While watching a football game with friends at a private house, John had several beers. After the game, a few of the guys headed to a diner for food before going their separate ways. John didn’t think twice when he got behind the wheel, or when he saw the flashing lights in his rearview mirror.
John failed the sobriety tests, and his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.12. The officer charged John with “operating while intoxicated” (OWI). Though it was his first offense, John’s OWI charges turned his life upside down. Aside from the fines, John faced several collateral consequences for attempting to drive home that night.
Like John, anybody convicted of criminal activity faces penalties for the behaviors. Beyond the fines and jail time, many convictions include collateral consequences. These unexpected consequences can impact the individual for many years, or even the rest of their life, no matter what changes or improvements they make in their lives.
Criminal Convictions and Collateral Consequences
Criminal convictions, whether misdemeanors or felonies, have established penalties – like fines and jail time.
However, many of them carry additional restrictions, known as collateral consequences.
These prohibit certain activities and limit options in, among other things:
- Professional licensing, and
One of the most well-known collateral consequences involves voting. Historically, many states in America deny felons the opportunity to vote or at least prevent voting while incarcerated. Indiana restores a felon’s right to vote upon their release.
In John’s case, he could receive multiple consequences, including license suspension, fines, jail time, and court-mandated substance abuse treatment. Each penalty could create a domino effect in his life, like missing work to attend counseling.
Further, John’s charges will appear on his record for several years, potentially impacting future job and housing applications.
The Problem with Collateral Consequences
It’s not difficult to see how one mistake could send shockwaves through somebody’s life, and how compounding collateral consequences can destroy hope for many people. Even if somebody makes the most of incarceration in hopes of a better life, the repercussions don’t often end when they walk out of jail.
The effects of criminal convictions and incarceration extend beyond fines and time served. In many cases, convictions prevent access to services, housing, education, and various licenses. Regardless of the conviction level, many people face profound losses for criminal convictions, even if it’s a first offense. They rarely receive the support or remediation they need.
Even worse, it’s easier than ever to access prior convictions and incredibly difficult to eliminate the collateral consequences. Even sealing or expunging the records offers limited relief for offenders, and only for certain charges.
The Justice System’s Response
Unfortunately, the federal government offers little reprieve. The Supreme Court heard several cases related to collateral consequences and consistently upheld that it’s legal to deny certain rights to convicts.
Thankfully, some legal bodies noticed the troubling trend and took action. The Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association built the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC) as a comprehensive archive. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) also does research on various collateral consequences in states across the nation.
While the database doesn’t provide legal advice or interpret any statutes or regulations, it does identify and categorize collateral consequences of various laws. The comprehensive site includes multiple resources, studies, books, and reports about the far-reaching effects of criminal convictions.
Collateral Consequences in Indiana
Each state has unique laws and penalties for breaking them, including collateral consequences. The NICCC lists more than 650 entries for Indiana, ranging from ineligibility to possess a handgun to suspension of business licenses and permits.
However, Indiana enacted a Second Chance Law to offer some relief. In 2011, Indiana’s General Assembly passed legislation allowing individuals to petition to restrict their criminal records under the Second Chance Law.
To be eligible, you must meet one of these criteria:
- You must have been found not guilty through adjudication or have the conviction vacated.
- You were convicted of a misdemeanor (including class D felonies reduced to misdemeanors), a non-violent felony, or a violent or sex-related felony.
There are additional exceptions to the Second Chance Law, but they vary depending on the charge and the individual’s current situation. Though the law doesn’t apply to every class of conviction, it could help some people regain some rights and access to services.