Post-Trial / Reentry
Below are some guides on Post-Trial / Reentry issues that you or your loved one may be facing.
Although this web site may provide information concerning potential legal issues, it is not a substitute for legal advice from qualified counsel. Read our full disclaimer here.
Accessing Law School & The Legal Profession
**Access the Character & Fitness Navigator Tool Here
Becoming a Lawyer
Becoming a lawyer is a great way to get involved in the legal field. As a lawyer, you can use your knowledge of the legal system to help others with their problems, either by giving advice, helping them with contracts and deals, and even representing them in court. Having a criminal history means your journey to becoming a lawyer will be more difficult than most, and depending on of what you’ve been convicted, you may not have options that are available to others. Knowing what challenges are ahead will help you make the best decisions for yourself as you enter the legal profession.
In law school you attend classes which teach about the law in a wide variety of topics like Contracts, Evidence, and Criminal Law. Typically, you will spend most of your time in each class reading about and discussing court cases which relate to each topic. Be prepared for a lot of reading and writing.
Most law schools have the same process to review and accept applicants. The process begins by creating an account on the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website. Once you’ve created an account, you can upload the below information. You will need:
- Your LSAT Score (discussed in the section below)
- A personal statement in which you describe your accomplishments and how you will use them to succeed in law school.
- 2-3 letters of recommendation. These can come from teachers, employers, counselors, and trusted mentors. The letters should discuss their experiences with you and how your qualities will make you a good law student.
- A resume listing your academic and professional accomplishments
- An official transcript from any college or graduate school you attended.
- A diversity statement (if applicable)
- A character fitness statement (to explain any criminal record or disciplinary action against you on your record)
- A GPA or transcript addendum (to explain any particularly low grades)
- A statement explaining any major gaps in employment (if applicable)
When you upload the above information to LSAC, you must also sign up for an additional service run by LSAC called the Credit Assembly Service (CAS) which creates automatic reports. When you want to apply to a school, you select it on LSAC’s site and LSAC will send their CAS report to the school automatically. This eliminates the need to send copies of your documents individually to each school to which you apply. There are a number of costs associated with this process which will be discussed later in the “Expenses” portion of this guide.
What is it? The LSAT is a standardized test almost every law school requires you to take before you apply. As of August 2021, the test is remotely administered and features 4 sections with about 24-27 multiple choice questions each. You have 35 minutes to complete each section.
One section, called Logical Reasoning, is about using your reasoning skills to break down the main points of an argument and apply logic to abstract concepts. One section, called Logic Games, is about using your logical reasoning to follow a set of rules and to solve puzzles based on those rules. One section, called Reading Comprehension, provides you with a series of passages on a random subject and asks you questions about the passage to test how well you understood it. There is also an experimental section that could be any one of the three previous types of sections. Its only purpose is to test-run new questions for future exams and your performance on that section has no impact on your score. The sections can appear in any order. You won’t know which one is the experimental section so it is important to try your best on every section.
Finally, there is a writing section where you are given two sides of an argument and asked to pick one side to support and give reasons why you support them. There are no right or wrong answers and the section is unscored, but this is the opportunity to showcase your ability to put an argument together and communicate it clearly.
What happens after? After LSAC grades your exam, you will receive a score out of 180, which appears automatically on your LSAC account. Law schools put an extremely heavy emphasis on both your LSAT score and your GPA, so it is important to put extra effort into improving those numbers as much as possible. Generally speaking, the higher-ranked the school, the higher the LSAT score you need to get in. If you didn’t score as well as you hoped, you can always sign up to take the LSAT again. If you take it more than once schools can see each attempt, but will usually only consider your highest test score. Generally, you want to take the LSAT between 1 and 3 times. Anything more can risk looking unprofessional.
How much does it cost? For a more in-depth look at application expenses, see the “Expenses” section of this guide.
How do I take the test? You can sign up for the LSAT using your LSAC account. When you register, you will also need to schedule that time though another program called ProctorU. LSAC will send you an email about how to schedule your exam on ProctorU once you register. Once you sign up, you will need:
- A quiet, private space to take the test. This can be any room in which you won’t be interrupted during the test, including a bedroom.
