Collateral Consequences, in The Lens

Whoops, I forgot to post a piece I wrote for the great New Orleans news site, The Lens. It’s about how convictions for minor crimes, including ones for which people receive no jail time, can have severe and life-long economic consequences.

A few years back, a young woman named Delisalynn took a walk to the corner store. She was with her sister, who lives in eastern New Orleans, and their route happened to take them past the house where Delisalynn’s ex-boyfriend lived. The young man was outside, with a new girlfriend. Delisalynn exchanged words with him, and things got heated. As she tells it, she and her sister continued on with their errand. When they got to the corner store, the new girlfriend was waiting, with the police.

She accused Delisalynn and her sister of slashing the tires on her ex’s car, something Delisalynn denies doing. She was arrested on the spot. At the precinct, she was told that the misdemeanor charge, criminal damage to property, carried a prison sentence of up to six months.

“I had a 3-year-old at the time, and I did not want to go to jail,” Delisalynn said in an interview. She said the prosecutor and public defender told her that if she pleaded guilty she’d avoid that six-month sentence, so she did.

“Me being young, I just pled guilty,” she said, even though she maintains she had not committed the crime. “All I knew was that I had a daughter, and I had a job. I could not do six months in jail.”

What she didn’t know, and what she said no one explained to her, was that the misdemeanor conviction would stick with her forever. The public defender assigned to her case didn’t mention that in the few minutes they spoke, Delisalynn said — and in any case, the conversation took place after she had accepted the plea deal. Delisalynn asked to be identified only by her first name, a sign of the stigma that can accompany a criminal record.

Read more at The Lens.

Hey, I’m a Finalist for an ABA Silver Gavel Award!

I’m pretty excited that I’m a finalist for the American Bar Association’s 2014 Silver Gavel Award, for my story on Detroit’s 36th District Court. There’s just one other finalist in the magazine category, and it’s Jeffrey Toobin, for his amazing profile of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, so that’s pretty cool. Also nice to see my friend Jeremy Scahill is a finalist for his film Dirty Wars, and that his competition is Dawn Porter’s Gideon’s Army, both of which are incredible, if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen them. (Or few people who might be reading my site, at any rate.)