The Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

If you’ve never been in any trouble before but are reading this, chances are you are at least a little worried, wondering how this criminal case will affect your future.  You probably already figured out that, if convicted, you’d have to do certain things, like pay fines, go to classes, maybe go to jail.  Some of you may even go to prison for a time.

But what you may not know is how even a minor criminal conviction can affect your job, your family, where you live and what you do.  In other words, you may be asking,  “how will a criminal conviction keep me from having the future I want for myself and my family?”

“Collateral Consequences” are Anything but Collateral

Let me start by saying that, for years, the law provided that attorneys need to advise their clients only about what judges called the “direct” consequences of a conviction.  People who had taken what their lawyers told them was,  “a good plea deal”   started coming back to the judges and their lawyers and saying,  “Hey, you told me it was a good deal, but you forgot to tell me I would lose my job because of this plea.” Or, “you forgot to tell me I’d lose my student loan,”   “you forgot to tell  me I’d get deported,”  “you forgot to tell me I’d get kicked out of my apartment,”  “you forgot to tell me I wouldn’t get custody of my kids,”  “you forgot to tell me I couldn’t be a soccer coach  anymore.”  The list went on.

Some people eventually went back to court and argued to the judge that they should be completely let out of the plea deal they took because they weren’t told by their own lawyer vital information about the consequences that were destroying them.

But the judges, at first, were dubious, and said “No, “lawyers only have to tell their clients about the ‘direct’ consequences of the plea”—and they listed them—jail, fines, probation, etc.  All the rest, the judges said were merely “collateral” consequences.  That is how the term got coined. Judges made it up.  And they called it a “doctrine.”

And judges then applied this “doctrine” over and over to say “No” even in many cases where the direct consequences  were far outweighed by  hidden  but very real so-called “collateral” consequences,   like losing your job,  your life in the United States, your home,  custody of your children.

Well, lawyers like me began to recognize that these so-called “collateral” consequences, were  anything but “collateral”—too many times they were most important thing in the whole case.  And clients started calling us to help them.  So we started studying, compiling all the “collateral consequences” we could find, in Arizona especially, and in the world of federal law and regulations.  And it amazed us.

Who would have ever thought, for example, that there’s a special law in Arizona that says if you’re convicted of even the lowest level misdemeanor DUI there’s a presumption that if you are going through a divorce, you shouldn’t have custody of your  own children?

And when I first started teaching  other lawyers about this,  and I asked a group of experienced lawyers, how many of them knew about the law,  only one raised her hand.  And this was  a State Bar a formal seminar about DUI law,  and the audience included judges and  many  experienced  DUI  lawyers.

After that, we started not only collecting but organizing material,  making up charts  for lawyers and judges, which I include here, so they, busy professionals,  could quickly look at the most common crimes and get an idea how it would affect their clients or the people coming before them.

We  found that other people in the United States  had been doing the same thing,  primarily immigration lawyers.  As some of you may know,  immigration consequences for minor infractions are sometimes so draconian and unexpected that the United States Supreme Court finally stepped in, but only recently. And since I had practiced immigration law,  and  previously had lectured on immigration consequences, it was a good fit.  But I wanted to expand this knowledge far beyond immigration, to the many many  working people who were affected.  It was work we were doing anyway: advising our own clients.