlcd.org/advocacy

Photo courtesy of http://www.jlcd.org/advocacy.

Trapped. Trapped in a life of misery; often beaten, starved, and forced to work as prostitutes or take grueling jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant, or factory workers with little or no pay. This is the true definition of human trafficking according to the FBI’s annual report. This is what is now considered the epitome of modern day slavery and what many individuals, predominantly women, are facing within the realms of North Carolina, the United States, and all around the world.

The State of North Carolina is known for many things, sex trafficking typically not being one of them. However, North Carolina is ranked the eighth highest state in the country where sex trafficking occurs. Charlotte, in particular, is a major international transportation hub for traffickers due to the very close proximity to major highways such as I-85 and I-77, which lead to Miami, Atlanta and D.C. Traffickers typically target the area because victims can be picked up and taken quickly, making it very hard to find and prosecute the people involved in taking these individuals. [1] Moreover, Charlotte has numerous sporting and entertainment events throughout the year, a large agricultural economy, and proximity to major airports not just in Charlotte, but also in Raleigh and Durham.When these major events take place women are typically brought into town by the carload and sold to interested buyers in town.

Many women will never overcome being a victim of sex trafficking, but thankfully some do. This global issue has gained widespread support from many activists and churches attempting to educate the general population and raise funds for these individuals who have been affected by trafficking. The legislature has taken these steps even further by implementing laws and regulations under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, to compensate survivors of human trafficking and allowing them to file suit against a defendant requesting monetary restitution. Federal courts must now consider an order of restitution for the benefit of victims. [2] For most of these survivors, a restitution award will be their best and only opportunity to obtain the compensation necessary to assist them in rebuilding their lives.

What is Restitution & How is it Calculated?

Restitution in general is defined as: returning to the proper owner property or the monetary value of loss. [3] Sometimes restitution is made part of a judgment in negligent or contract cases. In criminal cases, one of the penalties imposed is requiring return of stolen goods to the victim or payment to the victim for harm caused. Restitution essentially means restorationin the judicial system. A victim is restored when she is placed in a position she would have been but for the defendant’s unjust enrichment upon services provided.

The Victim’s of Trafficking & Violence Protection Act of 2000 (“TVPA”),which has been adopted within the State of North Carolina, focuses on how to calculate the victim’s economic losses. When it comes to lost income, “the term ‘full amount of the victim’s losses’ . . . shall . . . include the greater of the gross income or value to the defendant of the victim’s services or labor or the value of the victim’s labor as guaranteed under the minimum wage and overtime guarantees of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” Where the value of the victim’s labor to the defendant cannot be easily determined, typically as in the case of forced prostitution, restitution may be awarded in the amount of the defendant’s ill-gotten gains. Other courts have applied an alternative formula for compensating victims based upon the theory of unjust enrichment. This relief can be particularly favorable in sex trafficking cases where the fundamental nature of the work is illegal and victims are unable to benefit from a prevailing wage standard.

Problems with Implementation

 Despite mandatory restitution laws, courts rarely award trafficking victims lost wages. Moreover, awards that involve sex are the least likely to receive monetary awards, even when the victims are children. Many defense lawyers often argue victims of sex trafficking do not deserve restitution, because the work they performed is illegal. The law requires a human trafficking restitution award to include whichever is greater: the value of the victim’s work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) or the value to the defendant of the services the victim was forced (or induced, in the case of children) to provide. The value to a defendant of commercial sexual services tends to greatly exceed minimum wage. One would expect restitution amounts in sex trafficking cases to be vastly greater than those awarded in forced labor cases; however, this is rarely the case. The TVPA’s mandatory restitution provision is frequently overlooked, leaving trafficking victims empty-handed and deprived of resources that would enable them to start their lives over again.

The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, in collaboration with WilmerHale, conducted an in-depth examination of all federal criminal human trafficking cases brought between 2009 and 2012. A total of 306 federal indictments for human trafficking were identified between 2009 and 2012. The data showed that restitution was awarded in just 36 percent of cases. [4] This research further shows the disturbing result that restitution is rarely awarded in general. And the small sum that has been awarded, which is less than $3 million per year on average for each of the four years, should convey how underserved the rights of trafficked victims are being held. Granted, $3 million sounds like a hefty price tag, but in reality it is miniscule compared to the amount traffickers are making on these women. Sex trafficking is the fastest growing business of organized crime with an estimated revenue of $32 billion annually, or $87 million a day. [5] So let’s do the math: if a trafficker had four women working seven days a week, meeting quotas of $500 per night they would make $632,000 in one year.

