There Are No Do-Overs
Felony convictions are serious, and they come with serious consequences, both immediate and long-term. Beyond fines, jail time, and a permanent criminal record, felony convictions may also negatively impact your ability to secure employment, find housing, take out federal loans, and more.
Individuals convicted of misdemeanors or felonies in Pennsylvania, whether through plea agreements or at trial, should expect punitive consequences relative to their offenses. Incarceration, probation, community service, monetary fines, and house arrest are common elements of criminal sentences. Crimes that involve motor vehicles often come with revocation or restriction of driving privileges. All of these penalties are time sensitive and self-limiting.
The Purpose of Collateral Consequences
Pennsylvania’s collateral consequences of felony convictions restrict or limit certain rights, benefits, and opportunities in the following areas:
- Professional licensing
- Child custody
- Civil liberties
Although some restrictions are automatic and mandatory, some are specific to the crime, and some are discretionary, they can all have a significant impact on a convicted individual’s life. The main intent of these collateral consequences is public safety, and frequently, these limitations are imposed without regard to how much time has passed since the crime.
The List Begins
Seven years ago the Criminal Justice section of the American Bar Association developed a National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction. This state-specific searchable database shows 850 separate “collateral consequences” in Pennsylvania’s statutes. For example, convicted felons are generally:
- Ineligible for a loan from the Machinery and Equipment Loan Program (12 Pa.C.S. § 2906)
- Ineligible for the continuation of their fish/game licenses (18 P.S. § 25.2)
- Ineligible to transfer/purchase firearm (18 Pa.C.S. § 6105)
- Ineligible to serve as voting registrar (25 Pa.C.S. § 1204)
- Ineligible for the continuation of their hunting privileges (34 Pa.C.S. § 2522)
- Ineligible to serve as a firefighter (35 Pa.C.S. § 7713)
- Ineligible to maintain automobile insurance policy (40 P.S. § 991.2003)
- Ineligible for enrollment in a nursing aide training program (63 P.S. § 675)
And the List Goes On
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has noted how “[t]he United States is the world leader in incarceration and a criminal record often carries a lifetime of consequences that often lead to poverty or reincarceration.”
In 2017, Pennsylvania released 19,673 individuals convicted of crimes from custody. It’s safe to assume that a large number of these men and women will face serious issues directly related to bearing the stigma of having a criminal conviction.
Even long after a sentence has been served, a felony conviction can shatter personal and professional plans and adversely impact an entire family. Employment, in particular, is a multi-faceted problem. Convicted individuals who hold a professional license may have it revoked, and many companies have strict rules that prohibit the hiring a convicted felon. Under Pennsylvania law, employers may consider a potential employee’s criminal record in the hiring process if the felony relates to the applicant’s suitability for the position.
A convicted felon may have problems:
- Renting property
- Receiving government assistance
- Obtaining certain business licenses
- Adopting or fostering a child
Traveling Is Often a Problem
Some countries refuse to admit individuals with certain criminal convictions. Every country has specific rules that govern what type of criminal background disqualifies a person from entering. Canada, for example, has some strict laws that prohibit the entry of some convicted felons, and Canada’s border patrol agents have immediate access to the National Crime Information Center Database. In some cases, individuals who have been convicted of theft, assault, fraud, or DUI will not be allowed to cross the border until 10 years have passed from the date of conviction.
Impact on the Family
Having a criminal record can exacerbate sensitive family issues. A convicted felon may find that he or she is not eligible to adopt or foster a child. In addition, having a criminal history may significantly impact an individual’s ability to secure visitation rights, obtain child custody, and can even result in the termination of parental rights altogether.
Being a convicted felon can have a profound psychological impact. The social stigma of being classified as “a criminal” can last a lifetime and may affect relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, and it can potentially damage a person’s reputation within the community at large. An arrest record is neither private nor confidential; felony convictions are a matter of public record.
Men and women returning to society following incarceration may suffer from upsetting and unsettling personality changes. Experiencing a traumatic event—such as serving a prison sentence—can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can result in problems in work and social environments. Symptoms include:
- Sleep disorders
- Mood swings
- Problems with memory
- Difficulty formulating and maintaining relationships
Call a Criminal Defense Lawyer Sooner Rather Than Later
If you find yourself facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania, you need a savvy, state-licensed criminal defense attorney. The sooner you retain an attorney, the better. When it comes to potential legal penalties and collateral damages, the best possible solution is to get a step ahead of any damaging situations. Partner with a law firm early on, so your attorney has the opportunity to thoroughly investigate the specifics of your case and minimize the consequences of your arrest.
Look for someone with extensive experience defending against felony charges, who works hard to preserve and protect your rights.
Now more than ever, remember that you need not completely derail your future with your past choices. It’s what happens now that can help keep your forward momentum in motion. It may be possible to circumvent some of the consequences of a conviction with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Whether you are wrongly accused, facing charges that aren’t proportional to your actions, or already convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Contact Zeiger Law Firm today online or at (215) 546-0340 to see how we can get the results you need.