I often have people come to me after their first arrest and ask "how can I keep this felony off my record?"
In addition to potential prison sentences, probation, court costs and fees, a conviction for a felony can also have other consequences on your life:
- A felony conviction can cost you your current job, or prevent you from gaining employment in future in certain fields. Additionally, even if your job (or future job) is in a field that requires a clean criminal record, employers can discriminate against you when making hiring or promotion decisions based on your felony.
- If you have a professional license (i.e. nursing, medical, law, teaching, etc.), a felony conviction could lead to diciplinary hearings before the board or agency. This could lead to a suspension of your professional license.
- Depending on the nature of the charge, a conviction for a felony can lead to your driver's license being suspended for a period of several months to several years. It can also lead to ramifications to your Commercial Driver's License (CDL) if you have one.
- Certain public grants and programs prohibit recipients from having felony records.
- Certain felonies can prohibit an individual from receiving federal and/or state student financial aid.
- Even if you are not on student financial aid, a felony conviction could prevent you from being accepted to most colleges and/or universities.
- Felonies can be used against you in child custody, divorce and/or Children's Services cases. In some cases, a conviciton for a felony has preceded a person's spouse filing for divorce.
- A conviction for a felony can prohibit you from possessing or owning a firearm, even if it is neccessary to protect your family or desired for sporting/hunting purposes. If a person with a prior felony is caught with a firearm, that individual could face major prison time under federal and/or state law.
While there is no official estimate available, a felony on your record can cost you anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in present and future income.
Further, if you (or a loved one) is still in your late-teens or twenties, a conviction for a felony can stay on your record forever -- meaning that when you are still in your fifties, you will still have to check the "Convicted Felon" box on any job application.
There are two main programs for first time offenders who are charged with felonies. The two programs are Prosecutor's Diversion and Treatment in Lieu of Conviction (TILC).
For the Prosecutor's Diversion program , which generally involves crimes where there is a financial loss (i.e. theft, receiving stolen property, etc.), the person enters a guilty plea and sentencing is held in abbayance. During the timeframe that the person is in the diversion program, they will be required to pay off any restituton as well as complete any programing or community service that the program requires. For example, the person may need to take theft awareness classes or perform 40 hours of community service to complete the progam.
For Treatment in Lieu of Conviction, which generally entails a person with a substance abuse issue (i.e. drugs or alcohol), the person also enters a guilty plea at the beginning of the program and sentencing is held in abbauance. During this timeframe, the person is monitored by the probation department and may be required to complete substance abuse treatment, attend counseling, maintain sobriety or other things to help them address the issues that brought them to court.
As a plea of guilty is not a "conviction" under Ohio law until the person is sentenced, being in either a Diversion or Treatment in Lieu program allows the individual the ability to check "NO" to any questions if the person has been convicted of a felony. While the person would still have to say "yes" if they are asked if they have pending charges, most potential employers or programs only ask about convictions.
Additionally, as the person has not been convicted, mandatory sentencing requirements do not go into effect until the person is sentenced. For example, if the charge carries a mandatory driver's license suspension, that suspension would not go into effect until the person is sentenced -- which would only happen if the person failed out of the Diversion or Treatment program.
For both Prosecutor's Diversion and Treatment in Lieu, if the person successfully completes the program, the guilty plea is vacated and the charges are dismissed. From a legal standpoint, if a person completes Diversion or Treatment in Lieu and has their record sealed, it is as if the arrest/charges/indictment never occurred.
If the person successfully completes the program, they can safely check "NO" next to any box that asks if they are a convicted felon.
If the person fails out of the program, then the judge will procced to sentencing. The usual reasons people are kicked out of Diversion and/or Intervention are that they picked up new criminal charges, had negative drug screens or failed to perform the requirements of the program.
At this time, if the charge for which they pled guilty carries mandatory penalties (i.e. a driver's license suspension), those sentencing provisions would be imposed.
If this happens, while many judges may place the individual on probation, they also have the option of sending the individual to prison. While it is rare for an individual who is recently kicked out of Diversion and/or Intervention to go straight to prison after flunking out the program, it does happen. As such, it is important to fully perform the requirements of and successfully complete the Diversion and/or Intervention programs.
If you have any questions about your case, or a loved one's case, and want to discuss the situation with an attorney who has assisted individuals in being admitted to diversion and treatment in lieu programs, contact Attorney Adam VanHo at (330) 253-7171 or click here to send a message to Attorney VanHo.