After a felony conviction, a person in Wisconsin who completes the sentencing and other penalties ordered by the court has another challenge. Re-entering society with a felony conviction comes with a number of collateral consequences.

According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, across the country there are more than 44,000 sanctions, disqualifications or restrictions that affect people’s ability to participate and function in society. These are imposed by laws and policies at the state, federal and local level, and they include barriers to gaining the following:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Public assistance
  • Driver’s and professional licenses
  • Financial aid and education
  • Military service

These sanctions are considered civil because they limit a person’s civil rights and statutory protections, restricting freedoms and opportunities. Often, they directly relate to the conviction, such as a suspended driver’s license after a serious traffic offense. This is not always the case, though. In some instances, a consequence is punitive and seems to serve only to keep someone from being successful after paying his or her debt to society.

The prosecutor, judge and other authorities involved in the sentencing are not required to tell someone charged with a crime what the collateral consequences are for a conviction. It is critical to understand these before considering a plea bargain.

In the past, information about collateral consequences was scattered throughout federal, state and local regulatory and statutory codes. This made it difficult to find, and in fact, according to the Council of State Government Justice Center, even those who administered and enforced the consequences were not always fully informed.

Now, anyone facing criminal charges can search for the information relevant to a conviction through the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction database. This may help them identify what defense strategy will prove the most helpful in the long run.