Accept the fine and move on? Sometimes it’s not that simple.

Criminal Defense
By Goodwin Como, P.C.

If you have reviewed the Criminal Defense section of our website you are familiar with the penalties associated with the conviction for certain offenses. Near the bottom of the list, the misdemeanor offense appears. The penalties and fines connected with this charge seem negligible when juxtaposed with felonies and murder.

When defendants appear in court, many are happy to plead down to a misdemeanor charge to avoid being jailed for lengthy periods of time. For others who are not charged with felonies, however, accepting a misdemeanor plea and paying a fine may not be the best course of action to take.

Those who believe a misdemeanor conviction is a lesser conviction are often surprised by the staying power that this conviction has. Once a misdemeanor is entered on a criminal record, its presence can limit educational, economic and housing opportunities. So pervasive is its negative influence on the convicted, a misdemeanor charge has been dubbed “the secret sentence or the silent punishment” by the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Should you accept a misdemeanor plea, you may find obstacles to opportunities in these areas:

1. Education

In filing out financial student aid forms, applicants are required to reveal past convictions. Federal law bans federal student loans from being made available to students with drug convictions. The suspension from receiving loans depends on the type of charge; however, time delayed from attending school increases the likelihood that an individual will not graduate from college.

Additionally, university scholarships and enrollment opportunities may be limited to those with criminal records. In the situation where there are more college applicants than openings in the academic institution, the admissions committee will tend to accept an applicant with an unblemished criminal record.

2. Employment

It is a common practice for companies to run background checks on their prospective employees. As was the case with applicants for education, those in Human Resources will favor those passing this stage of the application process without flags attached. For those seeking employment in the fields of law enforcement, education and the law, applicants with a record may be prohibited from holding a position in these fields.

3. Housing

The level of education earned and type of employment held will influence housing options that are affordable to individuals with criminal records. For those who may not have an established credit history, they will find their ability to secure a loan for housing at a low rate will be hindered. As landlords often run background checks on future tenants, this preliminary screening will remove individuals with records from the pool of potential renters. The same issues of supply and demand that influence education and employment are present with housing.

Here is the takeaway from this piece: those who believe accepting a misdemeanor plea is the most expedient course of action to take, take a look at the long view. When considering the collateral consequences attached to a misdemeanor, individuals would do well to seek an alternative option.

Those grappling with this issue are recommended to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney to determine the best long-term solution.