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How Does Getting Arrested Impact Your Finances?

Getting arrested can have a serious impact on your life. You could spend time in jail or other punishment. But the consequences of getting arrested go beyond a loss of your freedom.

Getting arrested has many financial consequences as well. Up to 65% of women and over 50% of men say their greatest stress comes from finances. This means that the financial consequences of getting arrested can lead to repeated crimes — particularly financial and property crimes — to try to improve the dire financial situation an arrest can cause.

Moreover, financial stress from an arrest can lead to alcohol and drug abuse to try to self-medicate. This can lead to an endless cycle of further crimes and arrests.

Here are ten financial consequences of getting arrested:

Attorney Fees

One of the first things you will do after you are arrested is to see a judge. And one of the first questions a judge will ask you is whether you are indigent and need a public defender.

Under the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to be represented by counsel. Your lawyer can sit in when you are questioned by police, provide you legal advice for your defense, and represent you in court. When you have been accused of a crime, hiring a lawyer is one of the smartest steps you can take to protect yourself.

However, unless you are indigent, one of the financial consequences of getting arrested is that you will need to pay for a lawyer. Different jurisdictions handle indigency differently. However, in most courts, you will need to be close to the poverty line to qualify for a free lawyer.

If you do not qualify for a free lawyer, you will need to choose a lawyer and pay for the lawyer’s time working on your case. Some of the ways you can find a lawyer include:

  • Referral: The top source of work for lawyers is referrals from past clients, colleagues, and related businesses. For example, a bail bonds company might be able to recommend a lawyer for your case based on the criminal defense lawyers they have worked with previously.
  • State bar: Lawyers must be admitted to the state bar to practice law. Most state bar associations have services to match clients up with lawyers. This service is intended to make sure your lawyer has the experience and knowledge you need for your case.
  • Online search: Online searches are somewhat tricky because you will have trouble separating bad lawyers who spend a lot of money on marketing from the good lawyers. However, many online lawyer guides have client reviews which can help you pick one that can produce results for you.
  • Lawyer rating services: Some lawyer listing services provide ratings based on surveys of other lawyers. These are often more objective than client reviews since clients can sometimes leave a bad review because they did not receive their desired outcome even though the lawyer did as good a job as possible with their cases. For example, even the best DWI defense lawyer will lose cases if the accused failed a breathalyzer and field sobriety test.

Criminal defense lawyers are not allowed to take cases on a contingency basis. This means that you will probably need to pay the lawyer an initial fee to get started on the case, then pay additional fees as the case goes along. In many cases, lawyer fees can run into the thousands of dollars, so you should be prepared to invest your savings into a good lawyer.

Bail

Bail is collateral that is posted so that you can be released until your trial. If you do not post bail, you could spend months, or even years, waiting for your court hearings and trial.

Bail can be paid in a couple different forms:

  • Cash or credit card: When paying with cash or credit card, you will need to post the entire amount. The court will hold the amount until trial. If you make all your court appearances, your cash or credit card payment will be returned after trial. If you fail to make any of your court appearances, you will forfeit your bail and a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest.
  • Bond: A bond is a promise. To secure a bond, you need to work with a company that provides bail bond services. You will sign a contract with the bail bond agency and provide collateral, such as a car title, property deed, or other property to cover the bail if you fail to appear. The bondsman posts a bond with the court that promises you will make all of your court appearances or the bondsman will turn your collateral over to the court.

One of the financial consequences of getting arrested is that you will need to either come up with enough money to pay the bail or pay a fee to a bondsman and post collateral to secure a bond. In either case, your property will be in limbo while you wait for trial. Worse yet, if you miss any of your court appearances, your property will be forfeited to the court.

Fines

If you are convicted of a crime, either at trial or after a plea bargain, you will be sentenced. In the U.S., most sentences include a monetary fine. The purpose of this fine is two-fold:

  • Punishment: A fine is supposed to deter you from committing another crime by punishing you with a loss of money. This is reinforced in your mind that you will face financial consequences of getting arrested every time you commit a crime.
  • Pay for government services: Fines are an important source of revenue for municipalities. However, law enforcement and criminal courts cost a lot of money. The fines help to offset the cost of judges, court employees, jails, and other government services that are required for law enforcement.

In many cases, fines can be paid in installments. You will either structure your payment plan at sentencing or with the court clerk after sentencing. In either case, you should be careful how you structure your payment plan. Courts can assess late fees and interest for late payments and the failure to pay a fine can lead to an arrest warrant. If you have other debts that need to be paid, such as a car loan or mortgage, you should consider consulting a financial services expert to make sure you have a financial plan that can cover all your financial obligations.

Restitution

Another of the financial consequences of getting arrested is that you could be sentenced to make restitution payments. Restitution payments are meant to compensate victims for your crimes. For example, if you are involved in a drunk driving accident that destroyed a street sign, you might be sentenced to pay the city $500 in restitution to replace the street sign.

