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Federal Judge Grants Ex-offender “Certificate of Rehabilitation”

by Derek Gilna

New York U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson, known for his well-reasoned opinions, has, in addition to his usual duties, immersed himself in other issues not typically associated with the federal judiciary.

For example, he has encouraged prosecutors to revisit cases where the interests of justice dictate that prisoners be released based upon new evidence or prosecutorial misconduct. Also, his recent grant of a “certificate of rehabilitation” to a former non-violent offender has focused attention on the issue of removing barriers that released prisoners face, particularly in terms of obtaining employment.

In granting the non-traditional relief, Gleeson seized upon recent pronouncements by the federal executive branch that encouraged prosecutors and judges to eliminate collateral consequences that prevent ex-offenders from fully reintegrating into society.

Judge Gleeson had originally convicted the defendant, identified only as “Jane Doe,” for a non-violent felony related to an auto accident fraud scheme. Doe, a single mother of two children, had been a certified nurse – but her conviction made her ability to find a job dependent on whether her employer conducted a background check. She attempted to form her own nursing agency to address that problem, and also worked as a house cleaner, but struggled to pay bills and support her family. Finally, she filed a motion to expunge her 13-year-old federal charges.

According to Judge Gleeson, “while Doe has struggled considerably as a result of her conviction, her situation does not amount to the ‘extreme circumstances’ that merit expungement.” He added, however, that he had “reviewed her case in painstaking detail, and I can certify that Doe has been rehabilitated.... Accordingly, I am issuing Doe a federal certificate of rehabilitation.”

The judge wrote that the purpose of the certificate “is to remove barriers to employment, but I hope Doe will also find it useful to present to landlords, benefits providers, and any others to whom her conviction is significant.”

Many states offer similar post-release certificates of rehabilitation, which can remove some barriers to employment, and Judge Gleeson noted in his March 7, 2016 order that the “federal system has much to gain from adopting a certification system similar to those in certain states.”

His ruling also included an actual certificate, which stated that Doe should “be welcomed to participate in society in the ways the rest of us do.” Hopefully, the judge’s unusual action will spur other courts to follow suit, and encourage Congress to codify a certification process so other ex-offenders can truly receive a “second chance.”

Meanwhile, since the certificate of rehabilitation provided by Judge Gleeson has no legal weight or authority, and Doe’s motion for expungement was in fact denied, she will likely continue to face problems finding employment. See: Doe v. United States, 168 F.Supp.3d 427 (E.D. NY 2016). 

Related legal case

Doe v. United States