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The collateral consequences of a misdemeanor

It may have been an unfortunate error in judgment that led to the misdemeanor charge. Maybe you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Your friends were pressuring you to smoke "just a little weed." Your beer consumption left you buzzed when you got behind the wheel of your car. Regardless of the intention, the result of that poor judgment was a misdemeanor charge. Relieved at the perceived lack of severity of the charge, you are ready to accept the charge, pay the fine and move on with your life. No jail time, no problem. Right?


Even if you do receive a misdemeanor charge and need only to pay a fine for restitution, having a misdemeanor charge on your criminal record could impact your life long after you leave the courthouse. While many people consider a misdemeanor conviction to be a minor charge, the collateral consequences, or legal obstacles, associated with the misdemeanor conviction are well documented but not well publicized.

Those accepting the misdemeanor charge do not realize how their futures are impacted by their conviction until they apply for a job, housing or college loans. The lack of public awareness of the severity of the repercussions has led the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to declare the long-term influence of a charge, "the secret sentence or silent punishment."

Before you consider accepting a misdemeanor charge, consider these three realms that will be influenced by your decision:

1. Housing

Should you seek to lease an apartment, your landlord may conduct a background check. If the search into your past is thorough, you may be denied a lease. If you are living in an area where housing is limited, those tenants with clean criminal records will qualify for the best apartments with the lowest rent. When sifting through applicants for housing, landlords will inevitably seek out those with no criminal record.

2. Education

Students convicted for marijuana possession are ineligible to receive a federal loan to subsidize college tuition. As a matter of fact, federal law prohibits those with drug convictions from receiving federal benefits. While the prohibition on receiving a school loan is temporary, the ensuing time delay will impact your ability to graduate from college on time. Additional scholarships may be cancelled as result of receiving a conviction. Faced with such obstacles, many individuals decide to leave the college without completing their course load.

3. Employment

When educational opportunities are curbed, career options are severely limited. Adding a criminal background check into the application process winnows these options further. It is for this reason that those with criminal records suffer from a lack of stability in their lives.

According to the American Bar Association database, there are more than 45,000 state and federal penalties connected with this conviction. Thanks to the qualities of this "silent punishment," those uninformed accept the misdemeanor charge without hesitation and regret the quick decision years down the road. Consider the collateral consequences associated with this charge before you make your decision.

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