Keep in mind that restitution is different than the property damage that you could be sued for. Suppose that in the drunk driving accident you destroy a street sign, and the street sign falls over onto an expensive car near the intersection. If you have auto insurance, the owner of the expensive car might choose to file an insurance claim against you or even hire a car accident lawyer to sue you for the cost of repairing the car.

A lawsuit for property damage is a civil judgment. This is different from a restitution order in a criminal judgment. A civil judgment is not punishable with jail time if you do not pay it. Instead, the person who sued you would use the sheriff’s department to seize your property for sale at a sheriff’s auction to collect on the judgment.

Civil Forfeiture

The financial consequences of getting arrested can go beyond your criminal law case. As mentioned above, you might need to come up with money out of your pocket to pay bail bond agencies, lawyers, court fines, and restitution orders. However, the government can go even further by initiating a civil case against you to take away your property.

In most cases, civil forfeiture is used to take away ill-gotten gains or property used to commit a crime. For example, if you used your boat to smuggle drugs, the government might use civil forfeiture to take your boat. Similarly, if the government believes you paid for a house with money stolen from a bank, the government can use civil forfeiture to seize your home.

The difficulty with civil forfeiture cases is that you will often have to fight these court battles while you are in jail. Thus, these financial consequences of getting arrested do not fall solely on you. Rather, your family might be forced out of your home with a civil forfeiture order while you are still in jail.

Job Loss

Job loss is one of the very realistic consequences of getting arrested. Most employees are “at-will.” This means that an employer can fire the employee for any reason, or no reason. Even if getting arrested is not listed in the employee handbook as a reason for being fired, it might not matter since most employers can fire an employee for any reason.

Although this seems unfair, you need to look at it from the employer’s point of view. Some of the reasons an employer might fire you as one of the consequences of getting arrested include:

  • Criminal temperament: An employer might be wary of having someone working who has already committed a crime. The employer might legitimately believe that you might commit another crime against the employer, a co-worker, or a customer. This would expose the employer to significant legal risk.
  • Extended absence: If you are sentenced to jail, your employer will be left without an employee. Rather than risking an extended absence, your employer might prefer to fire you and replace you on its schedule rather than waiting for you to go to jail.
  • Embarrassment: Whether your employer is a bank or a mechanic shop, it might not look good to have someone who was arrested as an employee. Although it might seem unfair, the employer has the right to fire you just because it believes that keeping you might look bad.
  • Insurance: For certain jobs, the business’s liability insurer might require the employer to fire employees as one of the consequences of getting arrested. The insurance company might believe that people with criminal arrests are liability risks to the business and, thus, firing employees who have been arrested will protect the business. For example, most insurers for health care providers will require that employees who have direct patient contact have clean arrest records.

Unemployability

Another of the financial consequences of getting arrested is that you could become unemployable. Many employers require new hires to pass a background check and any offer is made contingent on a clean record.

This can make prevent some people from gaining employment in some industries. For example, retail stores usually require that employees have a record that is free from any theft charges. Similarly, an applicant for a delivery driver job will probably need a record clean of any assaults or sex crimes.

Again, these requirements are not intended as punishment, necessarily. Rather, they are intended to protect employers, co-workers, and customers from criminal acts. By limiting who they hire, employers can reduce their exposure to civil liability for adding the wrong person to their companies.

Homelessness

An unfortunate consequence of going to jail is that you might have nothing when you are released. You might have lost your home, family, friends, car, and job when you were in jail. As a result, you will need to start from scratch when you are released. People often overlook these consequences of getting arrested.

But depending on the nature of your offense, you might not just start at zero. You might start out in the hole. For example, if you committed automobile homicide you might have a lawsuit from an auto accident attorney waiting for you when you leave jail. This means that on top of having nothing, you might actually owe someone a substantial amount of money.

Bad Credit

Unfortunately, you might not have time to wrap up your affairs before you go to jail. This means that your rent and utilities will go unpaid. Your car loan or mortgage could go into default. You might fall behind on child support or alimony payments.

All of these financial problems add up to a huge problem when you get out of jail. Collections agencies will probably have your number on speed dial to try to collect your past due bills.

If your offense caused your employer and family to shun you, you might be limited to title loans, bad credit loans, and credit cards to try to pay everyone you owe money to. This not only leaves you in a difficult financial situation, it might ruin your credit score.

Tax Problems

Although it will not be foremost on your mind, you will need to pay your income taxes while you are in jail. If you do not, you will face tax problems when you are released. These tax problems might include civil penalties and even additional criminal charges if you willfully avoided paying taxes while you were in jail.

The financial consequences of getting arrested are wide-ranging. You could lose your income and assets, and have enormous expenses and debts after your conviction. Unfortunately, even minor mistakes can ruin your financial future.

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