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LETTER: Don’t plead guilty

Every day in court, I see college students plead guilty to relatively minor crimes — trespass, public intoxication, urinating in public, possession of marijuana, shoplifting, writing a bad check, obstruction of justice, simple assault, etc. Oftentimes, students who plead guilty to charges like these do not realize that misdemeanor convictions come with a high price tag, particularly for students who receive loans or who plan to pursue professional careers after graduating.

A single misdemeanor conviction can negate loan eligibility for students who depend on government-subsidized loans. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to revocation of student visa status and deportation for international students. Similarly, students interested in studying abroad could be denied that opportunity as the result of a misdemeanor conviction because some countries restrict or deny entry of persons with criminal records.

Additionally, a misdemeanor conviction could disqualify a candidate from becoming a Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse, or Certified Nurse Aid. If the misdemeanor involves moral turpitude (like shoplifting or writing a bad check) or acts of violence (such as simple assault), it can preclude you from working in a nursing facility, home care organization or assisted living facility. Banks, insurance companies, and other bonded and trust positions also opt out of hiring people with misdemeanor convictions. The armed services turn down candidates with prior misdemeanors. To wit, even for employers that do not outright disqualify candidates with misdemeanor convictions, that conviction is a scarlet letter that cuts against your employee competitiveness.

The judge will not admonish you as to how pleading guilty to a misdemeanor could forfeit your student loans, prevent you from studying abroad or crush your career goals. But I am telling you now: If you get charged with a crime — however minor — get an attorney and fight to have the misdemeanor dismissed. Most students are eligible for public defenders, and you always have the option of hiring an attorney of your own. If you find an attorney who encourages you to plead guilty and does not advise you that a misdemeanor conviction could ruin your life, find and hire a different attorney. As a student, you should make it your duty to avoid convictions at all costs. Once that conviction is on your record, it is there forever.

As a young attorney and a recent law school graduate, and I can attest to the difficulties students face when they accept misdemeanor guilty pleas. Even one misdemeanor conviction will have very serious implications that are counterproductive to all of the work you are doing as a college student.

Do not put your future at risk. Plead not guilty, and fight for a dismissal.

Courtney Winston
CLAS ‘09


Published September 3, 2014 in Letters







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