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What to know about Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions

Many people who have been convicted of a crime are not aware of the consequences that come with it. Court-imposed sentencing is generally straightforward and details any prison or jail time, probation, and the amount of fine or restitution. But it is extremely difficult for those involved in criminal cases to determine other consequences that are fixed by the force of law.

What are Collateral Consequences?

The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC) now makes accessible to judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, defendants, victims, and the general public the disqualifications that derive from committing a crime beyond those included in the actual judgment.

“Collateral consequences are legal disabilities imposed by law as a result of a criminal conviction regardless of whether a convicted individual serves any time incarcerated. These consequences create social and economic barriers for individuals reentering into society by denying or restricting benefits otherwise available to all Americans.” - Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions Judicial Bench Book.

There are over 46,000 collateral consequences at a federal and a state level, severely affecting employment, adoptions, housing, welfare, immigration, professional licensure, property rights, mobility, and other opportunities. These can be highly harmful to people reentering society because they will face substantial barriers throughout their lifetime, making it extremely difficult to rebuild their lives. It increases the rate of recidivism and disproportionately affects minority and economically disadvantaged populations. Unlike most periods of incarceration and financial penalties, collateral consequences can have lifetime effects since they may remain in force after time served and monies paid. In many cases, they can be more punitive than the sentence imposed by a court.

Why is it important to know about collateral consequences?

Defendants often are barely notified that their guilty plea can affect social services, employment, professional licensure, immigration status, volunteer opportunities, and more. Therefore, an inquiry into potential collateral consequences can be critical at each stage of the criminal justice process. Defense lawyers who are aware of collateral consequences might persuade a prosecutor who has charging options to pursue those that minimize collateral consequences. Plea negotiations provide opportunities for consideration of collateral consequences, as do sentencing proceedings when judges might consider whether alternatives are available to minimize unnecessarily harsh collateral effects.

How can you search for collateral consequences?

Visit the official website of the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction. You can easily search for details of policies related to collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Go to to start your search.





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