The Collateral Damage of a Conviction

Getting convicted of a crime is terrible, in general. You have a criminal record. You might go to jail. You’ll probably owe a lot of money in court costs, attorney’s fees, and restitution or criminal fines. Those are the immediate and commonly-known after-effects of a criminal conviction. But there are also harsh collateral effects of getting convicted of a crime, especially if it is a serious offense.

First, there are additional civil actions that can be imposed by the state. These can affect your professional license if you have one, or you can lose the right to vote. Attorneys have to report any criminal misconduct to their local bar, and depending on the jurisdiction, your license could be suspended or even taken away, depending on the offense and the outcome. Some states will prohibit felons from voting, but only twelve states take away this right even after the convicted person has completed their sentence, parole and paid all their fines. Notably, most of these states are deeply conservative, often in the deep south.

Criminal defendants can also be restricted or prohibited entirely from public funds like welfare, food stamps, and even student loans. This makes it very difficult for those who have just gotten out of jail to find appropriate housing. Most of the time, they will not have a job, their family may not be very sympathetic or able to help them, and they can end up on the streets, which increases the chances that they re-offend.

Very often, convicted criminals are also prevented from serving on a jury, and if they are not United States citizens, run the risk of being deported – even if they hold permanent resident status and are here legally. The Supreme Court has encouraged all attorneys to advise the accused of the collateral consequences of accepting a plea and being convicted, but it has not mandated it. However, when it comes to the collateral consequence of deportation, the Supreme Court in Padilla v. Kentucky considered the risk of deportation to be so grave that it now mandates all attorneys to advise their clients of this collateral consequences during representation.

There are also other consequences to being a convicted felon that are not necessarily statutorily mandated, like the above. Many jobs require applicants to check a box indicating if they have ever been convicted of a criminal offense, which can prevent their ability to even get an interview for a job. Many states have joined the “Ban the Box” movement, which encourages employers (even federal employers) to remove this initial inquiry, and push the background check until later in the process. This gives convicted felons the opportunity to be assessed on their skills and merit, rather than summarily disqualified based on their past behavior.

It is crucial to seek out the advice of a good criminal defense attorney if you face a conviction. The immediate consequences of a guilty plea or conviction can be easily ascertained. It is the collateral, future consequences that most defendants are unaware of when they strike a deal with the State. A good attorney should make you aware of all of these possibilities before you make a decision concerning your liberty.

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