Jail Time & Fines are Just the Start
After an arrest, my client’s primary concern is going to jail or prison. But, in many cases, the larger problem is the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Mandatory incarceration is only the beginning of you being sentenced within the full extent of allowable “punishment” that the law and society heaps onto those convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in Arizona. In addition to incarceration, you must also concern yourself with other potential prohibitions and disqualifications that you will face (“collateral consequences”).
We are going to discuss some of the potential collateral consequences that you may face as a result of a criminal conviction and how they may affect your daily life. These collateral consequences can involve your receiving fewer government benefits providing for your life necessities, your living in affordable housing, you’re being properly licensed and employable, and being able to vote. These consequences can last a lifetime and affect not only you but also your family.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
In Arizona, the list of collateral consequences imposed upon someone convicted of a crime is extensive. Unfortunately, there is no actual list of every collateral consequence that you may face. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney that really understands the potential consequences “outside the courtroom.” Collateral consequences can often seem worse than jail time because they often inhibit your ability to re-enter society and return to your pre-conviction way of life. What would it mean if you lost your professional license? … your driver’s license?… your credit rating goes down?… your legal status? … your fingerprint clearance? These are just a few of the consequences you need to be worried about.
The lasting and sometimes permanent effects that collateral consequences imposed upon those on probation, or even if completely “off paper,” really can hurt the person convicted and their families. The lack of a formal list of collateral consequences of a criminal conviction means that defendants in Arizona are often uninformed of these consequences prior to their convictions. As a result, criminal defendants in Arizona often plead guilty to criminal offenses totally unaware of the range of consequences that will come along with their pleas. You really need an experienced criminal defense attorney to minimize the collateral traps you may fall into.
What is a Collateral Consequence Exactly?
Collateral consequences can generally be broken into two groups: collateral sanctions, and discretionary disqualifications.
A collateral sanction is defined as “a legal penalty, disability or disadvantage, however, denominated, that is imposed on a person automatically upon that person’s conviction for a felony, misdemeanor or other offense, even if it is not included in that sentence.” This can be the loss of a driver’s license or a professional certificate. This can be the loss of your rights. This can be restrictions on your life in the form of probation or sentencing restrictions: curfew, your right to associate, or even to be with your family. For sex crimes, this can be the lifelong requirement that you register as a sex offender.
A discretionary disqualification is defined as a “penalty, disability, or disadvantage, however, denominated, that a civil court, administrative agency, or official is authorized but not required to impose on a person convicted of an offense on grounds related to the conviction”. These can be issues with your fingerprint card, your ability to travel, immigration, and as above, your driver’s license to name just a few.
What Are Some Possible Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction?
Loss of Public Benefits
If you are convicted of a crime in Arizona, you may lose or be prohibited from receiving state and federal public benefits. This can be especially devastating for your family if they rely on your public benefits.
Loss of Benefits Due to a Drug-Related Conviction
In Arizona, if you are convicted of a drug-related crime, you may lose your public benefits (A.R.S. 13-3418). Benefits that may be eliminated include “any money or services provided by this state for scholarships or tuition waivers granted for state-funded universities or community colleges, welfare benefits, public housing or other subsidies, but does not include benefits available for drug abuse treatment, rehabilitation, or counseling programs.” A.R.S. 13-3418(C). In other words, the Court may suspend, or even without a court order, the automatic sanctions can affect your public benefits for benefits like Social Security, food stamps, and student loans among others.
Loss of Housing Benefits
Federal law regulates who is eligible for public housing and public assistance. These statutes limit eligibility based on criminal history. In most cases, these laws give states and local authorities the ability to expand ineligibility for public housing and assistance based on criminal convictions. This means that the court or state authorities may deem you ineligible for public housing benefits. This can make it extremely difficult for those convicted of felonies, most crimes of domestic violence, sex offenders, and people convicted of drug-related crimes.
Cannot Serve on a Jury
Arizona law provides that a person is not eligible for jury service if he or she has been convicted of a felony unless the juror’s civil rights have been restored. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 21-201(3); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-904((A)(3)).
Loss of Commercial Driver’s License
In Arizona, there is a wide range of offenses that lead to the suspension or revocation of a commercial driver’s license. Depending on the crime involved, each conviction may result in varying lengths of any suspension or revocation. In some instances, a conviction is not necessary: the only issue may be an administrative sanction, not a criminal sanction. A few examples are:
- If you get a DUI while operating a commercial vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or more,
- Leaving the scene of an accident, and
- Using a vehicle in the commission of a felony.
