Much is made of the fact that in liberal democracies, all people are equal before the law and have the right to a fair trial if charged with a crime. Furthermore, our justice systems are designed with the intention of ensuring that punishment is commensurate with the offense, and that those who have been convicted have an opportunity for rehabilitation.
And yet these ideals are not always embodied by institutional justice, and in many places, conviction for a minor criminal offense can have a serious and lasting impact on a person’s life.
Living and Working with a Criminal Record
Much as we might believe that a person who has been caught driving under the influence, shoplifting, or committing petty vandalism should not carry the stigma of a minor indiscretion around for the rest of their days, the truth is that having a criminal record puts real constraints on the kind of life and career a person can have.
For example, a criminal record will severely limit your:
- Mobility: It is a lot harder to travel when you have a criminal offense on your record. You may have difficulties obtaining a passport, be stopped at the border or denied entry to a foreign country, and be ineligible for visas. If you are not a citizen of the country in which the offense occurred, you could be deported and barred from re-entry.
- Employability: Employers may request a criminal record check before hiring, and are legally allowed to refuse employment to people with certain convictions. Many government jobs are only open to individuals who have clean records.
- Family Life: In family law proceedings, judges can take criminal records into account in resolving disputes. DUI charges in Ontario today could mean losing custody of your children years in the future.
- Future Convictions: Having a criminal record means potentially facing stiffer penalties for future convictions. For example, according to Ontario DUI laws, a second offense carries a mandatory 30-day prison sentence.
As you can see, a criminal record can have a decisive impact on your life, determining where you can work and live, and potentially breaking apart your family.
The Importance of Fighting Charges
This is why it is so important for people who have been charged with an offense to get professional legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer who can help them fight the charges.
Not only can an effective legal defense lead to the charges being dropped and your name being cleared, but even in the event that you are found guilty of a crime, a convincing defense can make the case for why this shouldn’t lead to a conviction.
In the case of a first offense, for example, you may be eligible for a conditional or absolute discharge. An absolute discharge will mean you don’t need face a probation order and will have the record set aside after a year, while a conditional discharge will mean a probation order, and will stay on your record for three years. Either way, you won’t have a long-term criminal record.
No one wants to have a single event overshadow their entire life. By finding a criminal defense lawyer who can mount a strong defense in court in the event that you are charged, you can ensure that a criminal record doesn’t come to define who you are.