What are the consequences of a criminal investigation or charge?
The courts distinguish between direct and collateral consequences. The disposition or sentence resulting from a prosecution (if any) they consider the direct consequences. In today’s information society, the other consequences — considered to be what courts often call “collateral consequences” — may have a more damaging effect for a longer period of time, for example due to public criminal records.
This page will summarize these consequences, with links to pages that develop some of them more.
What is a criminal conviction?
Law has its own special language. It’s important to be precise in our use of language on these topics. You may learn some legal terminology here.
A “conviction” means nearly the same thing as the word “adjudication.” In the Minnesota and United States courts, there can be no conviction, nor any adjudication, unless a Judge is satisfied that it is the result of a lawful process. A lawful process must have met the minimum standards of constitutional due process, which include notice and the right to be heard before a fair and neutral magistrate (judge). Normally there must have been either a fair trial with a guilty verdict accepted by the judge as lawful; or there must have been a guilty plea by the accused accepted by the judge as lawful (including a waiver of legal rights and an admitted factual basis for the plea).
Stay of Adjudication
Of the many types of outcomes of criminal cases, one is called a stay of adjudication. The point at which a judge “adjudicates” a guilty plea or guilty verdict as lawful, is the point at which “conviction” occurs. The word “stay” means to pause, delay or postpone. When a disposition of a criminal case is a stay of adjudication, the judge will set conditions over a period of time. If the conditions are successfully met, at the end of the period of the stay, the charges will be dismissed without a conviction (because adjudication never happened). Some legal consequences of devastating effect are triggered by adjudication (conviction). These are avoided if the defendant successfully completes the conditions of a stay of adjudication. Though typically these are the result of a settlement agreement between the defense and prosecution, there are cases where a judge can order a stay of adjudication without the agreement of the prosecutor. (For example, in a Minnesota Statutes Section 152.18 drug case.)
Pretrial Diversion or Continuance for Dismissal
Pretrial Diversion is the term generally used in Minnesota to describe a case where the defendant has been charged with a crime but the prosecutor’s office has agreed to divert the case off the court’s trial calendar for some period of time with conditions, without a guilty plea. If the person succeeds in meeting all of the conditions, at the end the charge is dismissed without a conviction, and without there ever having been a guilty plea. The absence of a guilty plea is key, since a guilty plea in a criminal case is part of the public record even if there was no conviction (as in the case of a Stay of Adjudication). The key feature here is “no guilty plea.” If the prosecutor is requiring a guilty plea, even if they are calling it “Pretrial Diversion;” it’s not.
A Continuance for Dismissal without a plea (sometimes called a “Continuance Without a Plea” or “CWOP”) is similar in that a pending criminal charge is “continued” or postponed with conditions for a time. At the end, if the defendant has violated any conditions, the charge is dismissed and no conviction results. Here again, the absence of a guilty plea on the record is significant. Though the same functionally, the term Pretrial Diversion tends to be used for felony cases; while the term Continuance for Dismissal tends to be used in non-felony and traffic cases. There are numerous other terms being used around Minnesota and the United States to describe what is functionally the same thing: the conditioned postponement of prosecution with conditions, but without a guilty plea. One additional common term for it in other states is deferred prosecution. In the event a defendant is claimed to have violated a condition, the prosecutor can put the case back on the court calendar and resume the prosecution as if the diversion had never happened.
If there is a conviction, what is the level of conviction?
In Minnesota, a conviction will have a level. For example, it could be a felony, gross misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or petty misdemeanor conviction. What may appear simple at first glance, turns out to require a little deeper understanding of the law. Why? In Minnesota, the level of a conviction is determined by the sentence imposed not by the crime charged.
If a person is charged with a felony crime, but is given a misdemeanor sentence, then the conviction is a misdemeanor level conviction.
What about petty misdemeanors?
The meaning of a Minnesota “petty misdemeanor” is problematic due to imprecise language in the laws. On the one hand a petty misdemeanor is not a crime. But on the other hand, one can have a petty misdemeanor conviction. This language seems contradictory and confusing since normally the word “conviction” is connected to the words “crime” and “criminal.” The Minnesota legislature could improve the situation by amending Minnesota statutes to clarify that an admission to a petty misdemeanor charge results in an “adjudicated violation” (borrowing the term adjudication from juvenile law). The Minnesota Supreme Court could amend the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, to similar effect.
In the meantime, many people will want to avoid the ambiguity of having a public criminal record of “conviction,” even for a petty misdemeanor which, after all, is “not a crime.”
The word collateral is meant to convey indirect consequences of a conviction, as opposed to the direct consequences of a sentence. A core problem here is that for many, the so-called “collateral consequences” are severe — much more that the other consequences. There is a due process fairness issue here, since many people are unaware of the severe “collateral” consequences until after their criminal case has already been resolved’ until after it is too late to manage the outcome to prevent them. This is another reason why it is important to have representation and counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Here is a list of examples of common collateral consequences:
- Criminal records
- Failed employment background checks
- Loss of civil rights to firearms
- Immigration law consequences, such as deportation
- Predatory offender registration, including sex offender registration
- Occupational license denials
- Housing denials
- Asset forfeitures, including car forfeiture
- Drivers license revocation
Have a question about potential consequences of a Minnesota criminal charge? You can call Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at (612) 333-1500.