Obviously, when you drive for a living, the loss of your commercial driver’s license can be devasting to you and your family.
Loss of Voting Rights
If you are convicted of a felony in Arizona, you will lose the right to vote unless you have your rights restored. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-101. If you are convicted of felony in another state, Arizona does not provide for a restoration of your rights. You would need to have your rights restored in the state where you were convicted.
Bar from Military Service
Federal law bars convicted felons from enlisting in the military. If you are convicted while you are in the military, you could be looking at punishment under both military law and civilian state law. A felony conviction while in the military will likely lead to a forced separation from the military and a dishonorable discharge. This is a legal “double whammy” because a felony conviction paired with a dishonorable discharge will make it extremely difficult for you to find a job.
Sex Offender Registration
If you are convicted of a qualifying sex crime in Arizona, you will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life. Even if you move to another state, a sex crime conviction in Arizona will follow you. Your name, address, and photo will be posted on the internet and it will be reposted on dozens of third-party sites. Unfortunately, this means that you will be subjected to public ridicule and a lifetime of harassment from public safety officials. Not only does a sex crime conviction make it difficult, if not impossible, to find a job, but restrictions on where you can live and who you can live with will also be devastating when trying to move up in your life.
Divorce and Bankruptcy
A possible consequence that is often not considered is the impact a felony conviction in Arizona has on families. Criminal proceedings can stress a marriage to the breaking point but a long separation because one of the spouses is incarcerated is often something that a marriage cannot survive. Arizona is a “no-fault” divorce state, and your spouse may divorce you even if you do not appear in court. In many cases, the additional strain is combined with financial strain as a result of court-imposed fines and assessments.
Loss of Child Custody/Visitation
A criminal conviction in Arizona could result in you losing visitation and/or custody rights for your children if it is not in their best interest. Some examples of crimes that may create child custody problems for you are:
- Driving while intoxicated
- Sex crimes
- Domestic violence-related crimes
- Violent crimes
- Drug crimes
While in most cases your parental rights are suspended and can be restored at some point, some felony convictions can result in the termination of your parental rights.
Loss of Professional License
If you are convicted of a crime in Arizona, you may lose or be denied a professional license, permit, certification, or state employment if the crime is related to the function of the job or restrictions of the conviction would interfere with the performance of the job.
The licensing agencies have enormous discretion to deny convicted criminals from obtaining licenses based on a finding or reasonable relationship. Some examples of licenses that can be denied, suspended, or revoked are:
- Chiropractor (a felony in the last 12 months)
- Financial Services (needing security licensing)
- Funeral Director and/or embalmer (a felony in the last 7 years (D))
- Massage therapist (a felony in the last 5 years)
- Pest Control
- Pharmacist and Pharmacist Technician
- Pilots (loss of fingerprint card and clearance)
- Podiatrist (a felony in the last 12 months)
- Real Estate Licenses
Case Example of NOT Hiring the Right Attorney:
A couple of years ago, I was retained to help a young man charged with misdemeanor theft. He and his friend were drunk and walking through a hotel in a local city. As a joke, they grabbed the little gift bag that was on a luggage cart from a vendor at a conference in the hotel. Keep in mind, the bags were meant to be “giveaways.” But the city elected to prosecute them for theft.
The friend went to court and entered a diversion/deferred prosecution program. He completed the program, and the State dismissed his case. He thought the best outcome would be a dismissal. But to enter diversion he had to enter a contract with the prosecutor. And, as part of the contract, he had to admit the theft. Keep in mind, he was never convicted. But as a result of his admission to the theft, he lost his financial certificates that took him years to earn
His friend retained me. I knew of the potential risk that entering diversion would entail. Rather than enter diversion, we had him enter a plea to a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct, attend one alcohol class and pay a fine of less than $300. His conviction for the misdemeanor did not affect his licensing. He did not lose his job. And, when it was all over, we had the misdemeanor conviction set aside.
How to Avoid Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction in Arizona
The most obvious way to avoid collateral consequences of a criminal conviction in Arizona is simply not to commit the crime or at least don’t get busted. However, when the long arm of the law catches up to you, guilty or not, the next best thing you can do is hire a Board-Certified Criminal Defense Attorney like Howard Snader and the Snader Law Group. When your freedom, family, and finances are all at risk, do NOT roll the dice on a public defender or an attorney that just doesn’t get it or doesn’t care? You need an experienced, expert criminal defense attorney that knows the collateral consequences of your crime. Call us today for a free case review.