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Collateral consequences of criminal charges, known as the "Four C's" in legal parlance [264367], are the results of arrest, prosecution or conviction that are not part of the sentence imposed.

This includes any unintended or unforeseen impact of the charge, even in the absence of a conviction or a trial. Generally, this is related to the distinction between direct and collateral consequences of action or inaction.


The criminal justice system applies criminal law to defendants accused of committing a crime. If found guilty, or if the defendant pleads guilty, the sentencing authority (usually a judge) imposes a sentence.

This sentence can take many forms, some of which being loss of privileges (e.g. driving), house arrest, community service, probation, fines and imprisonment. Collectively, these consequences of the crime are referred to as direct consequences - those intended by the judge, and frequently mandated at least in part by an applicable law or statute.

However, beyond the terms of the sentence, a defendant can experience far-reaching and unexpected effects. For example, a person convicted of a felony may experience (in addition to social stigma) disenfranchisement (in some countries this may be separately meted out), disentitlement of education loans (for drug charges in U.S.), loss of professional licences, or eviction from public housing. These consequences not intended by the judge, or beyond the terms of a sentence itself, are referred to as collateral consequences. Because such ramifications may stem from merely being charged with a crime, rather than necessarily being convicted, "collateral consequences of criminal charges" is preferred by some over shorter but more ambiguous names.

To illustrate, even without criminal conviction, the arrest itself may have serious ramifications, such as a loss of a job due to unavailability of bail, loss of public housing and social stigma. The social effects of criminal charges (whether or not they lead to convictions) are mainly because arrests and legal proceedings in the United States are usually public record , thus disseminating the information about the event to the public to the detriment of the accused.

For purposes of illustration, the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbiamarker assembled a document in 2004 outlining some collateral consequences.[264368]

Efforts to include collateral consequences in sentencing

If a defendant is punished beyond the sentence prescribed by law (that is, if collateral consequences do occur), the punishment is then more severe than that intended or warranted. In the worst case, this might violate constitutional protections such as the right to work.

Any convicted person would expect social stigma and disapproval, lessened desirability by employers, decreased trust by the community and other consequences for the commission of criminal conduct. Further, many collateral consequences of criminal charges are the result of private behavior and conduct by private individuals and organisations, and thus not necessarily appropriate for government control . In addition, in many instances those who engage in criminal conduct can easily foresee and predict likely collateral consequences. For instance, a bookkeeper who embezzles should expect that other businesses tends to distrust a convicted embezzler to manage their money.

The Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker addressed collateral consequences of criminal convictions as early as 1984. In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the Supreme Court explored ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to collateral consequences of criminal convictions. In evaluating competence, the Court explained, judges should look at all relevant circumstances and evidence of appropriate measures of professional behavior, such as the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice ("ABA Standards"). The ABA Standards require defense lawyers to consider collateral consequences of conviction. Judges, accordingly, should monitor the performance of counsel. States chose to apply this rule in varying ways.

Strickland encouraged but did not mandate consideration of collateral consequences. Some claim that structural incentives exist for lawyers to not elicit information relevant to collateral consequences because doing so may prolong a case; others note that no attorney or judge could predict any and all collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Since Strickland did not require an analysis of collateral consequences, they generally are not regarded as cause to overturn criminal convictions.

Most states do not accord much legal effect to the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. For example, in New Yorkmarker the consideration of collateral consequences is merely discretionary, while the elucidation of direct consequences is required. For instance, in People v. Ford[264369], 86 N.Y.2d 397 (N.Y. 1995). New York's highest court held that a defendant's guilty plea would not be overturned on learning that the defendant was not advised at the time of the plea that his conviction could result in his deportation.

Likewise, the Kentucky Supreme Courtmarker in Commonwealth v. Fuartado, 170 S.W.3d 384 (Ky. 2005) held that the failure of defense counsel to advise a defendant of potential deportation did not give rise to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

In May 2005, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye of the New York State Court of Appealsmarker, organized the Partners in Justice Colloquium to address this issue.[264370] Judge Kaye formed a working group which, in partnership with the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at the Columbia University Law School, created a site that, for the first time, collects academic works, court opinions, and professionals' resources (by virtue of a message board and database) in one place.

In Federal law, the federal sentencing guidelines have a model for collateral consequences which is determined by the date of when the offense was committed and by the type of the offense.

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