To bring this issue closer to home, according to a recent Newsweek Article, a woman reported to be named Janet, was forced into prostitution in Mexico before she was brought to the United States. Once arriving in United States, Janet was brought to a farm labor camp located just outside the city limits of Charlotte, NC. Janet was transported every day from her brothel in Charlotte, to farm labor camps where she was forced to sleep with men from 7 P.M. at night until 3 in the morning. She was forced to sleep with sometimes as many as fifty men per day. Janet’s pimp was eventually arrested and sentenced to 15 years behind bars, plus supervised release. He must register as a sex offender and was ordered to pay Janet $1.2 million in restitution, which will come from the money he made as a pimp and whatever he makes in prison job programs.

Photo courtesy of Newsweek.

Photo courtesy of Newsweek.

Since when did Mandatory become Discretionary?

While Janet may have been successful in receiving an award against her trafficker, most trafficked individuals are not so lucky. It has been more than a decade since this legislation was passed, but courts still mismanage TVPA’s restitution provision, specifically prosecutors. A key determinant of whether and how much the defendants are ordered to pay restitution to any human trafficking victims depends on how hard the prosecutors fight for monetary compensation—even if it is even fought for at all. According to the Wilmerhale study, prosecutors failed to request any compensation in nearly half of the trafficking indictments that were brought in the federal criminal courts over a four-year span. The average court order in sex trafficking cases only awarded victims about $46,000, which is drastically lower than the $214,000 obtained in forced labor cases.

Despite the fact that restitution is mandatory under the statute, the question of whether it should be awarded–both on the facts of a particular case and as a policy matter–is nonetheless frequently debated in restitution hearings. While many prosecutors successfully advocate for restitution, others are not clear on the law when called upon to defend restitution, particularly in sex trafficking cases. As stated above, nearly half do not request restitution at all.

In sex trafficking cases, disconnect between the illegality of the underlying activity and the legal requirements that victims receive compensation provides ample opportunity for defense attorneys to object to restitution. Some defense attorneys consistently dispute that sex trafficking victims are not deserving of restitution. Arguments have even been made that compensation encourages women to be prostitutes.

Is this really the changed mindset and reform we hoped to see with trafficked individuals seeking to change their lives and overcome horrific crimes committed against them when legislators passed this legislation? Do we really think this is the best we can do to end trafficking and stop this massive $32 billion dollar annual industry that is stealing the lives of people we care about? There are numerous local support groups who are working tirelessly to bring awareness to the city of Charlotte, the Polaris Hotline being is one of them. This nonprofit organization is available for questions and tips and can even activate task forces in crises. The United Family Services is another Charlotte nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals and families who are victims of trafficking. The United Family Services provides a shelter in Charlotte, as well as counseling and protective services. The more people know about trafficking, the better. If you, or someone you know, has become a victim to trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888)-3737-888.

[1] http://www.wsoctv.com/news/news/special-reports/9-investigates-human-trafficking-happening-charlot/nN2X4/#__federated=1

[2]http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/courts_rarely_awarded_sex_trafficking_victims_compensation_study_finds/

[3] http://www.restorativejustice.org/university-classroom/01introduction/tutorial-introduction-to-restorative-justice/outcomes/restitution

[4]http://www.wilmerhale.com/uploadedFiles/Shared_Content/Editorial/Publications/Documents/Human-Trafficking-When-Mandatory-Does-Not-Mean-Mandatory-2014.pdf

[5] https://www.charitysub.org/sex-trafficking-in-the-us


The Lost Ones

April 9, 2015

By: Suzette L. Steptoe

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, together women ought to be able to turn it right side up again.”

– Sojourner Truth

During the latter part of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, the attitude of most of the Suffragettes (women who advocated suffrage for women and voting rights) was that minority women should not be included in the movement.[1] After the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, prominent Suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton,

“Demanded — in the true liberal tradition — access to the mainstream of American society in terms of professions, education, law, politics, and property. [She] fought to end the barriers that denied American citizens their rights purely on the basis of sex. [However, she wrote fiery letters and gave speeches denouncing the passage of any law that allowed Black men to vote before] women such as herself; the white, middle-class, culturally if not religiously protestant, propertied and well-educated.”[2]

This is important to note because it not only speaks to the racial divide but also the divide within the Suffrage movement.

