Most people accused of a crime are mainly concerned about the actual penalty and whether they will have a conviction against their name. Many would prefer an increased penalty, if they are able to avoid a conviction. But, it doesn’t work like that in practice.
Many first time offenders will ask around about what penalties they are likely to receive and will hear phrases like “go for a section 10”, “if you get a conviction it stays forever”, “section 10 is gone, you now need a Conditional Release Order without conviction”, or “just say you’ll do community service and ask that there be no conviction”.
What does a conviction mean? Does it stay on your record forever? Can you get rid of a conviction from your record? What does a conviction effect?
Firstly, the current law in NSW is that a conviction can only be avoided if you plead not guilty and are acquitted of the crime, or you plead guilty and receive either a section 10 (complete dismissal), Conditional Release Order without conviction (which is a dismissal after completing a Good Behaviour Bond), or the client is discharged under the mental health provisions.
Secondly, a conviction technically stays on your record forever, however, you are not required to disclose it after 10 years, if you have no other convictions during that time (3 years if you are a juvenile).
Lawyers are very mindful of presenting matters in the best light so that the court can be persuaded to avoid recording a conviction - it is certainly better to be given no conviction than to have to wait 10 years. Consequently, a significant amount of effort should be put into the matter so that you have the best chance of achieving this result.
The consequences of having a conviction can be significant, even life-changing. Some people will not be able to continue in their chosen career and can waste years of their life.
A criminal conviction can lead to the following consequences:
Difficulties finding employment – a lot of employers will not want to hire someone who has a criminal record, to ensure that the reputation of their business is maintained. This is especially an issue if you have dishonesty offences on your criminal record.
Some jobs in particular, such as the public service or jobs where you will be working with children, will require a police check or a Working with Children Check to be done before you can be employed. In these cases, it will be very difficult to get a job if you have a criminal record.
Finally, you should always disclose any criminal record that you do have to potential employers. An employer can terminate your employment where you have received the job under false pretenses, such as failing to inform them of your criminal record.
Difficulties finding housing – as in the case of employment, landlords and property owners will generally want to know the criminal records of any people who are applying to reside in their properties. Often this will mean that the landlord will conduct a criminal check before signing the lease. This can create real difficulties for you if you have a criminal record.
Deportation – if you are convicted of an offence and you are currently a resident in Australia on a temporary or permanent visa, then your visa may be cancelled. This is because a conviction is evidence of ‘bad character’.
Firearms licence – a requirement that you must establish when applying for a firearms licence is that you are a ‘fit and proper person’. If the conviction recorded was serious, then this may prevent you from attaining a firearms licence. There are many offences which make you ineligible from holding a firearm’s licence for 10 years, for example Not Keeping your Firearms Safely Stored. Some offences do not make you technically ineligible, however they cause the Firearm’s Registry to revoke your licence, as they do not believe that you are a fit and proper person to hold a licence.
May not be able to travel to certain countries – some countries, such as the United States and Canada, will prevent you from acquiring a visa where you have been charged with certain offences. They have their own equivalent of the fit and proper person test, and often assault type matters, drug matters, and drink driving offences (usually mid range or higher) fail the test.
Whilst other countries may not prevent you from acquiring a visa, having a criminal record can seriously complicate the visa application process.
There are many more consequences, such as:
obtaining a security licence
obtaining finance or insurance - you often have to declare a criminal conviction on your insurance documents
there are also restrictions on being a company director, if you have a conviction for certain offences
As the consequences of conviction can be so serious, ideally you should speak to your solicitor if you need advice as to your rights and obligations. Only then can you make the best decisions.
If you have a question about the processes involved in arrest or charge, or attending court and what charges you face or need help understanding what the police are saying to you, contact us by phone on 02 6921 3220 or make a website enquiry. We will get back to you promptly.
Principal Solicitor and Director, Zac Tankard, has been helping Riverina locals charged with criminal offences since 1998. There is no one better qualified to get behind you when you need it most.