- A computer or laptop with a webcam and microphone
- A stable internet connection
- Chrome or Firefox
- A government-issued photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport
To take the test, you use LSAC’s test-taking website called LawHub, which uses your same username and password as your LSAC account. A proctor on ProctorU will watch you and other test takers take the LSAT to make sure no one is breaking the rules. LSAC provides a list of items you are allowed to have with you, including a pencil and scratch paper. For more information visit LSAC’s page on Getting Ready for your LSAT Exam.
While you cannot currently take a proctored LSAT exam while in prison (only one person has done it so far and under very limited circumstances), you can absolutely start studying for it. A good place to start is by looking for LSAT prep books. The most common are the ones distributed by Kaplan and Princeton Review
Each school to which you are applying gets its own personal statement in the application. Your personal statement to each school should be no longer than two pages double spaced, or about 500 words. You should take extra care when writing your personal statement that your grammar and spelling are completely correct on each statement. While the general story and structure of your personal statement may stay the same across every statement, you should refer to each school by their name in your personal statement to them. If you know specific information about that school, like someone you talked to who studies or works there, mentioning them by name can also be very helpful!
Letters of recommendation:
While schools put the most emphasis on your LSAT score and GPA, letters of recommendation can be the deciding factor in the admissions process. Most schools care about whether or not you will be successful at their school, so letters should come from people who know you well and can speak to your likelihood of academic success. Ideally, at least one letter should be from a college professor. If you worked before applying to law school, a letter from a former employer can also help. Avoid letters from family and friends and stick to people who know you professionally. You can send requests for a letter of recommendation on your LSAC account, but it is always a good idea to contact the person you are requesting letters from beforehand so they know to expect an email from LSAC. LSAC will give you the option to make the letters confidential, meaning you won’t be able to read what the person writes about you, but law schools will. Law schools prefer this option because it shows you are confident about that person’s support for you. Because LSAC manages the letters, you can and should use the same letters for each law school.
A resume used for applying to law school is a little different than a resume used for applying to a job. Your law school application resume should first list your education. In that section you should list what college you attended/are attending and what activities and special achievements you have earned while there. List extracurricular activities and academic awards there.
Under professional experience, list any previous jobs or internships, with a few bullet pointed sentences under them. Emphasize research and writing skills where applicable.
After that, you can include any volunteer experience, or other skills and activities you believe will help you stand out as an applicant. If you have any leadership experience, you want to mention it there too. All in all, your resume should be 1 page, single spaced. It is always a good idea to look up example law school resumes before creating your own.
Lastly, Make sure your resume lines up with your personal statement! Each should emphasize and expand on the other.
This is the place to talk about aspects of yourself that add to the diversity of the school to which you area applying– Maybe you are from an underrepresented racial group or ethnicity. Maybe you have a chronic illness or disability. This is a shorter statement than your personal statement and should discuss how your experience with your diverse background will add a different perspective to the school. If you are unsure as to whether or not your background or upbringing would be right for a diversity statement, it’s generally better not to write one.
Explanatory statements help a school understand why there may be something of note on your application (like a sharp dip in grades on your transcript, gap in employment on your resume, or convictions on your criminal record). Unlike a personal statement, which should highlight the very best aspects of you, these statements should explain why the noticeable element occurred, how you overcame it, and what you will do differently in the future to avoid it again.
Each school will handle previous criminal records differently so it is very important to read each prompt carefully before answering. Some schools may only want you to talk about any convictions, so if you were arrested, but the court dismissed the case when you paid a fee, you were never convicted and do not need to disclose that incident. Most schools will ask if you were ever “arrested, charged, cited, or summoned for a criminal or civil offense.” If, after reading carefully, you still aren’t sure whether or not to tell the school about a prior incident, you should disclose it.
Choosing the Right School
The process of deciding which law schools to apply to is different for everyone and there is no objectively right or wrong choice. Each law school provides a unique experience, and the one you want and can depend on a number of factors specific to you. Some questions to consider are:
What area of the law do you want to specialize in?
Where do I want to live for three years? Where can I afford the cost of living?
For schools not ranked in the top 10, the geographic region of the school is often the same general region where most of its graduates work. Think about what city you want to get a job in when answering this question.
What kinds of support (physical, academic, mental) will I need to succeed?
How much am I willing to spend on tuition? Are there financial aid packages?
What student extracurricular activities do I want to do?
What level of diversity do I want from the student body? From the faculty?