The year 1920 changed the face of the American electorate forever. After nearly a century of protesting and legal battles, Tennessee ratified the 19th amendment. Tennessee’s ratification allowed the amendment to pass its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states and resulted in the biggest achievement for American women at that time the right to vote. Sadly, it did very little in advancing women towards equality in other areas.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that said the “separate but equal” theory was contrary to the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and was therefore unconstitutional.[3] The impact of this decision was felt across the country and it became the driving force behind the movement now known as the Civil Rights Movement. This movement prompted citizens to protest and demand bans on all forms of discrimination including voting, equal access, and workplace equality.

Women protesting during the Feminist Movement in 1920. Photo courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Suffragettes protesting in 1920. Photo courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

The feminist movement allowed more women to appear in the workforce, however, the movement did very little in the way of ensuring these women would earn the salaries their male counterparts were earning for the same work performed. Although there was virtually no way to explain this beyond speculation, some economists point to the hundreds of studies that have consistently found that a large portion of the pay differences could be attributed to gender discrimination. And historically, these differences were easily attributed to the custom of men supporting the family financially by working outside of the home while women worked within the home providing domestic support. It was assumed that, because women worked within the home, they did not have the opportunity to acquire the experience or education that men possessed. Economists felt that this assumption could be dispelled once women acquired the same levels of education and experience as men.

In 1961, President John Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (“Commission”). The primary goal of the Commission was to review employment policies in place for women and address the labor laws regarding working hours and wages and the lack of education for working women. The Commission’s findings did not itself bring about immediate changes but it was very influential in spawning many state commissions of the status of women, which promoted more equal opportunities for women. Prior to the Commission’s termination in 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act which made it illegal for employers to pay women less than men for the same duties performed. Additionally, the ruling in Supreme Court case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. brought the wage gap issue – the statistical 80 cents on each dollar that women were paid compared to men – into focus and although the Supreme Court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter (based on its interpretation of the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit), Congress later passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which gave women more leeway to fight discriminatory pay.[4]

Because of these Acts, all women have somewhat fared better in terms of access to a variety of occupations, career advancement and income. Unfortunately, the wage difference continued as, in addition to experience, men were more likely to earn bachelors, masters and professional degrees. However, by the 1970’s, women began to make rapid gains that continue to increase and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women earned twice as many college degrees than their male counterparts with females earning more than 52% of all degrees between 1999-2000. However, minority women earned, on average, 65% of associate’s degrees, approximately 64% of bachelor’s degrees and 60% of all doctorate degrees.

The Women’s Movement came on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, and due to the efforts of both, legislation was passed giving women access to a large variety of occupations. White women seized this opportunity and gained entry into the workforce in unprecedented numbers and continue today to reap the fruits of the Movement’s labor while minority women, who fought the same battles, have not been so well rewarded. Between 1979 and 2013, inflation-adjusted earnings (also called constant-dollar earnings) rose by 31% for White women, compared with an increase of 20% for Black women and 15% for Hispanic women. As late as the fourth quarter of 2014, the median weekly earnings for White women was $738 with minority women averaging $573. Thus, even though minority women hold a higher percentage of earned degrees and are as experienced as their white female counterparts, in addition to earning a fraction of what men earn, minority women consistently earn approximately 31% lower salaries than White females in the same positions. These income disparities highly suggest that the Movements did not create a level playing field and it did little to eliminate workplace racism and sexism.

It is true that discriminatory practices inherent in workplace policies receive some attention from policy makers, but the focus is typically women in general or White women. Somehow, minority women, a protected class for which the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements should have safeguarded, were once again cast aside. Regardless of their educational background and skills, minority women are systematically relegated to the lower echelon of the salary hierarchy and will remain there until this issue is addressed in its proper context. The Civil Rights Movement allows minority women to stand at the door of equality but nobody thought to give them the key that actually unlocks the door.

[1] Lori D. Ginzberg, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life, (Hill and Wang 2009).

[2] Id.

[3] Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

[4] Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007).


