Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

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by | February 13, 2014

Attorney General Eric Holder made news this week when he urged states to repeal laws that prohibit felons from voting (the NYT’s story is here). In addition to the civil rights issue that he raised, it is an important reminder that criminal convictions often have collateral consequences far beyond the immediate sentence imposed by a judge or jury.  To cite but a few examples: 

  • Virginia’s state constitution prevents a convicted felon from voting: “No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.”  VA Const. Art. 2, § 1. 
  • Immigration and resident legal status is another area of the law where the collateral consequence of a conviction may be far more severe than the sentence. As the Supreme Court noted in Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 360 (2010) (internal citation omitted), “[t]he ‘drastic measure’ of deportation or removal is now virtually inevitable for a vast number of noncitizens convicted of crimes.”
  • The punitive effect of a requirement to register as a sex offender often extends well beyond the immediate consequence of a conviction and sentence.
  • Many convictions prohibit or restrict an individual’s right to own, possess, or carry firearms.
  • Basic traffic offenses can translate into higher insurance premiums.   

Collateral consequences are not always avoidable; in fact, most convictions will have some sort of negative implication–whether in a job interview, background check, or through some of the more serious results listed above.

Nonetheless, lawyers and clients must work together closely to ensure that not only are the client’s immediate goals and interests (such as avoiding or minimizing jail time) important, but also the long-term consequences of a conviction are considered. This is particularly true when considering a potential plea agreement where the short-term pain seems minimal–the collateral consequences must be weighed in the balance as well.

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