Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

When you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Philadelphia, you shouldn’t try to handle your defense alone. Even if you think the charges will be minor, you’re at a disadvantage without an aggressive, experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.

Call The Zeiger Firm today for a confidential consultation about how we can take over your case and handle your defense.

What Are Collateral Consequences?

When people are accused of a crime, they are generally most worried about the direct consequences of a conviction that a court may impose. Depending on the severity of the offenses, these penalties may include significant fines, restitution, probation, or even jail time. While these penalties can be extremely serious and should be avoided at all costs, many people are less aware of the fact that a criminal conviction can also include significant collateral consequences. Simply put, collateral consequences are those that arise as legal sanctions or restrictions due to the existence of a criminal record. In some cases, the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can affect a person for years. They may even have more of an impact on the defendant’s life than the direct consequences that the court imposed.

Additionally, a criminal conviction is not the only type of record that can trigger certain collateral consequences. The term “criminal record” can include records that are ancillary to any court proceeding that may have occurred, including records of an arrest, police reports, any recorded statements made during an investigation, and the existence of a pending case in the criminal court system. In some cases, a person may plead guilty to a particular offense in return for a dismissal of the original case upon the completion of a successful term of probation. When this occurs, a person asked whether they have ever “plead guilty” to a crime must answer “yes” even though no conviction exists on their record. This is just one way that collateral consequences may arise, even in the absence of a conviction.

Common Types of Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Case

State and federal laws and regulations contain an enormous number and variety of potential collateral consequences. Some of the most common collateral consequences include:


Individuals who are not United States citizens may face severe collateral consequences related to their immigration status if they are convicted of certain offenses. Such offenses include the following:

  • Crimes of moral turpitude, which can involve theft, dishonesty, or the intent to hurt another individual. Such offenses can include larceny, fraud, DUI, assault, domestic abuse, and more.
  • Aggravated felonies that are set out by the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a)(43). The extensive list includes rape, murder, sexual offenses involving a minor, firearms trafficking, drug trafficking, and more.
  • Other crimes listed in the I.N.A., including espionage, human trafficking, terrorism, child abuse, drug crimes, and more.

If you are an immigrant—documented or undocumented—a conviction of one of the above offenses can result in your immediate deportation/removal from the United States. Such convictions can further disqualify you from other immigration benefits, such as asylum. These collateral consequences can be extremely harmful to an immigrant, as you can imagine, as they may be separated from their family and home in the United States.


All 50 states and the District of Columbia require individuals convicted of certain sex offenses to register with the state sex offender registry. Sex offenses that may result in registration requirements can include the following:

If you have been convicted of a sexual offense, you will be required to register with the state and check in regularly, possibly for the rest of your life. You will also likely have limitations placed on where you can live or work. For example, you may likely not be allowed to reside within a certain proximity of a school or child care center. In short, sex offender registry can mean supervision by the state on where you live and work for your lifetime.

In addition to the restrictions that come with sex offender registry, these registries are all available to the public on the Internet. This means that anyone—family, friends, prospective employers, or romantic partners—can find out about your conviction with a simple online search. Your registry entry will also have personal information such as your name, home address, work address, date of birth, and more that you may not want to be public knowledge.


In a recent year, 800 provisions of Pennsylvania law were identified as imposing collateral consequences on people with criminal records. A staggering 71 percent of these consequences (roughly 570) were barriers to employment. 81 percent of employment-related collateral consequences in Pennsylvania are indefinite in duration, persisting long after a person’s sentence is completed.

Of these consequences imposed by statute, 267 were about occupational licensing, 255 were about direct employment, and 214 involved business licensing. The fields most impacted by these collateral consequence statutes were public employment, health care, gaming, lottery, racing, transportation, commercial motor vehicles, education, construction, insurance sales, banking, securities, finance, lending, nursing homes, adult care, and emergency services.

Of the statutes that impose these consequences, 253 are triggered by any felony. Another 170 occur because of any crime, while 168 only follow crimes involving fraud or dishonesty. Controlled substance offenses trigger 81 of these statutes, and violent crimes and sex offenses trigger another 54.

