Several recent blog posts have detailed the ins and outs, as well as the problems with, the expungement process in Maine, which deals with your criminal history, and who can see it. Additionally, other blog posts on this site have alluded to the fact that being convicted of a crime can have much more of an impact on your life than just facing fines, and potential jail time. Together, these articles portray an important fact of the criminal justice system of today's America: Having a conviction on your criminal record can have lasting repercussions, and there's often nothing that you can do about this "blemish" to your record, once it's there.
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal brought this dilemma into the limelight, showcasing the plight of a convicted Ohio felon, Hashim Lowndes, and his difficulties in getting a job once he'd finished his jail sentence for trafficking cocaine. On his release, Mr. Lowndes was confronted with numerous “collateral consequences” of his felony drug conviction. According to the Journal, “he wouldn't be able to vote, teach preschool, foster a child, operate a racetrack, cut hair, sit on a jury, provide hospice care, protect game, distribute bingo supplies, deal livestock, broker real estate—or, perhaps most salient to Mr. Lowndes, obtain a license to become a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technician.”
There were other restrictions, as well – “more than 500 of them, scattered throughout Ohio's laws” - but for Mr. Lowndes, who was trying to get his life back together, it was the inability to get an HVAC license that was most important.
“I was scared about taking out a $20,000 loan for a certification that I wouldn't be able to use,” Mr. Lowndes said.
It's disconcerting, seeing the number of job restrictions that those with criminal convictions face, especially considering the long-term repercussions of a convicted felon's inability to get a solid job. According to the Journal's article, “[r]esearch shows stable employment greatly reduces the chances of a person convicted of crime breaking the law again,” making these job restrictions a penalty that contributes to future arrests, convictions, and even more sentencing.
The response to this troubling dilemma has been painfully slow. Only a few states have created a process for convicted criminals to file court petitions to lift certain employment bans. Maine is not yet one of them. Worse, it is only recently that studies have been conducted to even document these job restrictions and other collateral consequences of criminal convictions. One of these studies, by the American Bar Association (ABA), has found more than 46,000 collateral consequences. According to Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, 60% to 70% of these are restrictions on employment. Many of these consequences can come as a surprise to people with a criminal history – only Vermont has a law requiring criminal defendants to be informed of any collateral consequences they might face, should they plead guilty to a crime.
Knowing the immediate penalties, like fines and jail time, you might face for a criminal charge is only the beginning of the battle. A conviction's collateral consequences can be overwhelming, and life-altering. Looking through the ABA's study, hosted on an online, interactive webpage, is a beginning to understanding what could be at stake, should you be convicted of a crime. Call the law office of William T. Bly, at (207) 571-8146, if you have any questions, or concerns.