When the prosecution offers someone a plea deal in North Carolina, it may seem as if the best idea is to agree. However, as the American Bar Association explains, the sentence, penalties and restitution attached to the offer may not be the only consequences of the conviction.

Even after offenders “pay their dues” to society, there may also be collateral consequences to consider.

Criminal convictions come with civil disqualifications and sanctions that are in addition to and not a part of the actual judgment. Sanctions include penalties, disabilities and disadvantages that the law imposes, while disqualifications are penalties, disabilities or disadvantages that the judge has the authority and discretion to impose.

The prosecutor and judge do not have to inform the defendant of the potential collateral consequences associated with the plea deal or conviction, and in fact, they may not even know what these are. A recently developed database identifies about 45,000 collateral consequences across the United States.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights lists the following areas where collateral consequences may create barriers for people with a criminal record:

  • Finding employment
  • Obtaining housing
  • Qualifying for admission to higher education
  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Owning a firearm
  • Receiving public assistance

Many of these barriers were originally imposed due to fears for public safety when people with convictions for violent crimes interact with those in society. Some are directly related to the nature of the offense, such as the loss of a driver’s license for someone with a death-by-vehicle conviction. However, there are often no connections between the offense and the sanction or disqualification other than the punitive effect.

Reforms and other steps forward such as the searchable database may at the least provide education and awareness to anyone involved with the criminal justice system, as well as the general public.