Jobs and Criminal Records
A while ago I wrote an article about the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction. Collateral consequences are those beyond fines and jail and probation, i.e. what a judge hands down. Collateral consequences are the inability to vote or being deported. For this week’s post I’m going to focus on just one of those consequences: employment complications.
A recent article by The Nation reminded me of these issues. The subtitle of the article says it all: “How a Criminal Record Keeps you Unemployed for Life.” The article and its comments include a host of anecdotes from people who couldn’t secure meaningful employment due to a criminal record.
The biggest issue cited by the article is fear from employers. Fear of the ex-con running amok, or fear that their clientele will think less of the company because they hired a criminal. The article makes it clear employee discrimination based on a record is often illegal. But tell that to the people with records still looking for work.
I see this issue a lot in my practice. As a former public defender, and even in private practice, I work with people who have criminal records. Their lives are intrinsically, permanently worse because of the conviction interfering with their job prospects (or housing prospects or financial aid prospects). It’s a rare case for someone with a record to not be worse off in some way because of the conviction.
This is one of the reasons my ultimate goal in representation is to keep someone free of a criminal record. If someone walks in and for the first time in their life they’ve been charged with a crime, my goal is for their record to remain unblemished when their case resolves.
Sometimes this can entail a fight. On a first offense, for a lot of crimes (not all) the prosecutor makes an offer that a defendant will plead guilty in exchange for zero jail time. Clients think this is a great deal.
Client: “Yay no jail! The case will be over and I can get on with my life.”
Me: “Yay! Except boo because while the case will be over, the conviction will follow you forever!”
The problem with any conviction is that as the article makes clear, employers do background checks. If you have a record, they’ll compare you to other applicants that don’t. Depending on the job, one stain can put an applicant into the rejected pile.
What happens when someone can’t get meaningful employment, but still needs to feed and clothe their family? Perhaps they turn back to crime? In Washington State, as of 2010, felons have a 33% recidivism rate. That means more victims and more cost to the taxpayers. Keeping someone in jail costs $30,000 per prisoner per year. While I can’t discourage crime, or lower the costs of keeping people in jail, I can help prevent people from being caught in the system.
There are ways to avoid a conviction. One way is, of course, to win at trial. This is the riskiest option as it’s a “win all/lose all” option. But if a prosecutor’s offer is merely to plead guilty to the crime charged, we might take a close look at trial. But there are also other options.
Sometimes, a case can be won with pre-trial motions. If the facts support it, some motions can get key evidence or even the entire case tossed out of court. There are also resolutions that don’t result in convictions, like deferred prosecutions or deferred sentences. Obviously, one of my jobs is to navigate this process for my clients.
There are times where a conviction is pretty likely. As I explain in my FAQ I never promise results. Another method to reduce the collateral impact is to seek a reduced charge that is more innocuous than the original charge. For example, if a client was accused of murder and the resolution was to plead to Trespass 2; depending on the facts that might be a good resolution. One of my mentors sometimes asks what charge a client of his would be willing to plead to. He’ll say his client is willing to accept the consequences of Following Too Close (check it out).
If the worst happens and a client is convicted, their criminal record can be cleaned up. I do some work with vacating/expunging criminal convictions. It’s a byzantine process and I’d rather someone not have a conviction in the first place. Regardless, in Washington, certain crimes can be wiped off someone’s record. I’ll talk more about that process in a future post.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime for the first time, or have a conviction that’s causing employment troubles, give me a call. We might be able to solve the issue for good.