Mumia Abu Jamal: A Lesson in Murder, Race, Police Brutality, Political Dissent and a Commencement Speech in Vermont

March 5, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Mumia Abu Jamal, described by the New York Times as “perhaps the world’s most famous death row inmate” was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He was sentenced to death for the crime, and spent the next thirty years living in isolation on Death Row. The latter ten of those thirty years, he spent isolated on Death Row even though a Federal Court judge overturned his death sentence in 2001. Currently, Mumia is still in prison under a life without parole sentence, and living in general population. So, why is this convicted cop killer giving a graduation speech via a pre-recorded phone call to a class from a Vermont college?

Philadelphia, 1981

Philadelphia during the early 1980’s was a city plagued with racial tensions. Just two years before the death of Officer Faulkner, the United States Department of Justice had filed a federal lawsuit against the city’s mayor, Frank Rizzo, and other city officials for condoning police brutality. The suit claimed that in the years 1975-1979, 290 persons had been shot by the Philadelphia police force. During Rizzo’s tenure as mayor, fatal shootings by the police department had increased annually by 20 percent. When Rizzo left office in 1980, fatal shootings decreased by 67 percent. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Crime and Corrections found that the police force lacked internal leadership and that cops frequently engaged in acts of “lawlessness.”[1] [2]

During this time in the city, there was a growing political movement called MOVE. MOVE is described by CNN as a “a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a ‘back-to-nature’ lifestyle and preached against technology.” In 1978, the police began a siege of a house that was occupied by MOVE members. Although it remains disputed who fired the first shot, a Philadelphia police officer was fatally wounded during the hostilities. As television cameras filmed the members of MOVE surrendering to police, the cameras also caught an officer striking the leader of the MOVE political group, Delbert Africa, in the head with the butt of his shotgun as he dragged his body through the street while other officers repeatedly kicked him. The very next day officers had the house bulldozed; completely destroying the crime scene. MOVE members that surrendered to the police that day were charged with third-degree murder, conspiracy, and aggravated assault; all were found guilty and sentenced from thirty to 100 years in prison.[3]

The Shooting

Mumia, born Wesley Cook, was active within the MOVE organization. In his youth, he was involved with the Black Panther party until 1970. It was at this time, when he was a fifteen year old high school student, that he was put under surveillance as part of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO. This program was operated in conjunction and with the cooperation of the Philadelphia police department.   Later in his life, Mumia was a popular radio journalist. He was also the President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Often his stories were critical of the police department and other city leaders. At the time of his arrest for the murder of Officer Faulkner, he also drove a cab to earn extra money.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild.

At almost 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner stopped a car driven by Mumia’s brother, William Cook, and a passenger nicknamed, “Poppi”.[4] A struggle was occurring between Cook and Faulkner as Mumia, on his shift as a cab driver, happened to drive by. Moments later, as other officers are arriving, Faulkner was dead with two gunshot wounds to his head and back. Mumia sat on the curb with a gunshot from the officer’s gun to his chest, and his legally owned and registered hand-gun a few feet from him on the ground. Mumia and his brother were arrested. Cook was released a couple of days later. Mumia was charged with first degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime.

The Trial and the After Effects

Mumia’s trial began in June 1982, in the midst of heavy media coverage. The interest remains today—a general Google search of “Mumia Abu Jamal trial” brings back 182,000 hits. Proponents of Mumia claim that the adjudication process was fraught with grave injustices to Mumia’s protected civil rights of having a fair and unbiased trial and these concerns were confirmed by the report from Amnesty International. Opponents of Mumia assert that the trial was conducted in an honorable fashion and the initial sentence of death was the correct result.

Mumia has had his death warrant signed two times in the course of post-conviction appeals. In December 2001, the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld the conviction, but vacated the death sentence because egregious errors during the sentencing portion of the original trial. In particular finding, “the jury instructions and verdict sheet in this case involved an unreasonable application of federal law. The charge and verdict form created a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed it was precluded from considering any mitigating circumstance that had not been found unanimously to exist.” Mumia continued to live in solitary confinement, confined for twenty-three hours a day on Death Row for ten years, despite having his death sentence confirmed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. He was finally moved into the general prison population in December of 2011.

