Long-Term Consequences of Criminal Convictions

When most people are facing criminal charges, their first thoughts are “I don’t want to go to jail.” That is an important and immediate consideration. However, before you sign the dotted line and accept a plea recommendation for a criminal conviction, consider what you want to do in your life after the plea and the long-term consequences of your plea.

First, consider how you are going to pay for your plea. Dozens of people accept “negotiated” convictions everyday and walk out of the court-room without any idea of how they are going to pay their fine or court costs. Make a plan before you plea so that you don’t end up back in front of judge explaining why you “broke your promise to pay.” Think about opportunities for extra income, a paper route, or cutting coupons… set yourself up for a successful discharge from your probation or sentence. Later on, even if your employer asks about your criminal history, you have given yourself an opportunity to demonstrate how you accepted responsibility and ownership of setting your life back on track. It’s a much more persuasive pitch than “I did my time, please don’t hold it against me.”

Second, advise your criminal attorney about your citizenship status. If you are not a U.S. citizen, a criminal conviction can result in deportation, denial of citizenship, and denial of re-entry into the U.S. The standards for which offense will definitely result in deportation tend to fluctuate, so you may also want to consult with an immigration attorney before a plea.

Third, consider your current and future career options. Criminal convictions will have an impact on your employment opportunities. Some convictions will completely exclude you from certain career options. For example, school districts don’t hire persons convicted of sex offenses to teach or work in their school districts. Some regulatory agencies will not give you a license or a permit if you have a felony conviction. These rules vary from state to state and from agency to agency, so consider reviewing their guidelines before you enter a plea of guilty. For example, if the agency regulates people who handle chemicals, they will sometimes preclude people with drug convictions from obtaining a license through their agency. If possible, your criminal attorney may be able to negotiate a sentence where you pled guilty to a different charge that will not completely end your employment opportunities in your chosen field. Alternatively, the agency may treat completed sentences different from deferred sentences. Many employers will not consider deferred adjudications negatively.

Fourth, be prepared for public disclosure. Criminal convictions are frustrating for many people because everyone has access to your criminal conviction at a clerk’s office. Because of this frustration, it will be tempting to lie or “fudge” on your employment application. Even if your conviction was a minor offense, lying on your employment application can result in termination and another black mark on your employment history. Address your history up front if an employer asks you. If they deny your employment because of your actual conviction, make sure that the denial is based on what your conviction actually represents. Most employers will get their information second hand from a consumer reporting agency, not directly from a clerk. Because the information is second-hand, it could have been transferred incorrectly. For example, If your original charge was a felony grade theft, but you were later only found guilty of a misdemeanor theft, the agency should report that you have a misdemeanor conviction. However, human error could result in them continuing to report it as a felony—resulting in an employer thinking that you lied on your application. Because it is a consumer report, you have a right to obtain a copy of that report and dispute any discrepancies.

Probably the hardest and most far reaching impact of a conviction is on your reputation on your rights. A felony conviction in most states means that you will never be able to serve on a jury or possess a firearm. Every jury summons feels like another opportunity for the embarrassment to continue. If you are convicted of a sexually related offense, virtually every state will have some type of sex offender registration requirement. Some states and communities will have your picture posted on the internet… even if the case was when you were 17 years old and had consensual sex with your 16 year old girlfriend. The label and stigma is there forever, affecting where you live, what jobs you can get, and how people will look at you.

The bottom line is that a criminal conviction, felony or misdemeanor, has consequences beyond the court room. Talk to a criminal attorney about as many different issues which affect you before you enter your plea or go to trial. Once you have completed a sentence, consider what you have to do to reduce the exposure of your record. Some states have pardon provisions where if you successfully complete your probation, you can have some of your rights restored. Also consider an application for expungement or non-disclosure. The non-disclosure petition will not make the conviction “go away,” but it can prevent other people from seeing it without a court order. Understanding the stigma of sex-offender registration requirements, some states are beginning to adopt provisions to suspend registration requirements for those consensual teen-sex case convictions. It will take more effort on your part, but the effort to get a normal life back is well worth asking the question.