Risks of trial and effects of a criminal conviction

Regardless of whether you are charged with a Misdemeanor or a Felony, you are likely to be faced with the choice of either having a trial or pleading guilty under a plea bargain deal offered by the prosecutor. There are two types of trials – trials to the Court (Judge) and jury trials.  There are pros and cons to both. Your Texas criminal defense lawyer can discuss with you a number of factors to consider when deciding whether or not you want your case to go to trial.

Unpredictability

There are dangers in proceeding to trial. Trials in general are unpredictable.  If you go to jury trial, there is never a way to determine with certainty what a jury will do with a case. Your attorney can help you weigh the possible benefits and risks of. If your case involves a felony charge, a guilty verdict will have severe consequences in addition to the sentence.

On the other hand, going to trial may be a good choice for you if you are morally or ethically unwilling to accept the deal offered by the prosecutor, or if the prosecutor’s deal isn’t good enough for you to not risk trial. You might also be motivated by a desire to obtain some level of vindication at trial if you win.

Effects of a felony conviction

If you are convicted of a felony, the effects can be devastating. Although the laws vary from one jurisdiction to another, in most jurisdictions the consequences of a felony conviction are quite similar. These consequences include:

  1. Possession of a firearm
    A felony conviction prohibits you from possessing a firearm. The federal government takes possession of a firearm by a felon very seriously and will prosecute violators.
  2. Government programs
    You may become unable to participate in various federal programs as a result of a felony conviction. This can include student loans, federal housing, federally granted licenses, certain social security benefits and food stamps. The Government continues to add restrictions, so this is not an exclusive list.
  3. Voting rights
    States differ in their laws regarding voting rights. Some states prohibit voting by felons.
  4. Travel restrictions
    Various countries restrict travel by people convicted of a crime.
  5. Employment
    Even though the laws prohibit employment policies that exclude people solely on the basis of their conviction, felons still face a lot of challenges finding a job. For certain jobs and professions, a felony conviction makes licensing difficult or impossible. Some jurisdictions preclude certain professional licenses (e.g., attorney, teacher, accountant, doctor) altogether or for a period of years after you complete your sentence, including probation. Convicted felons may be unable to work at certain other jobs, particularly government jobs, and jobs that are military related, or require the employee to be bonded. Consider the following:
  • Convictions of offenses involving dishonesty, breach of trust, or money laundering disqualify an individual from working for institutions that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
  • Federal laws bar certain classes of felons from working in the insurance industry without having received permission from an insurance regulatory official.
  • Certain classes of felons are barred, for 13 years after conviction or the end of imprisonment if sentenced for a term of longer than 13 years, from holding any of several positions in a union or other organization that manages an employee benefit plan, including serving as an officer of the union or a director of the union’s governing board.
  • Federal law prohibits those convicted of certain crimes from providing healthcare services for which they will receive payment from Medicare, or from working for the generic drug industry.
  • Federal law requires criminal history background checks for individuals who provide care for children. Statutes in many states also provide for criminal background checks of persons who work with children.
  1. Credibility
    If you are ever called as a witness in any future legal proceeding, civil or criminal, your felony conviction can be used to impeach your credibility.
  2. Mandatory deportation of non-citizen
    If you are not an American citizen, a conviction or sentence might result in a mandatory lifetime deportation. Under current federal law, an alien who has been convicted of an aggravated felony including but not limited to a “crime of violence” will be deported. A person is guilty of an “aggravated felony,” for immigration purposes, if the person is convicted of a “crime of violence” or of any of various other crimes if the person receives a sentence of at least one year.
  3. Social Security benefits
    A felony conviction will result in the suspension of Social Security benefits (disability or retirement) during any term of imprisonment. The Social Security Act bars payment of Social Security benefits to incarcerated felons. The statute does not concern misdemeanors, so a misdemeanor conviction does not affect benefits, even during a jail sentence.

Upon beginning supervised release or probation, you may have payments reinstated by presenting your release papers to a Social Security office. A fully suspended sentence or a sentence on probation, even following a felony conviction, does not affect your Social Security benefits. Once you have completed your sentence the felony conviction does not affect your future rights to Social Security benefits under current law. But there is no way of predicting what laws Congress will enact in the future.

  1. DNA database
    Convictions of certain crimes in certain states require that the defendant provide a blood sample for DNA typing to be added to a law enforcement database. For example, in some states a DNA sample must be provided following any felony conviction, as well as any misdemeanor “sex” crime such as unlawful sexual contact, visual sexual aggression against a child, or sexual misconduct with a child under14 years of age. DNA samples are required of those convicted of almost all federal crimes as well.
  2. Sex offender registration
    Sex offender registration is mandatory after conviction of many state crimes and Federal crimes. If you are accused of a sex crime, registration is a potential consequence of a conviction for that crime. This is true for misdemeanor sex crimes as well as felonies.
  3. Enhanced future sentences
    Most states and federal law impose longer sentences on individuals with prior convictions. The amount of increase varies but has been getting longer. Some states have “three strikes” type laws that can result in sentences of up to life imprisonment. If you are convicted of a felony, it is more important than ever that you be sure not to become involved in conduct that could expose you to new criminal charges.
  4. Future collateral consequences
    After the punishment portion of a criminal conviction is over, certain “collateral consequences” can continue to apply, even if such consequences were not in existence at the time the crime was committed, the sentence was imposed, or the sentence was completed. For instance, the sex offender registration requirements now go back to those convicted since January 1, 1982, even though the registration law was not in effect until September 18, 1999. Similarly, under federal law, anyone who has ever been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic assault is prohibited from possessing a firearm and this prohibition applies retroactively.

 

Effects of Misdemeanor Convictions

Misdemeanors can also have a large impact on your life.  Some, like possession of marijuana, can result in the suspension of your driving privileges.  Others, like DWI, can result in not only a suspension of your driving privileges, but also the imposition of “surcharges” for three years following your conviction. Misdemeanor convictions can also impact your ability to hold certain jobs and licenses.  Sometimes the results are discretionary and your attorney can help you negotiate with the Administrative or Regulatory agency, but sometimes the results are mandatory and a conviction of a particular crime may need to be avoided if at all possible.

Attorney advice can be crucial

An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney can help you understand what the collateral effects of a conviction might be in your case. Your lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea to a “lesser included offense” or a plea to a different charge that will not result in such undesirable collateral consequences.  In order to make an informed decision about whether or not to reject a plea deal and proceed to trial, you need to know what you risk if you lose at trial. If you face a felony charge, it is especially important to discuss with your defense lawyer all the possible effects of a conviction.

To access a State by State summary of collateral consequences of various Federal and State convictions, go to http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org and access their interactive map.