Goddard College and the Restriction of Speech

Goddard College is not the run-of the mill institute of higher learning. Students do not have a set schedule, textbooks or a syllabus. Faculty and students meet on campus only twice a year for two weeks at a time and students are “encouraged to question received knowledge and the status quo and to create new understandings of the world and of human experience.” Goddard College is also where Mumia began his college education in the late 1970’s, and where he later finished his degree while serving time on Death Row.

Photo courtesy of Goddard College.

Photo courtesy of Goddard College.

The latest graduating class of Goddard, which consisted of 20 students, unanimously voted to have Mumia as their commencement speaker. The class cited that they wanted Mumia to speak for his “ability to think critically and radically.”

Police and supporters took to the streets of Philadelphia to protest the speech by standing in silence at the spot Officer Faulkner was shot for thirty minutes to “drown out the voice of Mumia Abu Jamal.”

And that is not all the supporters did to try to silence Mumia once more: Pennsylvania state legislators introduced HS 2533, which amends the Crime Victims Act of 1998, by allowing a district attorney in the county were a “personal injury” crime had occurred or by allowing the Attorney General, after conferring with said district attorney, to institute a cause of action against an offender whose actions “perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim.” The bill defines actions that perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim as “conduct that creates a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish on the victim.”

Impact on the First Amendment

HS 2533 severely restricts any person ever convicted of a personal injury crime from exercising the freedom of speech found in the First Amendment. This bill does not account for the severity of the crime, the nature of the circumstances surrounding the crime, the length of time from when the crime was committed until the person does any type conduct which creates mental anguish in the victim. That is because not one of those factors matter when addressing rather or not an offender can communicate. The bill restricts all forms of speech the offender can engage in rather it is related to the crime or not.

When Mumia delivered the commencement speech to Goddard via a pre-recorded message accompanied by a slideshow, he never spoke of the crime of which he has been convicted. He never spoke about Daniel Faulkner, Faulkner’s widow, the police, his trial or any other related topic to the controversial episode that occurred back in December 9, 1981. He simply spoke.

Mumia spoke of finding one’s passion in life and following that passion. He spoke about education and how education is the key to expanding the mind, to cultivate awareness and to make change in oneself. He spoke about the perils around the world and how the world desperately needs new ideas to eradicate old problems. Mumia cited classic literary works like the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and works of John Dewy. Social change and social transformation is what Mumia impressed upon the graduates of Goddard by telling those listening, “That your job is not to get a job. Your job is to make a difference.”

The issue that remains is not whether or not Mumia killed Faulkner, or whether Mumia got a fair trial; those opinions are for the reader to decide once he or she reviews all of the facts. The court in Pennsylvania holds that he did; thus he remains in incarcerated. The very act of Mumia still being alive is causing the victim, Faulkner’s widow, mental anguish. By HS 2533’s vague and broad standard that alone is enough to ask for a permanent injunction against Mumia. But an injunction against Mumia from doing what? Being alive? How can you place an injunction on someone’s life?

The question is when can the government silence an offender, incarcerated or not, because people do not like what that person is saying or doing. The answer is never. But it is happening. It is happening to Mumia because he spoke about making the world a better place. It is happening to federal prisoners who want to challenge their convictions by prison officials censoring the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook. A conviction of a crime does not simply obliterate a person’s constitutional rights.

And that is the beautiful thing about the country in which we live. All people get to have a voice. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not; it doesn’t matter if you like it or not; and it doesn’t matter what color a person may be; or what religion a person may practice; or where a person may fall on the social hierarchy; or what crime the person may have committed. It shouldn’t matter, but oh, how it does.

[1] For an in-depth analysis on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal see Amnesty International’s full report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/001/2000/en/0987a185-dfd3-11dd-8e17-69926d493233/amr510012000en.pdf.

[2] For the response to the Amnesty International’s report from Faulkner’s representatives: http://danielfaulkner.com/docs/response.pdf.

[3] “A similar incident occurred in 1985, when a stand-off developed between police and members of MOVE. The siege was ended when a police helicopter dropped an incendiary device on the house, killing 11 of its occupants, including six children (only two occupants survived). The device also started a fire that destroyed over 60 houses in the predominately black area. In 1995, a federal jury awarded MOVE members $1.5 million after determining that the city of Philadelphia had violated their constitutional right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure when the police dropped the bomb.” (Amnesty International Report, 4).

