Timothy C. Evans, chief judge of the Circuit
Court of Cook County in Illinois, explains how courts can help mitigate the collateral consequences of
justice system involvement. Among other things, courts can reach out to those affected to educate them about their
rights and options, Evans says in this New Thinking podcast.
TIMOTHY C. EVANS: We’ve had instances where people were locked up pending trial, asking—well let me just enter
a plea of guilty so I can get out. They want to get out of jail and don’t realize, hey, that conviction is going
to follow you wherever you’re gonna go.
ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf,
director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. I’m in San Francisco at Community Justice 2014.
Today I’m speaking with Timothy C. Evans, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago, Illinois.
Welcome to our New Thinking podcast series.
JUDGE EVANS: Well thank you, Rob, for inviting me.
It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
WOLF: You participated in a plenary session this morning
that was titled Minimizing the Collateral Consequences of Justice Involvement. So I thought that’s what we would
spend these next few minutes focusing on, and maybe we could start off just by you sharing a little bit or explaining
when we talk about collateral consequences of justice involvement, what exactly does that mean?
EVANS: All right, most people would realize that if, in the criminal justice system, someone is arrested and is charged
with a given offense, let’s say some kind of drug-oriented offense, that if a person is going to enter a plea
of guilty, or goes to trial on an issue like that, probably the direct consequence is going to be some kind of time
in jail, some kind of a conviction that might result in someone losing his or her freedom for a period of time. That’s
a direct consequence. But the collateral consequence would be, using this example but going a step further, that
in addition to the person being convicted and locked up for a time, that person might also find himself deported,
lose his right to stay in the country. So that’s a collateral consequence. An additional one might be that the
person could no longer be in a profession that requires a license. Let’s say barbers, for example, can’t
be convicted of certain offenses, and so that would be a collateral consequence in addition to a plea of guilty for
this particular problem with the drug, they end up losing the right to have that license. Housing is another collateral
consequence. There may be some division where a person is living that says that if you’re convicted of a certain
offense you can’t live there any longer. Scholarships and educational opportunities, if you are convicted of
certain things, you don’t qualify for that. Or you might go into a career like public transportation, driving
a bus—they might say, no, you can’t do that if you’re convicted of this kind of offense. So these are the
kinds of collateral consequences that we’re talking about.
WOLF: So it sounds like someone
could be convicted of one thing and receive a sentence that is proportionate to—hopefully proportionate to the crime,
the offense, but then these collateral consequences could go on for many years to come and affect employment, housing—I
mean it sounds like you could end up homeless if you get kicked out of public housing because of rules against having,
you know, certain kinds of convictions. So it’s very expansive, in a sense. You have a discreet sentence, but
then it affects your life.
JUDGE EVANS: It truly does affect your life in many ways, and the focus
today in the session that we alluded to earlier gave us a chance to concentrate on who has the responsibility of
ameliorating some of these collateral consequences. The Supreme Court case, the Padilla case that was the subject
of that particular discussion, said that at the very least, the lawyer representing the defendant who has been charged
has a responsibility, yes discussing the direct consequences, but also the collateral consequences in a particular
case. A person didn’t have that kind of advice and there was a question whether the sixth amendment applied,
to have effective counsel. But my point of view is that it permeates throughout a system of fairness that should
be committed to justice, that it shouldn’t just be on the shoulder of the defense attorney. But the prosecutorial
segment of our society has to be interested in justice, and certainly the judge hearing that case has a responsibility
too, and I shared that in the state of Illinois, in Cook County, we certainly put that burden on the judge as well.
We want the judge to tell the defendant appearing before the judge—are you aware that if you’re not a citizen,
these are the consequences that may flow from this plea of guilty. So I think it’s a commitment, and we have
to make the fairness, no matter what. And we have to assume that people who are going through that particular phase
of their lives, that they’re not focusing on anything like that. We’ve had instances where people were
locked up pending trial, asking—well let me just enter a plea of guilty so I can get out. They want to get out of
jail and don’t realize, hey, that conviction is going to follow you wherever you’re gonna go. And that
gets back to your question. It absolutely does transcend this time period that they might otherwise be thinking about.
