A criminal conviction is much more than the sentence

It’s commonly believed that the consequence of being convicted of a crime lies in the sentence imposed by a judge.  “Do the crime, do your time”, one often hears.  But as a recent report from the Canadian Bar Association shows, the sentence imposed is only one consequence, and often not the most difficult, of any criminal conviction.


The CBA report has the exciting title of “Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Considerations for Lawyers” – a title not likely to be made into a movie any time soon.  In fairness, the document is intended for criminal lawyers, not for a mass public.  But it has a lot to say about the many results of being convicted that many people don’t think about when facing a criminal charge and deciding how to plead to it.  It’s important to keep in mind here that more than 90% of criminal cases where the charges are not dropped or stayed result in a guilty plea.  Most defendants will rely on the advice of their lawyer when making this decision (we’ll take up in other posts on this blog the complex issue of why people plead guilty, which is not necessarily because they have done what they are accused of doing).  If lawyers aren’t aware of all the ramifications of a conviction, they aren’t able to give their clients the best advice.

So many negative consequences

So what are some of these consequences beyond the sentence?  The CBA documents lists quite a few of them:

– someone who is not a Canadian citizen may be deported and denied re-entry to Canada after a conviction.  Pending that deportation a person may be held in custody for very long periods of time, regardless of the length of the criminal sentence;

– even if not deported, a person convicted of a crime may be denied citizenship

– you may have to pay a ‘victim surcharge’ in addition to any other penalty levied

– you may be required to provide a DNA sample for police records

– you may have considerable difficulty gaining employment since many employers screen out those with criminal records

– your photograph, fingerprints and other identifying information may be retained and used by police

– in many provinces you are not able to serve on a jury

– you will likely not be able to enter the United States, and may be prevented from entering other countries depending on the data that Canada exchanges with them or whether they ask about a criminal record on a traveller’s entry form

– it may affect your access to minor children if you have them

– it may prevent you from entering certain occupations or professions, or certain training programs.

Beyond all of this, a criminal conviction can impair relationships with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances in significant and lasting ways.

A lifetime sentence

In other words, the consequences of a conviction can last a lifetime, whatever the official sentence.

These consequences exist even though the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that “individuals who have paid their debt to society” should not face further obstacles.

Even worse, some of these negative consequences can occur as a result of being arrested and charged, even if there is never a conviction.

Several million Canadians – perhaps one in seven or one in eight adults – have had to deal with these consequences at least to some degree.