Collateral Consequences Calculator

Collateral Consequences Calculator Partner(s): Conrad Johnson
School of Law

Access: Open to all
Released: May 2010

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Developed in partnership with Columbia Law School professor Conrad Johnson, the Collateral Consequences Calculator is a web-based "calculator" that allows legal practitioners to quickly and easily compare the collateral consequences of criminal charges associated with sections of the New York State Penal Law. The Collateral Consequences Calculator serves multiple communities: faculty can build case studies around it, lawyers can better counsel their clients, judges can assure appropriate sentencing, and public policy researchers can use it as a lens through which to examine the matrix of the New York State legal system. Judge Judith Kaye, former Chief Justice of New York State, has supported the development of this tool, which she sees as a valuable social justice initiative.

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Project Details

Collateral consequences to criminal charges present a problem to the fair and ethical administration of justice in the United States. There are often consequences to a criminal conviction even for seemingly minor crimes that are not written into a defendant's sentence. These consequences can affect, among other things, a defendant’s immigrant status or eligibility for public housing. Defendants and their lawyers, along with prosecutors and judges, may not even be aware of such consequences. This presents a serious challenge to defendants and lawyers during plea bargaining and to judges delivering sentences.

The Collateral Consequences Calculator allows a user to quickly look up the consequences of any crime in the New York penal code and compare them to the consequences of any other crime. The consequences are laid out in concise language and according to how likely each one is to occur.

While this idea sounds simple, it was not easy to execute. This is because the relationships between the penal code and the laws and precedents that assign collateral consequences are complex and sometimes arbitrary. Building the calculator required describing a practical model of how consequences apply to crimes and an underlying structure that could be consistently expressed by a computer. Because such a model did not exist, the only way to achieve a comprehensive view required the pooling of knowledge of experts in various areas.

The Collateral Consequences Calculator project team started by looking at descriptions of how consequences attach to the penal code from experts in two areas, immigration and housing, hoping to deduce a common structure. Using these two areas as a testbed, the team came up with a model that connects crimes with consequences using overlapping groupings of crimes, and specifies the level of likelihood of each connection.

The final product is powered by a content entry system that assists students and legal experts to contribute their knowledge in manner that is consistent with the parts of the model that already exist in the calculator. Using these templates, a group of experts can contribute to a growing model of how the penal code interacts with policy to produce collateral consequences for criminal charges.

While content in the calculator continues to grow as new students work on the project, CCNMTL has also received requests from other states requesting support with constructing their own versions of a collateral consequences calculator. CCNMTL hopes to share what they've learned on this project with social justice workers across the US.

Related news:
May-2010: New York Law Journal Features New Collateral Consequences Calculator
May-2010: CCNMTL and Columbia Law School Launch Collateral Consequences Calculator
Mar-2007: Chief Judge Kaye Supports Collateral Consequences Site