WNPR

Yale Law Graduate Awaits Bar Committee's Approval Because Of Felony Conviction

Aug 9, 2017

Although there’s no law preventing former convicted felons from practicing law in Connecticut, it’s state regulation that any applicant for the bar exam must prove “his or her good moral character and fitness to practice law by clear and convincing evidence.”

Reginald Dwayne Betts, 36, is a New Haven, Connecticut resident that has proven he’s got the chops to be a lawyer. He interned at the New Haven public defender’s office, graduated from Yale Law School last year, and passed the bar exam this year.

But a decade ago, Betts spent eight years in jail for carjacking, use of a firearm during a felony, and attempted robbery.

The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee now has to weigh whether to approve his application to practice law in the state.

Betts has been outspoken about his past, and about the inequities in the criminal justice system. His book of poetry, Bastards of the Reagan Era, reflects on his experiences.

The Hartford Courant reported the committee's decision is expected on September 29. 

Betts was featured on a WNPR special on criminal justice reform last December. Listen below to some highlights:

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On Betts's law degree

If you’ve been in prison, and you’re black, and you’re a man, you’re already perceived to be more violent than everybody else in the room, and less intelligent than everyone else in the room.

You know, going to Yale, one of the things that does is it removes that question -- for the most part -- of intelligence off the table. And I might have to deal with the question of [being] more violent than everybody else in the room forever, but at least in engaging these questions around criminal justice reform, I don’t have to be confronted with this sort of specter of my own ignorance all the time.

I don’t have to be confronted with this notion that I have a particular role to play that’s not one of my choosing. And so yes, I think that credential has helped with some things.

On the relationship between Yale Law School and New Haven

You know, I see New Haven, particularly -- right, you live in New Haven, and you see how connected Yale is to New Haven, but you see how many really brilliant people come into this community to just go to school and to work.

Then you go into a public school that’s literally walking distance from the institution and you meet some kid -- like some kid told me at a local high school, “You’re the first black lawyer that I’ve ever met.”

I’m like, what? This cannot be true. First, I’m not a lawyer -- I’m a second-year law student.

Second, you could throw a rock and hit Yale Law School from here. So how is it that you have never met a lawyer, and the only reason I’m here is because one of my friends knows your teacher. How is that the only way we can make that kind of connection between my institution and your institution? And so I think that’s something that haven’t really thought of.

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Listen to the whole interview with Betts talking with Khalilah Brown-Dean in a WNPR special about criminal justice reform. 

Tucker Ives contributed to this report.