ST. GEORGE – People who have committed a criminal offense soon realize there’s a lot more to worry about than the arrest itself. More than just spending time in jail, it’s important to consider the lifelong implications of a criminal record, which places constraints on living, affects people in ways some don’t expect and causes some to pay more than twice the price for their offense.
“Criminal convictions can have long lasting impacts on a defendant’s life,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Brian Filter said. “Some by operation of law such as restrictions on voting rights and the ability to possess a firearm following conviction of certain crimes. Others have impact on their professional or work life. Societal impacts follow as well.”
What some don’t bargain for is the haunting effect that being branded a criminal or a felon can have on day-to-day living and the collateral cost. The legal obligation to disclose a criminal record can affect a person’s ability to get a job, housing, loans, public benefits and financial aid for education. What’s more, those charges will likely show up on their record for the rest of their life.
“Many of these impacts are logical and serve a legitimate purpose,” Filter said. “However, there are times that the impact is greater and longer-lasting than the crime merits.”
The Scarlet Letter
According to the National Institution of Justice, a substantial share of the U.S. population has arrest records and nearly one-third of American adults have been arrested by age 23.
Once an arrest has been made, it is public record. The law allows for the arrest on a charge to be public record even if that person has not been convicted.
In very limited circumstances a person can actually clear or remove their criminal record by having them sealed or expunged. Relatively minor crimes may be eligible for sealing or removal, but may take some time.
“There are mechanisms within the law to facilitate people with criminal convictions being able to move on with their lives,” Filter said. “Reductions in severity of offense under Utah Code Section 76-3-402, and or expungement of offenses, is available to some offenders to clear their record after an appropriate amount of time and in cases where it is deemed appropriate.”
Unless a person has been pardoned for the offense, records of a capital felony, first-degree felony or violent felony; automobile homicide; felony driving under the influence; or a registerable sex offense cannot be expunged.
Education and career impacts
People with criminal records have an increased difficulty finding a job as most employers require applicants to list any crimes they have been convicted of. Many businesses choose not to hire applicants who have been convicted of a crime – or even people who were arrested, cleared and released, if the arrests are still on their record.
A person’s criminal history is generally used by potential employers and lenders to assess a person’s trustworthiness. A criminal record will keep many people from obtaining employment, according to the National Institution of Justice, even if they have paid their dues, are qualified for the job and are unlikely to reoffend.
Individuals who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, and underpaid than they were prior to their incarceration, according to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts. For those who have been incarcerated and are able to find jobs, they are likely to earn 40 percent less per year than they would have earned before their incarceration, according to the report.
A conviction might effectively disqualify someone who is applying for college or certain scholarships. Furthermore, those convicted of drug crimes cannot receive student loans.
Felonies are even more serious and often make it impossible to work in certain fields. State laws and licensing boards often bar convicted felons from entering occupations such as hairstyling.
Excluded from society
No matter how exemplary a person leads their life after their conviction, their past record will continue to show. Besides the damage to a personal and professional reputation, having a criminal record and the discrimination that often follows, can also have a huge impact on personal life.
“Social stigma can be attached greater than is appropriate for some,” Filter said. “Many people make an isolated mistake, perhaps an indiscretion of youth, go on to take responsibility for their actions, pay an appropriate cost and should be able to move on with their lives, especially for the less serious offenses.”
Being arrested, tried and sent to prison can give someone a sense that they are excluded from society, even after they’ve served their time. Those convicted of certain crimes may not be able to live near schools, parks or other areas. Criminal records may result in the denial of home, car, or business loans.
Many mortgage lenders and landlords ask about criminal convictions and require applicants to list any crimes they have been convicted of, making it very difficult to find housing. Felons further experience the loss of certain civil rights. They often face the suspension or termination of their driver’s license and other licenses and are often stripped of the right to vote and the right to own firearms.
The price paid by the victims
“I feel compelled to note,” Filter said, “that in situations where the crime involved a victim, the victim of that crime very often, particularly victims of sexual and/or violent offenses, carry burdens from the criminal activity no less serious, no less constricting, on their lives and in fact for some far more debilitating and often carry those burdens the rest of their lives.”
Misdemeanor cases in Utah
Misdemeanors are lesser crimes than felonies. Penalties for these crimes may include up to one year in a county jail along with heavy fines and required educational or treatment related classes, and court or supervised probation. There are three levels of Utah misdemeanor charges.
- Class C misdemeanors might include driving with a suspended license; driving without a valid license; public intoxication; and disorderly conduct.
- Some class B misdemeanor examples include possession of one ounce or less of marijuana; possession of drug paraphernalia; reckless driving and other traffic offenses; DUI; assault; resisting arrest; theft of $500 or less worth of property; trespassing; creating a public nuisance; and carrying a concealed weapon.
- Class A misdemeanors include possession of between one ounce and one pound of marijuana; criminal mischief; assaulting a police officer; theft of $500 to $1,500 worth of property; DUI with injury; negligent homicide; providing false information to an officer; and violation of a protective order.
Utah felonies and capital offense
Felonies are more significant crimes than misdemeanors. Penalties for felonies include serving time in a Utah State Prison and steeper fines. There are four levels of felony charges in Utah.
- A third-degree felony might include a DUI offense within ten years; theft or check forgery of $1,000-$5,000; aggravated assault; possession of cocaine or other controlled substance; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; burglary of building other than a dwelling. Possible penalties include up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
- Second-degree felony examples include theft or check forgery of amount over $5,000; auto theft; residential burglary; robbery; kidnapping; forcible sexual abuse; intentional abuse of a child; manslaughter; or perjury. Possible penalties include one to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
- Examples of a first-degree felony include aggravated burglary; robbery or arson; possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute near a school; kidnapping a child; rape; or murder. Possible penalties include a minimum of five years in prison with a maximum sentence of life and up to $10,000 in fines.
Aggravated murder is a capital offense with possible penalties including life in prison; life in prison without parole; consecutive or concurrent life sentences; or the death penalty.
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