For starters, it will affect your ability to find a job
As a criminal defense lawyer, most of my work involves helping my clients avoid a conviction after they’ve been charged with a criminal offense. A conviction triggers many unwanted consequences, and it’s particularly unfortunate for those who have never been convicted before.
The most significant consequence that comes from a criminal conviction (beyond the sentence imposed) is the effect that it has on your ability to find employment. Many jobs require that applicants complete a criminal background check. A conviction will unsurprisingly have a negative impact on most hiring decisions. Even if you already have a job, many employers require that their employees disclose to their employer if and when they have been convicted. If this doesn’t result in termination, it may still result in restrictions on your ability to do your job.
Although in most circumstances, an employer cannot access your criminal record without your consent to do so, law enforcement agencies can. This occurs most frequently at the border. While a criminal conviction will not always stop you from travelling, it will usually limit your ability to travel. Moreover, certain convictions may limit your eligibility to obtain a passport.
In the eyes of most employers and authorities, it is irrelevant whether you have one conviction on your criminal record or several. It is for this reason that individuals facing their first charge must consider their options very carefully when navigating the criminal justice system.
What many people don’t realize is that you are not automatically convicted when you are found guilty of a criminal offence. In certain cases (such as for first-time offenders found guilty of less serious offences), you may be eligible for either a conditional or absolute discharge. A conditional discharge includes a probation order with certain conditions, whereas an absolute discharge does not. While both sentences reflect the fact that you have been found guilty, many employers will only ask you to disclose whether you have been convicted and not whether you have been discharged.
Perhaps the most significant difference between a discharge and a conviction is that the record of your absolute discharge is automatically set aside after one year. In the case of a conditional discharge, it is set aside three years after the completion of probation. In order to set aside the record of your conviction, on the other hand, you need to wait five years after the completion of your sentence in the case of a summary offence and ten years for an indictable offence. This process is currently called a records suspension (it was previously known as a pardon). It takes approximately a year and costs $631, in addition to the fees required to obtain an official copy of your criminal record and fingerprints.
In short, the consequences of a conviction are significant and for many, life altering. This is why the criminal justice system requires that any criminal offence be proven to the onerous standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” When charged with a criminal offence, it is essential to obtain a sound legal opinion before taking any action in relation to your charge. For those with unique employment and travel circumstances, it may sometimes be necessary to obtain the advice of an employment and/or immigration lawyer as well.
A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Lockyer Campbell Posner or the lawyers of Lockyer Campbell Posner.