Finding answers to these questions will help you take into consideration a number of factors that can influence your law school experience.
Most law school websites include answers to the above questions, but it’s also always a good idea to talk to both admissions officers and current and former students, who can give you a sense of the campus culture. If you are interested in a law school near your area, you can schedule a tour of the campus or an informational session by calling the admissions office. Lots of law schools temporarily stopped offering in-person tours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some schools offer virtual tours, which you can attend with access to the internet.
The unfortunate truth is that, for most everyone, the process of becoming a lawyer is very expensive. Before you make the decision to become a lawyer, there are a number of costs to consider, but knowing what they are ahead of time can help you make the best decisions for you.
- LSAT Expenses: Registration for the LSAT costs $215. If you can’t pay that amount, you can apply for an LSAC fee waiver, which is on the LSAC website. A list of the full requirements for who can apply for a fee waiver can be found on the LSAC website, but generally speaking, you must earn below 3 times the federal poverty guidelines.
- CAS Expenses: Registration for CAS costs $195 and entitles you to upload your documents and scores to LSAC’s website. Each report generated by CAS to apply to a law school costs $45. If LSAC approved your application for a fee waiver for the LSAT, it will automatically apply to your CAS expenses.
- Application Fees: Even if you are using LSAC’s services, you still need to pay an additional fee to each law school when you submit your application. Prices for these applications can vary wildly depending on the school, so checking with each school before you apply is an important step. Most schools will list the application fee on their website, but a general rule is to expect around an $75 application fee, after LSAT, CAS, and CAS Report fees have been paid. Some schools allow you to request a fee waiver by contacting the school, and others apply it automatically by applying before a certain date.
Law School Expenses
- Tuition: Once you begin law school, this is usually the most expensive aspect of becoming a lawyer. Law school tuition vary wildly depending on the size, rank, and location of the school, as well as whether it is a privately-owned school or a state-runs school. According to US News, the average out-of-state tuition for a public law school was about $43,000 per year, and nearly $53,000 per year for private law schools. If you cannot afford those sorts of costs, each school also has its own way of handling needs-based and merit-based financial aid. If you have a prior record, you will likely not be eligible for federal financial aid, and schools are very unlikely to offer scholarships specifically targeted towards justice-impacted students, though you may qualify for scholarships based on other qualities like grades, diversity, or financial need.
- Books/Resources: Most of your classes in law school will require you to purchase textbooks or other learning materials. The costs of these textbooks and materials depends entirely on the particular school and particular classes that require those textbooks. A law textbook can run up to $300, but buying a used textbook, or renting it instead of buying it can help cut costs.
Bar Licensing Expenses
- Bar Exam: Registration for the Bar exam varies from state to state, with costs for first-time test takers ranging from $150 in North Dakota, to $1000 in South Carolina. If you wish to use a laptop to type the writing portion of your exam, most states require a software fee which can cost up to $200.
- Prep courses for the bar exam like Kaplan can run anywhere from $1800 to $4000.
- Depending on what state you are in, you may need to pay additional filing fees to your state Bar to cover costs associated with character and fitness checks or criminal history records.
- Registration for the MPRE test is $150.
In Law School
In law school, you will attend classes that will instruct you on different areas of the law. Most schools offer the ability to attend classes full-time and graduate in three years, or take them part-time and graduate in four.
There are two types of law school classes: Doctrinal and non-doctrinal. Doctrinal classes are about discreet areas of the law, like criminal law, property, or contracts. These classes involve reading about important cases about that area of law from a textbook. Once you have read that day’s assigned cases, the professor may ask you questions about those cases, which you must answer in front of the class. Traditionally, doctrinal classes include only one graded exam at the end of the semester which asks you to read a story and analyze it using the cases you read about that semester. Your grade on that exam determines your grade in the class overall.
Non-doctrinal classes are less uniform, and cover a wider range of topics, like research and writing, and legal technology courses. The grading structure and content of each class can vary quite a bit, and depending on your interests in the law, they can help you learn important skills in the legal field.
Typically, you won’t have the opportunity to pick your classes during your first year, also called your 1L year. Instead, you will have a list of classes you have to take, and almost all of them will be doctrinal, with usually some form of a research and writing class too.
