Minimizing the long-term implications of a drug conviction
One of the first questions defendants ask their attorneys when they discover that they’re facing drug charges is about the potential penalties if a judge or jury finds them guilty at trial. Defendants don’t often think about the long-term impact, or collateral consequences, that a conviction can have on them.
The penalties that defendants often face once they’ve served time in prison or paid their fines or restitution are the least of their worries once it’s all behind them. The collateral consequences may linger for a lifetime. Alternative sentencing programs, such as drug court, can minimize or eliminate the collateral consequences.
What constitutes collateral consequences?
Data compiled by the American Bar Association (ABA) shows that there are at least 46,000 potential restrictions that a defendant may face if they’re convicted of a crime. 70% or more of these collateral consequences affect an individual’s job prospects or workers’ rights.
Defendants most affected by these collateral consequences are those who must secure professional licenses to operate in their role, such as doctors, barbers, taxi drivers and contractors. Any role requiring a worker to undergo a background check may also be virtually impossible for someone with a conviction to obtain because these collateral consequences deem individuals to be of poor moral character.
How alternative sentencing and collateral consequences intersect
Prosecutors have more cases to try than they do time to prepare and present cases in court. Judges are equally limited in their time to hear all the cases that come before them.
It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to offer plea deals to defendants facing more minor charges compared to other ones in front of them. Many of these cases will involve allowing a defendant to plead to a lesser charge, such as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
In other cases, alternative sentencing programs exist that defendants can participate in instead of taking their case to trial. Dallas County’s Divert Court Program is one program aimed at helping substance abuse defendants overcome their addiction, develop vocational skills and establish stronger ties with their families and community. There are alternative sentence programs for other at-risk populations and concerns as well.
Participation in an alternative sentencing program can save you from having to repeatedly deal with the consequences of a momentary indiscretion. Could this be an option available to you?