The Financial Burden of a Criminal Record

September 17, 2018

A criminal conviction can devastate your finances.

If you’re incarcerated, you might lose your job while you’re behind bars. When you finally you get out, you won’t be able to pass the background checks ran by most employers. Getting a job after you’ve been convicted of a crime is notoriously difficult.

Nearly one in three in Americans are carrying a criminal record. Many people are still feeling the consequences of infractions committed decades ago. You might be convicted of a DUI when you’re 23 and disqualified from a job application when you’re 46.

Because it can be hard to find an employer who’s both able and willing to overlook a spotty criminal history, your options are limited if you can’t pass a background check.

Financial Costs of Crime

Crime is expensive. One of the biggest costs that you have to worry about is your lawyer. The court will assign you a public defender if you can’t afford to hire your own representation but only if you meet certain income requirements. Additionally, you’re only entitled to a public defender’s services after charges have already been filed.

Defense Attorneys

If you want to start fighting your case before the prosecutor files charges or if your income disqualifies you from getting a public defender, you have no choice but to hire a private attorney. In many cases, the expense is worth it. Your attorney can often negotiate a much better deal for you than you would have been able to obtain yourself.

For instance, if you’re charged with a criminal traffic violation, skilled reckless driving attorneys can potentially get the case dismissed. Or they might be able to work out a deal that keeps you out of jail. Virginia law firm WeIland Upton notes that: “Anyone can be charged with reckless driving, regardless of their driving skills. Misfortunes tend to happen when you least expect them. Therefore, if you are facing a reckless driving charges… you cannot afford to take these charges lightly.”

A defense attorney’s fees depend on a number of factors, including the severity of your crime.

Public Defenders

Public defenders aren’t free. Certain states require people to pay public defender charges. The amount varies by jurisdiction.

Court Fees

Often, part of your sentence will include fines. Even if your case is resolved without a conviction, you can still be liable for court fees.

Who Wants to See a Background Check?

Potential employers aren’t the only ones who may run a background check. You might also run into problems if you try to rent an apartment or car. A criminal record can be used as a black mark against by a variety of people.

However, if this is your situation, there might be things that you can do. Depending on your jurisdiction, you might be able to have your conviction expunged.

If you don’t, you could also run into personal problems. Anyone who’s willing to pay a fee can look up your criminal history on a commercial website.

Higher education institutes often ask applicants to disclose their criminal history as well. You can be denied federal student aid as well.

If it’s not possible to have your record cleared, there’s still hope for your case. Activists are fighting to make it easier for ex-offenders to apply for jobs without having to disclose their criminal history.

Federal and Local Restrictions

Convicted offenders are barred from a host of activities by both state and federal laws. Ex-offenders have to navigate a tricky legal world. Someone might not realize that they’re doing something illegal when they break a rule that only applies to convicted criminals.

The consequences of having a criminal record can be severe and follow you throughout your life. Even if your infraction was minor, you could still face discrimination in the workplace. Cleaning up your record can be an expensive and time-consuming process but it’s definitely worth it.

Social Stress

In addition to the obvious financial concerns, having a criminal history can also cause social stress. Society isn’t always fair to people who have made mistakes. Being charged with a crime can be enough to alter your social standing, even if you’re never convicted. Your arrest record will show up on a background check.

If you’re incarcerated, you might experience personality changes. Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder from their ordeal. Prisons are very stressful environments. Not only are you exposed to violent, angry people but you also have to deal with the shame and guilt that can form in response to being incarcerated.

Being anxious and stressed out doesn’t help people get jobs. People who are heavily affected by the social drawbacks of having a criminal record will have to deal with an extra burden when they try to get a job.

Your financial health can change if you’re convicted of a crime. However, you have options. You can try to get your record sealed, you can find jobs that don’t require a background a check, and you can support activism efforts intended to aid ex-offenders.


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