Collateral Consequences of Criminal Charges

When a person is charged with a crime, they might reach a point in their case where they have to make an important decision. One of the most important is the decision of whether to take a case to trial or make a deal.

At the end of the day, to go to trial or make a deal is your choice. But people hire lawyers to help them navigate the legal system and make smart decisions. A smart choice is an informed one. Before deciding on a trial, your criminal defense attorney will ensure you have enough information to make an informed decision. Importantly, your defense attorney will talk with you about potential outcomes you might face by choosing one option over another, including the collateral consequences of your decision.

What are collateral consequences?

To understand collateral consequences, you first have to understand how people are punished under the criminal justice system. There are two types of consequences for people who are found guilty of crimes or plead guilty:

  • Direct consequences
  • Indirect, or collateral, consequences

Direct consequences are the immediate consequences a person faces for violating the law or laws they are charged with. For example, the crime of larceny under $1,200 says that a person who is convicted could be punished up to one year in jail or with a fine of up to $1,500. These are direct consequences because they are stated in the crime itself. However, keep in mind that not all crimes directly say what the punishment is. Crimes also often only set limits on maximum punishments. Most of the time, judges have a large amount of discretion when they sentence a convicted person.

Indirect consequences are consequences of a criminal conviction created by other law. In other words, they are not necessarily explained in the crime itself. Because they come from other law, collateral consequences can be easy to miss or forget. This is why having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is so important. An effective attorney will explain to you all the applicable collateral consequences of making a deal or going to trial before you make any decisions.

What are examples of collateral consequences?

Here is a list of important collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Keep in mind that these are potentialconsequences. Each case is different and not all consequences may be applicable to every set of facts:

  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Firearms license suspension
  • Sex offender registration
  • Immigration consequences
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Social stigma

Here is an overview of each of these:

Driver’s License Consequences:

Although often taken for granted, a driver’s license is a privilege. People who are accused of and convicted of certain driving offenses may lose their license.

This is always relevant in operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI-liquor) cases. Police will ask people who are arrested in Massachusetts OUI-liquor cases to take a chemical to determine the concentration of alcohol in their blood. Also known as a breathalyzer test, the default rule is that a person who blows above the 0.08% legal limit loses their license for 30 days, effective immediately.

On the other hand, if you refuse to take the test, you will also lose your license. The length varies depending on the number of prior OUIs on your record. If you are a first-time offender, you will lose your license for 180 days. Even when your case is resolved by a not guilty or a dismissal, you must still apply to reinstate your license with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which is not automatically required to reinstate it.

Firearms License Suspension:

Like a driver’s license, a firearms license is also considered to be a privilege in Massachusetts. This means that people who are accused of or convicted of certain crimes may lose their right to bear arms.

The decision to suspend or revoke a license to carry rests with local chiefs of police. They have broad discretion and the legal standard is quite relaxed. To successfully challenge a police chief’s decision to suspend or revoke, the gun owner must show that the decision was not reasonable, which specifically means that it was “arbitrary or capricious” or that the chief abused their discretion.

There are several reasons under the law why a person might lose their license:

When your firearms license is suspended, not only must you surrender your license but also the firearms that you own.

Sex Offender Registration:

People who are determined to be sex offenders in Massachusetts must register with the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB). The most common way a person becomes a sex offender is by being convicted of a sex offense.

There are three types of sex offenders, called levels. The two main factors considered in classifying a sex offender are:

  • Their risk of re-offending
  • The danger they pose to the public

Level 1 offenders are determined to be those have the lowest risk of reoffending and pose the lowest degree of danger to the public. Level 3 offenders have the highest risk of reoffending and pose the highest degree of danger to the public.

Sex offenders also must provide certain personal information to SORB. This varies depending on the level offender. The availability of the personal information they provide also differs depending on the level:

  • Level 1: The public cannot access their personal information, but the police and different government agencies can.
  • Level 2: The public can access their personal information on the internet but only if they are classified as Level 2 after July 12, 2013. Members of the public who want information on offenders classified before this date must go through police departments or file requests with SORB.
  • Level 3: The public has access to all personal information of offenders through the internet.

The consequences of sex offender registration are very harsh and have a major impact on many different areas of life, including employment and travel.

Immigration Consequences:

Criminal law and immigration law often intersect. If you are not a citizen of the United States and you are convicted of a crime or make certain deals, you may be subject to immigration consequences. It is important that non-citizens charged with crimes not only retain a defense lawyer but also consult with an immigration attorney.

Suspension Or Expulsion From School:

Juveniles attending public school who are charged with or convicted of certain crimes may face collateral consequences under the law. The possible consequences include:

  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

Principals and headmasters have discretion to suspend students charged with felonies. They are allowed to do this when they believe that the student’s continued presence in the school would have a “substantial detrimental effect” on the school’s wellbeing. Before the student is suspended, they must be given a notice with reasons for making this determination. The notice must also explain that they have a right to appeal the decision to the superintendent of the school district who is required to hold a hearing.

The process is almost identical for students who are convicted of felonies, but the consequence is expulsion. Importantly, students who are suspended or expelled from school do not lose their right to a public education.

Social Stigma:

Lastly, it’s important to mention the social stigma that often comes with being accused of a crime or convicted of one. Although innocent people can be charged and some people are wrongfully convicted, entering the criminal justice system alone can have social consequences. This stigma impacts many different aspects of life, including personal relationships with friends and family and employment opportunities.



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