The unintended costs of a criminal conviction is often greater than the direct penalties. Direct consequences, such as incarceration, probation, restitution, court-monetary obligations, all impact the life of a defendant. But the unintended, unmeasured, collateral consequences may devastate not just the life of a defendant, but their family, family’s future, and even their local community.
There is no Constitutional or statutory obligation to consider consequences beyond the sentence imposed by the court. However, any judge, prosecutor or defense counsel must measure these costs as a part of a plea or potential result of conviction.
All officers of the court must recognize that the proliferation of internet criminal record checks have created conflicts even when an individual is charged, but not convicted, or convicted of a lesser offense. Renting apartments with a pending charge, conviction, or perceived conviction is an impossibility. Job applicants are denied almost without consideration (although it is technically illegal to deny someone a job based solely on a criminal record, the reality is that a criminal record is the modern-day proverbial “scarlet letter”).
The easiest unintended consequence is the potential for an enhanced sentence should the person re-offend. Previously, this seemed to be straightforward advice to offer a defendant. However, with the complexities of the new habitual felon statutes, firearm and drug enhancements, pretrial release and post-release supervision issues, and the ever changing and myriad labyrinth of federal criminal law statutes, it is nearly impossible to predict, or even fairly warn, a defendant about their potential impact a conviction may have on their future behavior.
The most publicized collateral consequence is deportation. Many individuals who have no memory or concept of belonging to any other country except the United States, find to their surprise that a felony conviction may trigger a deportation process to a country they have never know, visited, or even speak the language.
Eviction from public housing is an absolute. The question most people face is will the eviction solely affect them, or will their family be evicted as well. If their family remains, a lifetime ban on visiting any remaining family members effectively subjects the individual to restricted access to loved ones or an endless parade of criminal trespass charges.
Firearm rights, citizenship rights, DNA registration, civil commitments, and sex offender registration are common restrictions convicted felons face. However, even misdemeanor convictions may trigger simpler, but no less important, restrictions of rights. Trespass from business, educational or residential areas may have a negative impact on a person’s ability to work, go to school, or even reside with their immediate family. Government contracts may be denied, or permission for an employee with a prior conviction to work on government property can be declined. Permits and licenses, including professional business licenses, permits to carry concealed firearms, even a fishing license may be denied based on a criminal record.
The cycle of poverty is the greatest legacy of a criminal record. Incarceration ends a career path, education intentions, and years of experience and skill that the rest of the labor force has acquired. A simple consequence, such as the loss of drivers license, creates a cycle of convictions (and incarceration and monetary burdens) for driving illegally, or simply precludes the ability to work because it is impossible find transportation. Most of North Carolina is rural, and even urban areas are plagued with a lack of public transportation.
Criminal records are shared by the offenders entire family. Without a member of the household providing support, or even being present due to incarceration, the entire family suffers. Children of offenders are more likely to offend themselves, and their education level is well below average. The emotional impact on spouses, parents and children can never be quantified. Entire communities are devastated by the transitory nature incarceration and poverty have in the aggregate whole.
Consider and advise the impact a conviction may have on an offender beyond the scope of the judgment. Justice has a lifetime impact on every person involved in a crime; consider the collateral consequences as part of its equation.
If you have concerns, we can help. Contact the top rated Greensboro attorneys at Garrett, Walker, Aycoth and Olson at 336-379-0539 today!