During the two summers between your three years at law school, you should try to gain valuable legal experience in an internship or as a research assistant for one of your law professors. These positions can be paid or unpaid, and your law school’s career center can help you find opportunities that suit your needs and interests.
Typically during your second or third year, you will take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, called the MPRE. It’s a 2-hour, 60-question multiple choice test that you have to take to get a law license. The exam covers the ethical standards associated with practicing law including issues of appearance, representation, privilege, disqualification and other similar topics.
Once you have graduated from law school, the final hurdle before practicing law is the Bar exam. The bar exam is a two-day exam that tests your knowledge on a variety of legal topics. The exam is graded on a pass/fail basis. The exam is different from state to state, and passing it means you are only allowed to practice law in that state. There is almost always a combination of multiple choice and essay questions. You should plan to keep your schedule clear both days of the exam, and make sure you can easily travel to the testing location.
The Bar also includes a character and fitness questionnaire which will ask you about previous disciplinary or criminal penalties. Some states require you to submit the questionnaire before you can take the Bar, and some allow you to submit it after. Just like different law schools can ask about your record differently, each state’s character and fitness portion can ask for different information about your record. It is important to be completely honest on this portion. The character and fitness portion of the bar exam is a barrier to entry for many justice-impacted individuals, but the worst thing you can do is to hold back the information the state requests.
Character & Fitness
To become a lawyer in the United States, the legal system requires you to submit an application to the state or jurisdiction where you hope to practice law. These applications require applicants to answer a long list of questions about their backgrounds, and jurisdictions create “Character and Fitness” committees that review these applications and decide whether to admit or deny the person’s application to practice law. While the Character and Fitness system is an oppressive system created to disempower systems-impacted people, Black and Brown people, immigrants, radicals, etc., the Character and Fitness Navigator tool has been designed to inform and empower you to overcome these barriers and to support you to enter the legal profession.
Click Here to Access the Character and Fitness Navigator tool.
Other Careers in the Law
Being a lawyer is not the only way to work in the law. From becoming a paralegal to an e-discovery specialist, the legal field will always need a strong team of non-lawyer professionals to help keep it afloat as it grows and changes with the time. Many jobs in the legal industry, like legal assistant, secretary, or paralegal are entry level and can be found at firms of any size.
Resources on Accessing Law School & The Legal Profession:
What is compassionate release?
Compassionate release is a process in which an incarcerated person can be immediately released from prison or jail due to medical or humanitarian circumstances which make prison an unjustifiable option for that person. If compassionate release is granted, the incarcerated person is released immediately from prison.
Who can qualify for compassionate release?
In the federal prison system, compassionate release applications are divided into three categories: Medical, Non-Medical, and Elderly. Each state compassionate release program has its’ own set of categories under which an incarcerated person can apply.
Federally incarcerated people can apply for compassionate release under the medical category if they have a terminal or debilitating illness.
Federally incarcerated people can apply for compassionate release under the non-medical category if they experience a death or incapacitation a family member caregiver, or the incapacitation of a legal partner.
Federally incarcerated people can apply for compassionate release under the elderly category in three circumstances. 1) They committed their offense on or after November 1, 1987, are 70 years of age or older, and have served 30 or more years. 2) They are 65 or older, served at least half of their sentence and suffering from chronic or serious medical conditions related to their age that the prison’s medical facilities cannot help. 3) They are 65 or older and have served more than 10 years or 75% of their prison sentence.
How can I apply for compassionate release?
Incarcerated people can apply for compassionate release by writing a letter requesting compassionate release to the Warden. This letter should include background information on the compassionate release request, the category for compassionate release that the incarcerated person is applying under, and the incarcerated person’s plan for what they will do after being released.
How does the Compassionate Release application process work?
After an incarcerated person applies for compassionate release, the warden will either approve or deny the request. If the warden denies the request, the incarcerated person can appeal the denial through the Administrative Remedy Program or refile their application at a later date.
If the warden approves the request, the compassionate release request is then forwarded to the General Counsel. If the General Counsel approves the request, it is forwarded to either the Medical Director or the Associate Director. After one of those two directors write an opinion on the compassionate release request, the packet is forwarded to the Director. The Directors decision on whether to approve or deny the request is final and cannot be appealed.
