Criminal convictions have intended consequences. They carry punishments that include life and liberty. Convictions can cause someone to be jailed for a period of time. They can cause payment of fines and participation in rehabilitative programs. But what happens when the punishment is over?
After the punishment comes the collateral consequences – the unforeseen consequences that can haunt the rest of someone’s life. I’ve touched before on this before as I covered whether one’s debt to society is ever truly paid in full. But now I want to focus on some of the very real and very specific consequences that are indirect but just as important.
Financial consequences include employment restrictions, licensing for specific jobs, financial aid and government assistance, educational benefits, social security benefits, asset forfeiture, and surcharges.
Employment is the most commonly recognized consequence. Certain convictions can cause employers to simply pass on hiring or fire a particular employee. This could be simply because the employer chooses to base employment on certain criteria or because particular licenses are required for employment.
The Texas Occupations Code sets general rules for the licensing of plumbers, cosmetologists, boxing promoters, pawn shop owners, air-conditioning contractors and so many more. Depending upon the type and severity of the conviction, licensing may be denied or suspended. This leaves these folks out of work and unable to meet their financial obligations. Additionally, some specific professions require their own licenses or accreditations such as lawyers, architects, dentists, doctors, engineers, social workers, therapists, and more.
Financial aid and government assistance such as grants, government loans, and even food stamps are tied to collateral consequences for those convicted of certain crimes. Any possession or distribution of a controlled substance (including marijuana) can temporarily or permanently bar students from federal and state educational grants and loans.
Social security benefits are stopped for a person incarcerated more than 30 days on a conviction. Though this makes some sense, it also sets up additional financial obstacles for that person’s family.
Federal law imposes a lifetime ban on food stamps and federally funded public assistance for drug felons. And Texas follows the federal law. This is another example that harms not only the convicted felon but his entire family.
Creating large financial hardships, the government will often forfeit assets such as cars, homes, and cash. Understandably, felons should forfeit illegal proceeds and the assets purchased by such illegal proceeds, but our broad system of forfeiture allows the government to cast a much broader net. Did you realize the government can seek to forfeit the car used to flee the scene of a crime? Did you know some jurisdictions go after the personal homes of those convicted of sexual offenses committed inside the home.
Rounding out our financial consequences are the surcharges placed on licenses such as a drivers license. In a DWI conviction, the Department of Public Safety assess a $1,000 -$2,000 per year, for three consecutive years, surcharge on your right to drive.
In addition to financial consequences, there are a great variety of other consequences which include deportation, restrictions on possession of firearms and ammunition, inability to hold public office, loss of voting privileges, and even restrictions on child custody and conservatorship.
Restrictions on custody and conservatorship are often overlooked or unknown. A protective order in place for family or domestic violence will prevent a parent from being a joint managing conservator of his own children. Additionally, for safety reasons, access to one’s own children may be restricted or supervised based on prior abuse.
With all of these consequences and more, it is imperative that lawyers understand these consequences and fully explain them to clients deciding whether or not to “take a deal” in their criminal accusations. With all these lasting consequences, it is clear that most people cannot truly pay their debt to society in full and move forward.
You can look up specific collateral consequences by state here