How will a criminal history affect me in the future?
When it comes to your criminal history, blank is better.
When a case is pending and probation, fines or jail time are on the line, my clients will sometimes forget about the ramifications of their criminal history. It’s understandable. The spectre of fines and probation is very close at hand, while a criminal history may seem vague and far-away.
The problem, of course, is that it can be permanent. That is – it can stay with you for your entire life. It’s a common misconception that most cases can be sealed or expunged. Expungement is usually only possible when a case is dismissed. An order of nondisclosure has benefits, but does not completely get rid of the mark on your record. It is also available in less cases than most people think.
So just how will it effect you? The first thing that comes to mind is potential lost job opportunities or a failed background check when attempting to rent an apartment. But maybe the most common way an arrest or conviction can come back and hurt you is with your future interactions with the criminal justice system.
It can happen at every step. When the police stop you, they might see that you’ve been arrested for a prior DWI. Instead of letting you go with a warning, they may ask you to perform Field Sobriety Tests. Prior possession of controlled substance? Police might give a harder look for contraband. Was your case dismissed? Doesn’t matter – most police assume you got off on a technicality (make sure to expunge your records when that is possible – even cops cannot see expunged records.)
It doesn’t stop with the police. After an arrest, pretrial services will often recommend additional conditions for arrestees who have prior convictions. Additional drug tests, alcohol detection devices, even GPS devices (ankle monitors) can be recommended, and judges will often follow these recommendations. The additional conditions can be costly both in terms of time and money.
Once you are in plea negotiations, prosecutors take a hard look at priors, and will give dramatically worse offers for those who have offended before. Prosecutors hold a lot of cards in the courtroom, so their discretion can mean significant differences in outcomes.
As a criminal attorney, I feel it is my job to keep an eye on these types of long-term consequences when my clients might not be considering them. The system is often set up for criminal defendants to accept a quick and easy option – painless at first but with long-lasting consequences. Don’t fall into this trap. If you are charged, be sure to speak with your attorney about the long-term ramifications of your plea.