Facing criminal charges can be an overwhelming experience, as it comes with many potential negative long-term consequences.
Aside from direct penalties like imprisonment, probation, fines, or other court-imposed punishment, individuals are also likely to face a range of unexpected and hidden consequences. These so-called “collateral consequences” can be highly disruptive, adding further to the burden of criminal convictions for those affected.
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What is a Collateral Consequence?
A collateral consequence refers to an indirect effect of a criminal conviction not formally imposed by the court as part of the criminal sentence.
While some collateral consequences may be required by law, others are just the natural result of societal stigma, bias, or risk assessments by private entities. They vary depending on the nature of the crime, as well as the specific circumstances of the individual who has been convicted.
Examples of Collateral Consequences After a Criminal Conviction in Pennsylvania
There is a vast range of potential collateral consequences that an individual may face after a criminal conviction. Some of the most common examples include:
Non-citizens, both documented and undocumented, may face deportation or denial of entry into the United States due to certain criminal convictions. This can lead to permanent separation from families, friends, and communities.
Criminal convictions can have immediate and long-lasting effects on an individual’s employment opportunities. Many professions require background checks, and a conviction can lead to disqualification from obtaining certain licenses or certifications. For example, certain convictions will make it not possible to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
Most landlords require background checks, and individuals with a criminal record are often denied housing opportunities. In addition, some public housing authorities can impose lifetime restrictions on access to affordable housing for those with certain convictions, exacerbating already-difficult living situations for these individuals and their families.
Loss of Rights and Benefits
Certain convictions can lead to the loss of civil rights, such as the right to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office. Additionally, educational grants, loans, and eligibility for public assistance programs may all be restricted based on criminal convictions.
The stigma associated with a criminal record can lead to social exclusion, damage to personal relationships, and challenges in forming new connections. This can have devastating psychological effects on the individual as well as their loved ones.
Loss of Gun Rights
In Pennsylvania, anyone convicted of a felony typically loses their right to own or possess a gun. This is an important consideration for individuals with prior criminal records as well as those currently facing felony charges. Losing the right to possess firearms can have significant consequences for individuals who rely on guns for personal protection or who enjoy hunting and shooting sports.
Loss of Driver’s License
Another significant aspect of collateral consequences surrounding criminal convictions in Pennsylvania is the impact on one’s driver’s license. For example, if you’re convicted of drag racing on the highway, you will likely lose your license in addition to any other criminal penalties you face.
These suspensions can severely impact an individual’s life and livelihood, especially for those who rely on their ability to drive to reach work, search for employment, or transport their families. Additionally, if the offender is caught driving with a suspended license, they face further penalties, including increased fines, license revocation, and potential jail time.
Strategies for Mitigating Collateral Consequences
Below are some strategies to minimize the collateral consequences in a criminal case in Pennsylvania:
One of the most effective ways to mitigate collateral consequences is through expungement. Under Pennsylvania law, you can expunge certain arrests, charges, or convictions from your record, enabling you to legally claim that those events never took place in most circumstances.
While expungement is not available for every criminal matter, it can offer a lifeline to those whose crimes fall within the specific eligibility criteria. It is crucial to consult a skilled attorney to understand whether your case qualifies for expungement.
Negotiating a Plea Bargain
Negotiating a plea deal can be instrumental in reducing the severity of the charges an individual faces, as well as avoiding or minimizing a lengthy court process. Plea bargains involve the defendant agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge or to one of multiple charges in exchange for more lenient sentencing or dismissal of other charges.
This can ultimately result in decreased collateral consequences compared to being found guilty of all original charges.
Many jurisdictions within Pennsylvania offer pre-trial diversion programs designed to provide eligible individuals with an opportunity to avoid formal criminal charges. If a defendant successfully completes the diversion program, the charges could be dropped and their arrest record expunged.
These programs involve various factors, such as supervised probation, community service, drug and alcohol education or therapy, and payment of restitution or fines.
A West Chester Criminal Defense Attorney Can Minimize Your Collateral Consequences
Ultimately, collateral consequences can have a significant impact on a person’s life. For help understanding the possible penalties and how to mitigate them, contact a criminal defense lawyer in West Chester, PA to schedule a free consultation.