How will Pleading Guilty to a Felony Affect Your Life?
When you plead guilty to a criminal charge, you are waiving several of your rights, namely, the right to not incriminate yourself, the right to a jury trial and the right to confront and cross-examine your accusers. While you may be offered a tempting plea agreement (see What’s a Plea Agreement?), it is important to understand how pleading guilty to a felony will affect your life.
Pleading guilty to a felony results in a felony conviction. When you are convicted of a felony based on your own testimony, you do not have a trial. Rather you have a sentencing. At your sentencing, you will learn of the punishment for the crime you admitted to and shortly after, start serving your jail time or whatever punishment has been assigned to you.
While pleading guilty to a felony may speed up the legal process, it will affect the remainder of your life. A felony conviction will affect every aspect of your life, from your ability to vote and hold public office to your ability to pursue the career of your choice. Not only can a felony conviction affect your professional aspirations, but it can also affect your personal aspirations as you may be treated differently by friends and family, it may be hard to build trust in new relationships and you may not be able to volunteer for certain organizations that you would like to support.
A felony conviction from a guilty plea will affect your life in the same way that being found guilty by a jury will. No matter how you are convicted, the only thing that will appear on your record is that you were convicted. And that conviction may disrupt your life in several ways.
As a convicted felon, you may not be eligible for federal assistance. This may include your ability to receive food stamps and pursue higher education, as convicted felons are not eligible to receive grants, loans, or work study. Not having access to federal aid and federal assistance programs may make it very difficult to live and obtain many of the goals you may have in life.
Another way that pleading guilty to a felony can affect your life is that you may have to forfeit any professional licenses that you may have held prior to your conviction. For example, your license to teach or practice medicine may be revoked upon a felony conviction.
Pleading guilty to a felony may also make it very difficult to find a job, as many employers are hesitant to hire convicted felons (see How a Felony may affect Employment).
In addition to these effects, your ability to travel to foreign countries or become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. may be impacted. For example, countries like Canada do not allow people who have been involved in criminal activity to enter their country. Criminal convictions that affect admissibility into Canada include both minor and serious offenses, including such things as convictions for: theft, drunk driving, assault, murder and manslaughter.
If you are ever brought to court to testify as a witness or for any other reason, your standing as a convicted felon may discredit your testimony.
As a convicted felon, you will also not be able to own or possess firearms, vote, or receive security clearance for government jobs.
Pleading guilty to a felony or being found guilty of a felony by a jury will seriously impact your life for years to come. While it is not impossible to restore community standing and be successful after a felony conviction, it may be difficult. It is usually a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure you are being treated fairly after a felony conviction.