Law Students

Yale Law Graduate and Convicted Felon Must Prove “Moral Character”

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Summary: A convicted felon who went on to get a law degree from Yale must submit proof that he is of “good moral character” to be admitted to Connecticut’s bar.

Life is not easy for a convicted felon. They experience difficulty when seeking employment and other opportunities but that does not mean it is impossible. Convicted felons have the option of becoming lawyers in all states except Texas, Kansas, and Mississippi, although it is not an easy road.

  
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A Yale Law School graduate who happens to also be a convicted felon has to now prove he has “good moral character” before being allowed to practice law. Reginald Dwayne Betts has won acclaim as a poet and must now submit to a Connecticut committee that he is worthy of practicing law.

Betts, 36, has three felony convictions from twenty years ago when he was a teenager for carjacking. He passed the state bar exam in February but his file was flagged by a panel of judges and lawyers that ultimately decide who can join the state.

A hearing will be held after an investigation by the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee. Connecticut does not prohibit felons from practicing in the state but they do have to convince the committee that they have “good moral character and/or fitness to practice law,” which is assumed they are lacking in. It must be clear through “clear and convincing evidence” that they have what it takes.

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Betts has an attorney, William Dow III, who will have people from a range of circumstances testify about their support of Betts. Dow said, “It’s an honor to represent this young man. He has a resume that is absolutely breathtaking. He personifies what people talk about when they speak of second chances.”

Betts has currently been working in New Haven’s public defender’s office. He grew up in Suitland, Maryland. When he was 16, he was convicted of a carjacking at a Virginia mall. He spent 8 years in prison. Betts then went to the University of Maryland where he graduated. He won a Harvard University fellowship and a Yale law degree after. During this time Betts also wrote two poetry books, receiving praising reviews from critics. His third book won a 2010 NAACP Image Award. He is married and has two children.



The only states to not allow felons the chance the practice law are Texas, Mississippi, and Kansas. Many states have similar guidelines as Connecticut where “good moral character” evidence must be presented. There are many convicted felons that have good results becoming lawyers.

In Ohio, their Supreme Court rejected a request last year by John Tynes to be a lawyer. He was convicted and served time in prison for trying to meet girls for sex. They will allow him to reapply next year. The state did let convicted murderer Derek Farmer become a lawyer back in the 90s, which did not make a lot of people happy especially law enforcement officials.

The Washington State Supreme Court allowed a convicted felon to become a lawyer in 2013. Cleodis Floyd, a convicted bank fraud felon and former Colorado State University football player was admitted once a hearing was held on his character.

Chairwoman Anne Dranginis of the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee said of being a convicted felon, “It is not an automatic disqualifier. There are many times where we see things that happen early in a person’s life that cease to be problems for them. What we do see is…people take responsibility for their past conduct and very often have been rehabilitated.”

Do you think convicted felons should be allowed to become attorneys? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

To learn more about attorneys that are convicted of a crime after becoming an attorney, read these articles:

Photo: youtube.com



 

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