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Dysart Willis

Beware the pitfalls of the plea.

If you have been following our blog, you know that short-sighted mistakes can have long-term implications. In general, the penalties associated with criminal charges can deplete savings and can hamper the ability to obtain employment. For young adults charged with engaging in illicit activities, however, the repercussions of a record can follow the convicted throughout her life, restricting life options.

When in court, many individuals may seek to accept a misdemeanor charge because they believe that accepting this lesser offense will result in payment of a small fine and hours assigned to community service. For some, however, accepting this "lesser" offense may have larger consequences than they realize. According to Norman Reimer, the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the misdemeanor charge on a record "affects housing rights, access to loans, family rights and a whole realm of things. It's often called the secret sentences or the silent punishment." A phrase synonymous with this phenomenon is "collateral consequence." For those accepting the misdemeanor charge in a plea, collateral consequences will erase many opportunities from their futures.

For young adults just establishing the groundwork for the rest of their lives, the misdemeanor charge can be especially harmful because it influences these areas:

1. Education

When applying to colleges for admissions, young adults may be surprised to find questions about criminal records on the application form. On the Common Application form, students seeking enrollment are required to acknowledge their criminal background. In a time of increased competition, young adults with a record are at a disadvantage when competing for slots with applicants who have clean records. Although some universities are removing criminal background admissions from their applications, such instances are rare.

In a previous blog, we also highlighted the penalties imposed on students receiving a drug conviction while using federal loans to subsidize college tuition. The loss of a federal loan damages the student's opportunity to finish college within the four-year time span.

2. Employment

Career options may also be diminished as a result of a misdemeanor conviction. This charge has an impact on individuals seeking employment with the federal government or public school system. State laws often ban those convicted from interacting with children, handling money or defending a client in court. Private employers may have even higher standards, rejecting applicants with a record in favor of other candidates with a pristine background.

3. Housing

It is only natural that individuals with reduced educational and career options will experience limitations in their housing opportunities. As a college degree is often a prerequisite for a well-paying job, those who are well-compensated will be able to afford nice housing.

Additionally as was the case with employment background checks, many landlords require applicants to consent to an examination of their history. In an area where demand outstrips housing supply, it will be the case that tenants with no criminal history will be able to rent the best apartments at the lowest rates.

This overview of areas negatively influenced a criminal record is by no means exhaustive. According to the American Bar Association database, there are more than 1,000 consequences for having a conviction on record in North Carolina alone. Nationwide, there are over 45,000 penalties associated with a conviction.

For these reasons, it should be obvious that a misdemeanor is no minor charge. Those facing such a conviction are advised to speak with a knowledgeable attorney to determine the best course of action to take.