State professional licensing boards often suspend or revoke an individual’s professional license after a criminal conviction. The following types of professionals may find their licenses to be in jeopardy if they are convicted of a criminal offense:

  • Lawyers
  • Accountants
  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Nurses
  • Pharmacists
  • Contractors
  • Government employees
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Social workers
  • Teachers
  • Real estate agents

A person can reduce some of these collateral effects by having their record cleared or obtaining an executive pardon. In some cases, the person or their lawyer could argue that the collateral consequence statutes should not pertain to the license or specific public employment they are pursuing. They may argue that the convictions don’t relate to the person’s ability to perform the job or licensed activity. Contact an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney at The Zeiger Firm to learn more about your legal options.


The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) prohibits granting public adoptions or foster approval to any individual who has any type of prior conviction for child neglect or abuse, child pornography or other crimes against children, sexual assault, or homicide. Additionally, fostering and adoptions will not be granted if an individual has a conviction within the previous five years for physical assault or battery or any offense related to drugs.

Additionally, state laws generally require courts to consider whether a parent has a criminal conviction for certain offenses when making custody determinations. Courts may refuse to award custody rights to parents with criminal records.


Driving offenses like DUIs trigger mandatory suspension or revocation of driver’s licenses, often for extended periods. For commercial drivers like truckers, this severely interferes with their ability to earn a living and support their families.

But even for ordinary people, lacking a valid license makes essential responsibilities a constant struggle. Getting to work, job interviews, doctor’s appointments, the store, or children’s school becomes a logistical nightmare.

Minimal public transit, expensive taxis and rideshares, and the strain of constantly imposing on others make it even worse. If the offender is caught driving with a suspended license, they could face further penalties, including jail time, driver’s license revocation, or increased fines.


Felony convictions and certain domestic violence convictions result in a lifetime ban on possessing firearms, even for lawful purposes like hunting or home protection. This prohibition is especially painful for those in rural communities who rely on hunting to feed their families and where gun ownership is deeply woven into the cultural fabric.

In Pennsylvania, the criminal convictions that can result in losing the right to bear arms include violent felony offenses, drug crimes with sentences greater than two years, three or more DUI offenses within five years, and domestic violence offenses.


A criminal conviction can devastate a person’s ability to obtain or maintain a security clearance, which is required for many government and military jobs, as well as positions with defense contractors and other employers involved in sensitive industries. Convictions of a wide range of offenses, including drug crimes, violent crimes, and crimes of dishonesty or moral turpitude, can disqualify a person from these types of employment. In some cases, you may be required to provide police reports regarding any arrest that has occurred, regardless of whether any case was ever brought.

The loss of a security clearance doesn’t just mean the loss of a specific job. It can prevent a person from working in entire sectors of the economy. This consequence can be financially and psychologically devastating for those who have built their careers around jobs requiring security clearances.

Many jobs also require a clean record for security clearances, especially in government, military, defense, aerospace, and other regulated industries. A conviction can disqualify people from applying for these jobs.


A criminal conviction may bar those with criminal convictions from accessing critical public benefits like food stamps, welfare, and housing assistance that provide a safety net for the most vulnerable. For some offenses, including specific drug crimes, the prohibition can be lifelong after multiple convictions.

In Pennsylvania, state welfare fraud convictions can disqualify a person from getting temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) and general assistance (GA) benefits. A first-time conviction can result in six months of ineligibility, a second conviction can result in twelve months of ineligibility, and a third conviction renders a person permanently ineligible.

If someone is convicted for making a fraudulent representation about their state of residence to obtain benefits from more than one state, they’re not eligible for TANF, GA, food stamps, or SSI for ten years.


Convictions of certain drug crimes can make individuals ineligible for federal student loans, Pell grants, and work-study programs. This puts higher education and the life-changing opportunities it provides out of reach for countless people striving to turn their lives around.

Get the Legal Help You Need from The Zeiger Firm

If you’re facing criminal charges, don’t let the fear of fines, jail time, and collateral consequences paralyze you. A skilled defense attorney has experience preparing all possible defenses and creating a robust defense strategy on your behalf. Do not try to handle your case on your own. Prosecutors and law enforcement know far more about the legal system than you do.

Contact The Zeiger Firm today for a free consultation. Our experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys will fight tirelessly to protect your rights, freedom, and future.