Reginald Dwayne Betts served prison time for carjacking and then became an author and an activist before entering Yale Law School. (Gary Lewis)
The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee temporarily denied admission to Reginald Dwayne Betts based on a prior felony conviction, pursuant to bar committee regulations that require a review in such situations. While some media editorials have excoriated the bar committee, we think that the delay has been part of the ordinary procedures of review under such circumstances. We believe that once the committee reviews the unparalleled array of Betts’ post-conviction achievements, it will easily conclude that there is overwhelming evidence of good moral character and/or fitness to practice law.
The applicable bar committee regulations are as follows:
The following conduct creates a presumption of and may result, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, in a finding of lack of good moral character and/or fitness to practice law.
i) Conviction of a felony
The rules also establish that staff review and approval can take place in most circumstances. However, a felony conviction requires full committee review. This review has not taken place yet and is scheduled for Sept. 29.
When this review does take place, we believe the committee will have an easy decision in granting admission to Betts. Here are the facts.
When Betts was 16 years old he was involved in an armed robbery/carjacking that netted him a nine-year sentence in a Maryland prison. He was released back to society in 2005.
Since his release his accomplishments are noteworthy. He received a college degree maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. He received a master’s degree in fine arts. He has published two critically acclaimed books of poetry. He began a family and has two young children. He received a Radcliffe fellowship at Harvard and in May 2016 graduated from Yale Law School. He received a Liman fellowship through Yale and has worked through that program over the past year at the New Haven Public Defender’s Office. He has been accepted into a doctorate program and has a federal district court clerkship commitment for September 2018. He also received a NAACP Image Award, which was recognized by President Barack Obama and, as if this were not enough, he lectures and presents at schools, prisons and conferences. He took and passed the bar exam in February.
If Betts doesn’t deserve a second chance, then who does? What he has accomplished demonstrates the logic and power of the Miller/Graham U.S. Supreme Court decisions in regard to impulsiveness and bad decisionmaking of adolescents.
The bar committee can lead the way in recognizing that individuals can make serious mistakes when young but as they grow older and mature have demonstrated their remorse and willingness to be responsible members of the community. This is the hallmark of a less punitive society. It is what second chances are all about. Betts’ accomplishments are an inspiration to so many inmates and other young people that have made mistakes but want to be a productive member of society.
The Bar Examining Committee on review should have little trouble granting admission to the Connecticut bar for Reginald Dwayne Betts. In fact, he is the poster child of a second-chance society. We should all be honored to stand with this exceptional individual when he is, in fact, sworn in. He has earned this honor to be part of our profession.