When you plead guilty, take a plea deal, or are convicted at trial for a criminal offense, the penalties you face can include fines, incarceration, probation, community service, substance abuse treatment, restitution, among other types of punishment. These are all forms of punishment prescribed by statute for the specific criminal offense. And of course, when you are charged with a crime, these penalties are likely what you fear most, and that's why – when offered a plea deal – you may be so willing to accept it if told it will reduce your fines or time behind bars.
But there is an untold number of other consequences that flow from a criminal conviction in Rhode Island that you should consider before pleading guilty, accepting a plea deal, or hiring an inexperienced criminal defense attorney. These consequences – known as collateral consequences – are the type that can impact your quality of life long after you have paid your so-called debt to society.
What are collateral consequences in terms of Rhode Island criminal convictions?
Collateral consequences are essentially penalties imposed by society. When you have a criminal record, people treat you differently. You may find you have difficulty:
- finding a new job – many employers may deem your criminal history a liability and pass on your application to review another comparable candidate;
- keeping or acquiring a professional license – if you pursued a specific profession that requires a license (e.g., real estate, medical, nursing, CPA, pilot's license)
- keeping or acquiring security clearance – security clearance is not solely for top jobs in the government but are required by many organizations where restricted information is accessible, and you could be the janitor at that organization or the CEO and still need a certain level of security clearance;
- keeping or obtaining a job in the financial sector – some convictions that connote dishonesty (e.g., embezzlement or money laundering) can prevent you from working in the financial sector;
- securing safe housing – many landlords conduct background checks prior to accepting a lease application and have policies that prevent persons who have committed certain crimes from renting a unit;
- securing student loans or scholarships – if you intend to attend the University of Rhode Island or another college, a criminal conviction, depending on the crime, could result in loss or denial of federal student loans, work-study, and provide scholarships or fellowships;
- traveling to Canada or another country – Canada will not allow entry of U.S. citizens who have been convicted of certain crimes, including a crime like a DWI, DUI, BUI);
- keeping your right to vote – you have a Constitutional right to vote, but if you commit a felony, you can lose that right and getting that right back can be difficult;
- keeping and using firearms – you have a Constitutional right to own and use firearms unless you committed a felony or domestic violence;
- keeping or obtaining child custody – certain crimes can deny you the right to share custody of a child, but you may be able to have visitation rights or supervised visitation; and/or
- traveling to another country – certain crimes will be reason enough for the government to deport you if you are not a U.S. citizen, and some of these crimes include drug offenses, gun charges.
There are other collateral consequences, too. The above are simply some of the major ones that alleged criminal offenders and their families don't always think about but should.
What criminal convictions in Rhode Island carry collateral consequences?
Any criminal conviction, whether it's a misdemeanor or a felony, can carry collateral consequences. Apart from losing driving privileges for a certain period of time and the problems associated with that, traffic violations will not necessarily result in collateral consequences in Coventry, Rhode Island or throughout the state unless your driving record must be clean (e.g., some social work jobs may require a clean driving record). The less serious the crime, of course, may mean minimal collateral consequences.
That's why it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney in Rhode Island will have the insight and knowledge to inform you of all your options and all the consequences that flow from those options. In essence, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you make the right choices that suit you as opposed to suiting the prosecutor or state.