Yale Law School Graduate Served 8 Years In Prison, Now Connecticut Lawyer

Sometimes in life you get a second chance. Better still, if you take it and improve your life and others. Reginald Dwayne Betts, 36, got in trouble as teenager. According to the Associated Press, he had three felony convictions for a carjacking he committed in Virginia. He served eight years in prison.

However, he went on to graduate from the University of Maryland, win a Harvard University fellowship and earn a Yale law degree. In the midst of it all, he wrote two books of poetry that critics praised. In 2010, his book, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, won an NAACP Image Award. He is married with two children and lives in New Haven.

Recently, there was more to celebrate. According to the Associated Press, Betts won approval late last week to practice law in Connecticut. A state panel reviewed his moral character and he passed muster. The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee recommended him for admission to the state bar. That decision moved him closer to becoming an attorney. He awaits a swearing-in ceremony.

Things could have gone differently. Betts’ file came under scrutiny after he passed the bar exam earlier this year because of his felony convictions. While Connecticut does not prohibit felons from becoming attorneys, a felony conviction is a cause for pause because it can be viewed as a sign that the applicant is not morally fit to practice law. The onus is one the applicant to prove otherwise and to do so convincingly.

The community rallied behind Betts and sent a barrage of letters to the committee supporting his admission to the bar. Former Connecticut Judge Anne Dranginis, chairwoman of the Bar Examining Committee told the Associated Press, “I think that his story is a remarkable story. Mr. Betts demonstrated his commitment to others who may have lost their way. He has a great deal to offer, in addition to what he has already done.”

Betts, who recently finished an internship in the New Haven public defender’s office, and has a clerkship next year with Judge Theodore McKee at the federal appeals court in Philadelphia, told the Associated Press, “I’m happy they made that decision. I’m just grateful for the huge amount of support people gave me.”

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