WOLF: You talked about how judges in Cook County will explain the collateral consequence vis-à-vis immigration
status. Are there other ways that the justice system in Cook County is trying to minimize collateral consequences?
JUDGE EVANS: Yes, we have several. One would be a commitment to sealed records so that they couldn’t
be used in an inappropriate way. We have several other kinds of activities I discussed, for example certificates
of relief, certificates of good character, certificates of innocence, that make it possible for the person who has
been rehabilitated to obviate some of the collateral consequences that we talked about. For example, the licensing.
If a person wants to resume being a licensed barber, even though he’d been convicted of something that would
normally take that licensing capability away, under this certificate of relief that we talked about, we could have
that hearing, enter that order, the person receive that certificate, then we would tell the employer you won’t
be charged with any particular problem if you hire this person. They are rehabilitated and they now qualify for the
license that had been taken away from them. So we have all kinds of programs like that and we are pleased to see
WOLF: And are those programs that are initiated through the judiciary, or are they
JUDGE EVANS: They are carried out by the judiciary, but they are statutorily
in effect. The state legislature has worked closely with the judiciary in trying to make these opportunities available.
But we have to be proactive as members of the judiciary or members of the legal community to make these opportunities
available to people who are not comfortable in our setting. Most people don’t know that they’ve got the
right to petition to expunge a certain record. They don’t know what they have to do to qualify for that, so
they don’t know how to seal a background, they don’t know about these certificates of relief unless we
be proactive in making sure they’re given access to these kinds of activities. I discussed one particular thing
that I thought was particularly helpful in this pending before the legislature right now, and that is the expungement
of juvenile records. Certainly if adults don’t know what it is that I’m talking about, children certainly would
not know and under the legislation that is pending in the legislature in Springfield, Illinois now, that expungement
would be automatic. When a child reaches the age of 18, his or her record would automatically be expunged and they
would then be given a new chance, a second chance to apply for that scholarship to go on to college, or to apply
for the first job they’re gonna get, or to apply for housing for the first time they’ll have access to.
WOLF: And let me just ask you one last question, because you mentioned the fact that although you have these
different ways that people can mitigate the collateral consequences through expungement or these different certificates,
they don’t always take advantage of it. And you alluded to a little of that before as well. What are the strategies?
How do you engage people so that they do come in or they do find out that these things are possible and they do clear
up some of these collateral consequences?
JUDGE EVANS: Well, we try to provide this information
on the circumstances that are beyond the traditional circumstances. For example, if a person had to come to court
to find out about these, chances are they wouldn’t come to court. They think about what is facing them right
then, they’re not looking for other opportunities. So what we do is we provide these opportunities, let’s
say on weekends, Saturdays and Sundays we go to the YMCA, we go to other places where people gather. We go to churches,
we go to civic groupings where we can bring the court, and bring the forms, and bring the lawyers who can help them
fill out those forms at no expense to them. And I think when people see what we have to show them, under those informal
circumstances, then they can ask a question. They’re not embarrassed, they’re not ashamed, they realize
that others have similar problems to the problems they have. So that’s how we try to do it. We ask for free
time on the radio, or on television. We make it kind of a public service, you know, things of that kind.
WOLF: Well thank you very much for explaining, you know, some of these great ideas and the way you’re
carrying it out. Addressing this clearly difficult and important issue. I’ve been speaking with Chief Judge
Timothy C. Evans, he’s the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago, Illinois, and we’ve
been talking about how to mitigate collateral consequences of justice system involvement. Thank you so much.
JUDGE EVANS: You’re quite welcome, Rob, and I claim you and I have your family back in Chicago. I’m
going to tell them, if I can, what a great job you’re doing in New York and how much you are very effective.
But I’m telling them we need that kind of talent back in Illinois, back in Chicago.
thank you very much. I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. To learn more
about community justice and the Center for Court Innovation, please visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org.
You can also listen to our podcast there, and you can also find us on iTunes. Thanks.