[4] It is disputed by the prosecution that this person even exists.


Expunction Function

December 18, 2014

Written by Corey V. Parton, Parton Law Firm, PLLC

Research by Brandon Forbes, 3L, Charlotte School of law

Everybody makes mistakes.  Most people regret them, learn from them, and move on.  But for 1.6 million out of 9.5 North Carolinians, these mistakes have resulted in a permanent criminal record.[1]  In addition to serving as a constant reminder of one’s past transgressions, a criminal record can create real and substantial obstacles for those seeking employment and affordable housing.  For example, 90% of employers conduct criminal background checks.[2]  In North Carolina, criminal charges can only be removed from one’s record by court order.  Generally, these court orders are only available for: drug and alcohol related crimes, charges that were dismissed or resulted in a not guilty verdict, non-violent felonies, and gang or prostitution related offenses.  The following is a brief breakdown of North Carolina’s expunction statute and crimes to which it applies:

The most commonly used section of the expunction statute is N.C.G.S. § 15A-146, which provides for the expunction of charges resulting in a dismissal or not guilty verdict, as long as the petitioner has not received a previous expunction.  Since this is the only portion of the statute requiring the petitioner to have no previous expunctions, the prudent practitioner will seek a N.C.G.S. § 15A-146 expunction first when attempting to clear up a cluttered criminal record.  North Carolina case law has not yet addressed whether expunging multiple dismissed charges stemming from a single incident is a proper use of this section of the statute.[3]

N.C.G.S. § 15A-145(a) provides for the expunction of misdemeanors committed when the defendant was under the age of 18 (or under 21 for possession of alcohol) after two years have passed.

N.C.G.S. § 15A-145.1 allows for the removal of certain gang-related offenses after a two-year wait period provided they were committed when the petitioner was under 18.

First time drug offenders who were under 21 at the time of their conviction may be eligible to have their charges expunged two years following their conviction pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-145.2-3.

Certain non-violent felonies committed by the petitioner when they were under 18 can be expunged under N.C.G.S. § 15A-145.4 after four years have passed.  The petitioner must also complete at least 100 community service hours.  Other non-violent felonies and misdemeanors can be dismissed, regardless of the petitioner’s age at the time of conviction under N.C.G.S. § 15A-145.5, provided fifteen years have passed since the conviction.

Certain prostitution offenses are eligible for expunction under N.C.G.S. § 15A-145.6 when the offense was due to human trafficking and the petitioner has no previous or subsequent prostitution related convictions.

With the exception of N.C.G.S. § 15A-146, all petitions for expunction must be accompanied by an affidavit stating that the petitioner does not have any outstanding civil judgments or subsequent convictions anywhere in the United States.  The petitioner must also provide affidavits from two non-relatives in their community attesting to the petitioner’s good moral character.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used or relied upon as legal advice.  For specific information regarding your case you should contact a licensed attorney.

Corey V. Parton

Parton Law Firm, PLLC

1300 South Blvd. Suite K-118

Charlotte, NC 28203

Telephone: (704) 971-8618

Fax: (704) 716-9807

E-mail: parton@partonlawfirm.com

[1] http://www.nciolta.org/journal_spring2014.asp

[2] Id.

[3] See In re Expungement for Kearney, 620 S.E.2d 276 (N.C. App. 2005).


Federal Clemency Initiative

December 8, 2014

By: Courtney Rudy

The Department of Justice in conjunction with the President created The Clemency Initiative, which encourages federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced.[1]  The group, “The Clemency Project 2014,” assists prisoners who apply for this clemency initiative.  Article II section 2 of the U.S. Constitution grants the President the power of executive clemency.  The presidential power only extends to federal criminal offenses.  Executive clemency comes in the form of pardons, commutation of sentence, remission of fine or restitution, or reprieve.  Requests for executive clemency for federal offenses are first sent to the Pardon Attorney who reviews the petition and prepares a recommendation for the President.[2]  The Deputy Attorney General signs the final disposition for each application.  The Office of the Pardon Attorney then prepares the documents the President signs when he grants an executive clemency and notifies all applicants of the President’s clemency decisions.[3]

Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the Clemency Initiative on April 23, 2014.  He stated that the Clemency Initiative was created to make the criminal justice system effective, fair, and to restore people’s confidence in the system.[4]  The initiative was specifically created for federal prisoners who, if sentenced today under current sentencing laws and polices, would likely have received a substantially lower sentence.[5]  The Office of the Pardon Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Prisons are working together on this initiative.  Another major source of assistance comes for a non-government affiliated organization: The Clemency Project 2014.[6]

To apply for the Clemency Initiative, federal prisoners can fill out an Executive Clemency Survey through the TRULINCS Survey Service.[7]  If an inmate does not have access to the Bureau of Prisons TRULINCS system they will be provided with a paper version of the executive clemency survey. [8]  To qualify for the Clemency Initiative, inmates have to meet all six of the following requirements:

  1. They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison, and by operation of law, would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  2. They are a non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels;
  3. The have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  4. They do not have a significant criminal history;
  5. They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  6. They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

The Clemency Project 2014 will contact all inmates who fill out the executive clemency survey to let the inmates know if they met the criteria.  If the criteria are met, the inmate will be provided an attorney through the Clemency Project 2014.

The Clemency Project 2014 is a non-government affiliated organization created shortly after the Deputy Attorney General announced the Clemency Initiative.  The organization is mainly composed of members from the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.  Individual attorneys, activists, and law school clinic students also participate.  All Clemency Project 2014 attorneys provide their services pro bono, ensuring that the federal prisoners incur no charges.  The services the attorneys provide are screening the prisoners’ applications and representing or finding representation for prisoners who qualify.  On October 31, 2014, the Clemency Project 2014 announced that 25,425 federal prisoners have submitted application for consideration, 4,864 applications are currently under attorney review, 5,024 applications contained a sentence of less than ten years disqualifying the applicant, and more than 1,500 attorneys have volunteered to take pro bono cases.[9]

You may be surprised that federal public defenders and court appointed attorneys are not a party of the aforementioned group of individuals involved.  They are not involved as explained in a memo from the Administrative Offices of the United States Courts issued on July 31, 2014.  The Memo states that prisoners are not constitutionally guaranteed legal representation in clemency suits, meaning that the government cannot pay the attorneys to provide representation.  The memo also states that although federal public defenders cannot provide representation in clemency proceeding, they are still able to assist with screening clemency applications if it is on a fully reimbursed basis.

Since federal public defenders were prisoners’ main resource for legal issues and it has recently been decided that they are not able to provide representation in clemency proceedings, the Clemency Project 2014 is always looking for volunteers to assist with the large amount of cases.  The Clemency Project 2014 provides online training, resource materials, a panel of expert resource counsel, and a screening committee.  To find out more about how to become a volunteer, contact volunteer@clemencyproject2014.org.

[1] USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative.” USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://www.justice.gov/pardon/new-clemency-initiative.html.

[2] Current Pardon Attorney is Deborah Leff.

[3] Current Deputy Attorney General is James Cole. USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: About the Office.” USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: About the Office. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://www.justice.gov/pardon/about-pardon.html.

[4] “For our criminal justice system to be effective it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair. These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system. I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.” Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole
Press Conference Announcing the Clemency Initiative
Washington, D.C.
April 23, 2014

[5] “NACDL.” Clemency Project Overview and FAQs. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://www.nacdl.org/clemencyproject/

[6] USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative.” USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://www.justice.gov/pardon/new-clemency-initiative.html.

[7] TRULINCS is an electronic messaging system run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. For .05 a minute inmates can sent electronic messages to approved recipients, which are then reviewed by correctional staff and forwarded to a 3rd party site. Inmates pay for this service by accessing their inmate trust fund account. https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/the-price-of-communicating-from-behind-bars

[8] “NACDL.” Clemency Project Overview and FAQs. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://www.nacdl.org/clemencyproject/

[9] “Clemency Project 2014.” Clemency Project 2014. Accessed October 10, 2014. https://www.clemencyproject2014.org.


On Approved Financing

December 2, 2014

Part II: The Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies and Removing Negative Items

By Gatlin Groberg

In my last blog, I answered the question of “what is credit?,” explained how credit scores are calculated, and what one can do to improve their credit score.  In Part Two we will dive deeper into credit and explain who maintains the history of your credit, and what you can do to improve your credit once negative items that you believe are inaccurate have taken hold of it.  Near the end of this blog, I’ll explain the consequences of accurate negative items and foreshadow what the future holds for consumer protection laws.

