Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer For a Misdemeanor?

The criminal law statutes are divided into two categories: those classified as a felony and those classified as a misdemeanor. Felonies include most serious charges such as murder, rape, robbery, arson, and kidnapping. Misdemeanors are minor offenses such as trespassing, disturbing the peace, underage alcohol possession, and some traffic offenses such as DUI. Some offenses can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on their severity. Examples include assault, larceny, destruction of property, and some drug possession charges.

Many people who are charged with a misdemeanor ask themselves, “Do I really need a criminal defense lawyer?” The answer to that question depends upon the value you place on your future. Many states do not allow for a criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor, to be expunged from your record. In that case a criminal conviction from one state, be it a felony or a misdemeanor, will follow a person for the rest of their life, regardless of where they live.

Criminal convictions may have drastic effects on a person’s life. Felony convictions carry additional civil punishments such as loss of voting privileges, loss of the right to possess a firearm, disqualification from federal loans for housing or school, and the inability to freely travel without permission from a probation officer.

While misdemeanor convictions do not carry those added consequences, they generally carry the risk of jail, even for a first offense, and heavy fines. In addition they will affect one’s life in the following ways:

Employment opportunities: Many regular employers perform background checks on applicants, particularly those businesses that require some higher level of trust in employees, such as security or finance. A misdemeanor conviction can have a devastating effect on one’s chances of being hired by them.

State licensing: Careers and jobs which require a state license, such as medicine, law, real estate, bonding, building contractors, and restaurants with a liquor license will be effected by a misdemeanor criminal record. In some states a conviction will be a barrier to becoming licensed, in others it may require additional requirements to qualify.

Security clearances: military and other government employees who are required to have a security clearance of some sort may find that their clearance level is reduced, or they are ineligible for a clearance all together. In some situations, this can lead to loss of employment.

Credit Ratings/Loans: Finance companies regularly perform background checks on applicants. A misdemeanor conviction will have an impact on whether someone gets approved for that new car loan or mortgage.

College enrollment: Colleges that knowingly admit students with criminal records who later commit crimes against another student can be civilly liable to the victim. For this reason, many will not accept applicants with any criminal background, including misdemeanor convictions.

Housing: Rental companies ask for a criminal history of potential tenants and may deny housing to ones with misdemeanor convictions.

Immigration/citizenship status: People who are seeking U.S. citizenship, or those in the U.S. for employment, will be screened for possible deportation, may have their VISA revoked, or may be denied citizenship if convicted of a misdemeanor.

Community activities: Many civic organizations, such as little leagues and scouting groups, will not accept parents and other volunteers who want to participate if they have a misdemeanor conviction on their record.

Firearm possession: Some misdemeanor convictions, such as domestic assault or firearm charges, will have an effect on future firearm permits and licensing. Federal forms required for firearm purchases routinely inquire about these offenses and may be a disqualification for purchase.

The list above is not an exclusive list. Surely there are other local or regional effects to which others may be subject. If you do not think that any of the above will apply to you and your life, then maybe you can comfortably deny your need for a domestic violence attorney San Diego. For those that do consider these risks, a good criminal defense attorney may be able to reduce charges, or have them dismissed altogether.