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Criminal convictions can significantly impact financial stability

Unpaid fines and fees associated with criminal convictions can cause unforeseen serious difficulties.

No matter the crime, be it driving under the influence, drug trafficking or money laundering, one of the primary concerns of those who have been charged is whether they will have to do time in jail if they are convicted. And while prison time is, indeed, an important concern, recent evidence suggests that the financial impact of a criminal conviction - even for a relatively minor crime - can be devastating.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Bearden v. Georgia, a seemingly simple case involving a man who had been convicted of breaking and entering. As part of his sentence, -Danny Bearden was ordered to pay a fine and restitution to the victim of his crime. Unfortunately, shortly after his conviction, he lost his job. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to find other work and, due to his inability to pay his fines, he was sent to jail. The Supreme Court determined that this was improper: a person cannot be sent to jail for failure to pay a fine when they are too poor to do so, but only in cases where they have the money to pay and refuse to do so willingly.

While this case seems to be fairly straightforward, recent evidence suggests that nearly every state has increased the use of fees and fines in criminal sentencing over the past thirty years. Indeed, it is not uncommon for those who are convicted and sentenced to jail to be required to pay a fee for room and board, in addition to associated fines for their crimes. If they do not pay the amount due, then they can find themselves in jail once again.

The crux of the issue is that the standards employed by judges to determine whether a person is too poor to pay a fine or a fee associated with his conviction can vary widely. Although the Supreme Court's decision in Bearden requires courts to make a close examination of a defendant's ability to pay a fine, fee or restitution, evidence suggests that this happens far too often. In many cases, judges say they base their decision on the way in which a person presents himself in court.

The reality is that a criminal conviction, no matter the crime, can impact your life in important and unforeseen ways. If you have been charged with a crime, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. A criminal defense lawyer can mount a zealous defense on your behalf and help to protect your rights.