Credit Reporting Agencies

The question of where the credit history of individuals is maintained is an easy one to answer: private companies. Banks and lenders provide consumer information to these private companies—credit reporting agencies—and in turn the credit reporting agencies sell that information to whomever requests it.  These could be potential employers, other banks and lenders attempting to qualify an individual for credit, rental properties, etc.  Like credit scores, there are just a few popular credit reporting agencies that most banks and lenders use.  Instead of just one company, there are three major credit reporting agencies that banks and lenders report your credit use to.  Equifax, Experian, and Transunion are the most popular credit reporting agencies that most look to for accurate histories of credit transactions.

The practice of utilizing three major credit reporting agencies is important to understand.  An individual’s credit history may look different depending on which credit reporting agency was used to obtain a credit report.  For example, Equifax may report the history of two car loans and a mortgage, while Experian may also report a credit card.  Therefore, it is a good idea to look at all three credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Transunion when individuals want to see what is on the entirety of their credit.  A popular site where an individual can get all three of their credit reports is www.annualcreditreport.com.  The United States Congress allows individuals to obtain a free copy of their credit report once every twelve months using this website.

Your Rights Under Consumer Protection Laws

The right to obtain a free credit report is just one of many rights for individuals that Congress has enacted in the ever-evolving world of consumer credit.  When credit first became mainstream in the 1960s, many individuals became victim to inaccurate credit reporting and fraud.  Therefore, Congress passed the Truth in Lending Act (TILA)—a first of its kind legislation aimed at protecting consumers in credit transactions.  There have been many additions to TILA over the years—some meant to improve existing legislation, others meant to keep up with advancing technology.  Today, three pieces of legislation protect consumers from inaccurate credit reporting: The Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Credit Billing Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

       Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), like many of its consumer protection brethren, is exactly what it sounds like.  Whatever is reported on an individual’s credit history must be accurately reported.  An individual has the right to question inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information.  Credit reporting agencies are obligated to investigate an individual’s claim and the inaccurate item then must be removed or corrected, usually within 30 days.

       Fair Credit Billing Act

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) directly regulates creditors in the same facet that the FCRA regulates credit reporting agencies.  The FCBA allows individuals to dispute items with their creditors and requires the creditor to investigate its accuracy.  Other rights that the FCBA provide are the rights of individuals to a monthly billing statement, creditors must credit accounts for items that have been returned, and creditors cannot obligate an individual to pay for goods and services that they did not accept, were not delivered as agreed, or were not as promised.

       Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prevents debt collectors from using deceptive, abusive, or otherwise unfair tactics when seeking a debt repayment. Unfair tactics that the FDCPA prevents range from banning phone calls from debt collectors past 9:00 pm to preventing debt collectors from threatening police action unless a debt is paid.  The FDCPA is the standard when it comes to preventing debt collectors from using harassing and deceptive practices when seeking repayment.

The Accurate Negative Item

The theme of this blog so far has dealt with inaccurate information being reported by creditors and credit reporting agencies.  But what do we need to know about accurate information?  Negative items are a peculiar thing in credit.  They’re the mother-in-law that will never let you live down simple mistakes.  Sure you brought her daughter home late once, but c’mon, that was 5 years ago!  I have a college degree and can provide for her now!  It was just one night and she really likes fireball—but I digress.  Once you have a negative item on your credit report, you have it for a long, long time—seven years in most instances.  Negative items like late payments and collections will (should) fall off of your credit report naturally after seven years from the date of last delinquency.  This is true even if the item has since been taken care of and paid off.  More serious negative items, like bankruptcies, may stay on your credit report for ten years.  Tax liens will actually stay on your credit report forever unless they are paid; only afterward will the countdown until it falls off naturally begin.

These are the harsh and serious consequences of anyone that has made the simple mistake of forgetting to make a monthly payment.  Some have argued that this practice is just a stark reminder to those that laugh in the face of obligation.  Others argue that it is akin to the deceptive practices that TILA was created to prevent.  FICO has taken the latter to heart and recently changed their scoring model to provide more deference to those that made simple mistakes or have low balance collections.  Unfortunately, the seven to ten year sentence remains the same.

Keep reading the blog and listening to the Legal Dose—we’ll see you next time!


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