Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions in NJ
Everyone makes mistakes. Those of us who have made impulsive or uniformed decisions in our lives may have suffered severe consequences for them, such as being arrested or serving time in jail. Fortunately, most of us who have made mistakes or committed crimes have learned from them and have gone on to live law abiding lives. Unfortunately, collateral consequences such as being ineligible for affordable housing or being barred from certain professions continue to follow and impede success in life for those with a criminal record.
Collateral consequences, such as being barred from holding public office for anyone convicted of fraud, makes sense. But what if someone is barred from holding public office because they were convicted of a misdemeanor crime in their youth, even though they have never been charged with a crime since that time? Is it fair that this person is permanently restricted from a career that serves the public because of one mistake made in their youth?
The U.S. Justice Department began a Smart on Crime Initiative in 2013 that called for federal, state, and local government officials to amend laws that carry lifetime collateral consequences without jeopardizing public safety. The American Bar Association headed the project and made a database of crimes and their collateral consequences. With more than 44,000 consequences identified for various crimes, defendants can make informed decisions on how to plead or proceed in their defense based on the lifetime impact that decision will carry.
The system is not a quick fix. Even though this information will be helpful to defendants, proponents of the initiative claim that advocates are needed to make sure that they fully understand the collateral consequences that will follow them throughout their life. They also recommend that lawmakers continue to evaluate crimes and tailor collateral consequences to allow room for discretion as well as relief.
The Justice Department is encouraging decision makers to be discretionary and investigate the specifics of the crime, the individual’s background, and the person’s ensuing behavior before denying benefits. Officials are hopeful that the changes will help to avoid situations like that of a Washington, DC man who found himself homeless for almost a year after he was refused affordable housing.
The man spent ten days in jail decades before for a misdemeanor assault charge and had a clean record since then. When he applied for affordable housing, the owner of a HUD approved property declined to grant the man housing based on the fact that he had been jailed for assault. Despite HUD’s recommendation for discretion, the property owner chose to ignore the recommendation, which was within his right. As a result, the man was forced onto the streets where he remained homeless until he could find a property owner willing to use discretion to investigate his circumstances and grant him affordable housing.
Camden County Criminal Lawyer, Jill R. Cohen, provides Legal Counsel and Representation to those Facing Criminal Charges
For over 30 years, Camden County criminal lawyer, Jill R. Cohen has provided hard line defense for those facing criminal charges. If you or someone you know has been denied services or benefits due to collateral consequences related to your criminal history, contact Cherry Hill criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Jill R. Cohen. Call or complete our online contact form to schedule your consultation today. We represent clients in Camden City, Cherry Hill and Mt. Holly and throughout Burlington County, Salem County, Cumberland County and Mercer County. She is currently defending murder cases in Atlantic County, Gloucester County and Camden County.