Collateral Consequences - the Impact of a Criminal Case on the Rest of Your Life

After a conviction, most people are not sent to jail. Most people are given probation or no further penalty. And yet, every contact with the criminal justice system is incredibly dangerous and needs to be taken seriously because besides the embarrassment of a criminal record following you around for the rest of your life, you can also lose important rights as a result of that conviction. For many, it isn't the conviction that is the most ruinous, it's the so-called, "collateral consequence." 

Collateral Consequences are nothing new. They have been a part of legal systems since at least the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks had ἀτιμία, the Romans infamia, and in early English Common law civiliter mortuus (civil death).   

In early English Common law, the idea of civil death was pretty simple. You may be physically alive, but you were legally dead. That's to say, upon conviction the Crown completely severed all legal and civil rights. The complete loss of one's civil rights, probably made sense because there was often just one penalty for a felony in early English Common Law: death. Extinguishing the rights of a person might make sense when you were just aligning his (or her) legal rights with the physical rights of his soon to be dead body (that's to say none).  

The loss of rights under civil death was total. A convict lost the right to enter into contracts, transmit property by inheritance and devise, marry (or, conversely - remain married as civil death also had the effect of dissolving the marriage), serve as a witness in any court case criminal or civil and vote. Civil death also had the effect of passing what property and estates a convict might have to his or her heirs upon sentencing (often not an issue because the Crown often took all the property) meaning a convicted person had no funds to appeal or fight his case after his conviction. 

All in all civil death was harsh and unfair. Clearly, we know better today and civil death isn't a feature in modern American jurisprudence.

 Or is it?

In an unending wail to "be tough on crime," simple imprisonment is not considered enough punishment by some. So many states, Pennsylvania in particular, have civil penalties in addition to the criminal ones. These civil penalties are not part of any sentence that is handed down by a court such as incarceration, fines, or probation. They are actions taken by the state and they encompass a wide array of life. And you may not be told anything about them other than, "there may be some consequences." 

In Pennsylvania, these collateral consequences (the children of Civil Death) encompass adoption and foster care, child custody, restriction of a professional licenses (or complete loss of that license), loss of a driver's license, employment, the right to serve on a jury, the ability to obtain financial aid, the right to own a firearm, the ability to receive public benefits, the right to subsidized housing. These collateral consequences can even include your legal right to remain in this country or become a U.S. citizen. And while this list might seem broad, it in no way a comprehensive of all collateral consequences. 

If, for example, you are convicted of Knowing and Intentional Possession of a Controlled Substance (also known as K&I in Philadelphia) under 35, § 780-113 et. seq. you will also have your driver's license suspended under 75 Pa. C.S. § 1532 for six months for even a first offense. For a third, you will lose it for two years. See: (

If you've been convicted of aggravated assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 2702), 18 Pa.C.S. § 6114 (relating to contempt for violation of order or agreement) or 75 Pa.C.S. Ch. 38 (DUI), the court shall consider these convictions if you are involved in a child custody proceeding. Nor is this a complete list; there are many other crimes that will interfere with your ability to keep custody of your children. 

If you are convicted of various sex offenses you may not be allowed to live with your children, you may not be allowed to live in certain areas of the city, you may have to "register" with the state police, give your name, your identification, your living address. You may have to have this information posted on a publicly available website. You may be even be banned from taking certain jobs. 

If you are convicted of a crime of domestic violence, you will never again be allowed to purchase a gun. This is true even for a misdemeanor conviction. 

As you can see, the consequences of a criminal conviction go far beyond incarceration and “a record.” The long term effects are mind boggling and far reaching. You can not and should not go this road alone. If you are currently charged with or could be charged with a crime, then you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. Before you can make any decision you must know all the facts, and to know all the facts, you must speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

The Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC have extensive experience fighting all types of state and federal charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We know the consequences of a conviction and will do everything in our power to prevent one. Call 267-225-2545 now for a free consultation.