Do I Really Need an Attorney for a Misdemeanor Offense?
Crimes are generally broken down into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are typically considered to be more serious offenses and are subject to greater penalties. Misdemeanors are typically considered to be less serious offenses and are subject to less severe penalties. While the criminal consequences for felony and misdemeanor offenses may be significantly different, you can still face serious non-criminal consequences if you are convicted of any type of crime. As a result, it can be important to consult with and hire a qualified Illinois criminal defense attorney to avoid unnecessary repercussions of a criminal conviction for a misdemeanor offense.
Are Misdemeanor Convictions Really a Big Deal?
A criminal record can seriously affect your ability to enjoy basic privileges and freedoms that we tend to take for granted. One day you can go from working at a gratifying, well-paying job chauffeuring prominent officials and celebrities around to struggling to make ends meet as an independent contractor juggling various part-time gigs.
This is a reality for Christian Watts, a young man who happened to get caught up in a friend’s criminal indiscretions, landing him in the middle of a federal drug investigation. Watts served no jail time for his drug possession conviction, but his world was shaken nonetheless. In an interview with Time Magazine, Watts explained “It’s like a have a black mark on me that disqualifies me in the forum of public opinion…My life is stuck in a standstill.”
Watts, who was originally charged with a felony offense, negotiated the charges down to a misdemeanor. While a felony conviction could have landed him behind bars, the misdemeanor is still making his life incredibly difficult.
Since his misdemeanor conviction Watts has been repeatedly denied employment opportunities he would likely have once secured successfully. He was even denied entry into the National Guard when he wanted to serve his country. According to Watts, “felony and misdemeanors have little distinction in the effects on your life. The only real difference is the name.” He, like many others convicted of misdemeanor offenses, “constantly have to prove” that he’s “not the bad guy this piece of paper says” he is.
Potential Non-Criminal Consequences of a Criminal Record
So, felony convictions carry more severe criminal consequences, but it appears as if misdemeanor convictions carry similar non-criminal consequences. What, exactly, are these non-criminal consequences? Some of the most significant non-criminal consequences of a criminal record include:
Lost employment opportunities. Some employers may have blanket policies against hiring applicants who are convicted of certain offenses, including “crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, theft, or violence.” Employers may be less inclined to hire an applicant with a criminal conviction and, if given the opportunity, may move forward with another applicant.
Reduced earning capacity. It follows, then, that your ability to earn a decent wage can be affected by a criminal record.
Difficulty getting into college. Colleges may review an applicant’s criminal record when determining if they will be accepted into an institution. A conviction could potentially result in a denied application for admission.
Landlords may be less likely to approve your application for housing. Landlord generally run background checks on tenant applicants. They may choose to reject your application in favor of an applicant with a clean criminal history.
Lenders may decline your application for much-needed loan assistance. If you want to buy a home, car, or other large-ticket item – or even pay off medical debt – you may need a loan of some sort to cover these high costs. Lenders may deny an application if you have been convicted of a crime.
Collateral Consequences of Misdemeanor Convictions in Chicago
Those are some general consequences that could occur if you have a criminal record. What are some specific consequences of a misdemeanor conviction in Illinois? The Council of State Governments Justice Center has compiled a list of what it calls “collateral consequences” that can or will result after a conviction. In Illinois, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor you may be subject to as many as 255 collateral consequences. These collateral consequences can affect your ability to gain employment, professional licenses, ability to get government assistance and benefits, access to education, family and domestic rights, ability to have firearms, your right to participate in political and civic activities, and more.
Mandatory and/or automatic consequences after a misdemeanor conviction in Illinois include:
- Loss of right to vote (10 ILCS 5/6-41)
- Ineligible for public assistance for children/parents during incarceration (410 ILCS 225/5)
- Ineligible for disability benefits in first two years of service if the disability was the result of an act that resulted in criminal conviction (80 Ill. Adm. Code 1600.320)
- Inability to recover disability benefits (80 Ill. Amd. Code 1500.550)
- Removal of foster children from foster home (89 Ill. Adm. Code 402.6)
- Removal from positions on school boards, State Board of Education, Heart of Illinois Regional and International Port District Boards, and Metropolitan Transit Authority Board.
- Inability to work as a state police officer (20 ILCS 2610/9)
- Requirement to report a physician’s conviction to the Medical Disciplinary Board (physician/health care) (225 ILCS 60/23)
- Requirement to notify Illinois State Bar of an attorney’s conviction for a crime not involving moral turpitude. ( Sup. Ct., R 761)
- Disbarment of an attorney who is disbarred in any other court. (D. Ill. Loc. R. Bankr., R 2094)
Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Limit Potential Consequences of Criminal Charges
If you are convicted of a crime – whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor – you will have a criminal record. That record, in most cases, will be permanent. In Illinois, you may petition to have your record expunged, but the process for doing so can be time-consuming and complicated. The best way to avoid marks on a criminal record is to avoid a conviction. Hiring an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney will significantly reduce the likelihood of a conviction.
Prosecutors and State’s Attorneys will try to intimidate defendants who choose to work without the help of attorney by using their lack of legal experience and knowledge against them. If you have been arrested and/or charged with a crime it can be an overwhelming and stressful time. You may want to agree to any opportunity they offer you to leave the situation behind. However, it is important to realize that agreeing to plead to a lesser offense, perform community service, or simply agree to probation will still result in a mark on your criminal record. These marks, as we have seen, can have serious consequences.
An attorney can help to ensure that any charges against you are legitimate and supported by facts and evidence. Prosecutors have a responsibility to prove their case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. In many cases, the prosecution may simply lack the evidence necessary for a conviction. In other cases, the evidence against you may have been improperly or illegally obtained, rendering it inadmissible. Hiring an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney who understands how to use this information will limit your exposure to future non-criminal consequences of a criminal conviction.
Have you been arrested and/or charged with a misdemeanor in Illinois? Do not hesitate to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Kostopoulos Law Group today to learn about your legal rights. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner we can begin to defend you.
Kostopoulos Law Group
125 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 300 A
Chicago, IL 60606
I didn’t know that some employers might have a policy against hiring people who have committed misdemeanors like theft and fraud. Last week, my best friend was arrested for theft, but she doesn’t think it will be a big deal if she’s convicted. She should probably get a criminal law attorney to help get her acquitted so she can still get a job in the future.
It’s interesting that you mentioned how a misdemeanor charge can serve as a black mark that would stay with you almost forever if not forever which will hinder your ability to qualify into well-paying jobs due to the prejudice you shall be getting from the record. That’s alarming to learn since I wouldn’t want any of my family members to suffer such a horrible fate. I’d be sure to get myself or my household members a reputable misdemeanor defense attorney if we would ever be falsely accused of a crime we did not commit. Thanks!