If the Director approves the request, a U.S. Attorney asks a Federal Judge to grant the compassionate release. It is extremely rare that Federal Judges deny compassionate release requests from the U.S. Attorney. After the Federal Judge grants release, the incarcerated person will be released from prison after their post-prison accommodations are approved.
What should I expect if I apply for compassionate release?
Compassionate release is granted rarely, and a large majority of the cases where it is granted are for medical reasons. A person applying for compassionate release may consider seeking an attorney to assist with the application process.
Dealing With Probation or Parole
What is Parole?
Parole is an option for you to reduce your overall jail time once you have already served a significant portion of your sentence. It allows you to be conditionally released from prison and return to live and work in your community under the supervision of a parole officer. You must report to your parole officer on a regular basis and follow a set of behavioral restrictions throughout the duration of their release. If you break any of these rules or fail to report to your parole officer on time, you can be sent back to prison to finish the remainder of your original sentence.
How do I know if I am eligible for parole?
To be eligible for parole, you must have already served a significant portion of your original prison sentence. Furthermore, you must have demonstrated good behavior during your time in prison and made an effort to prove to the judge and your correctional officers that you have improved and can safely return to society.
How do I file for Parole?
Early parole petitions can be filed if you have already had a trial and are serving a sentence. By filing a petition for early parole, the decision as to when you will be released is taken out of the hands of the prison officials and placed before a judge. A motion for early parole can be filed at any time after you have been sentenced.
To apply for parole, you have to fill out and sign an application furnished by a case manager. Everyone except those committed under juvenile delinquency procedures who wish to be considered for parole must complete a parole application. A case manager will notify you offender when your parole hearing is scheduled.
What happens at a Parole Hearing?
A parole hearing is an opportunity for you to present your side of the story, and express your own thoughts as to why you feel you should be paroled. Common subjects include the details of the offense, prior criminal history, the guidelines which the Commission uses in making their determination, your accomplishments in the correctional facility, details of a release plan, and any problems you have had to meet in the past and is likely to face again in the future.
What is Probation?
Probation is a community supervision option that does not require you to spend any time in jail. If you have been granted probation you will return directly to your community under the supervision of your assigned probation officer. You will have to follow similar rules to parole regarding your behavior, as well as attend regular meetings with your probation officer. Failure to comply can result in further legal consequences.
How do I know if I am eligible for Probation?
To be eligible for probation, the judge would determine at the time of sentencing that your crimes do not warrant a prison sentence. The judge must also determine that the you can safely return to your community under the supervision of a probation officer.
Resources on Probation or Parole:
Driver’s License Restoration
***Our Drivers License Restoration App can help you reinstate your NY or MA drivers license. Check it out here.
What is a driver’s license suspension?
A driver’s license suspension is when your ability to drive is taken away. Driver’s license suspensions can be temporary (definite) or long-term (indefinite). If your suspension is temporary, you will be told when you can drive again. You may have to pay a fee to be able to drive again. If your suspension is long-term, you will need to wait to be told whether and how you can remove the suspension.
Why is my driver’s license suspended?
Your driver’s license may have been suspended because of serious or multiple traffic violations, such as drunk driving, too many parking tickets, or lack of car insurance. More long-term suspensions may also have to do with issues like not paying child support or not paying tax.
How do I know if my driver’s license is suspended?
If you are at an arraignment, the judge will tell you that your license is suspended. Your license will immediately be suspended, and you will be asked to turn your license in. If the decision is not made at the arraignment, the DMV will send a notice to the address they have on file.
What happens if I drive on a suspended license?
Driving with a suspended license may be a criminal offense in your state, which means that a conviction would appear on your permanent criminal record. The consequences of having a criminal record could negatively impact your eligibility for employment opportunities and housing. In some states, like New York, a conviction for driving with a suspended license carries the possibility of jail time and fines.
How do I get my driver’s license reinstated?
For definite suspensions, you may have to pay a termination fee and wait to receive a new driver’s license before you can drive again. You should consult with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to make sure you are following the necessary steps for reinstatement. You may have to request and receive approval from the DMV before you can get a new driver’s license. For indefinite suspensions, you may have to perform specific actions before the DMV will reinstate your driver’s license. If your license is permanently revoked, it may not be possible to get it reinstated.
Resources on Driver's License Suspensions:
Am I considered a juvenile?
If you are under the age of 18, you may be considered to be a juvenile for the commission of an act that would otherwise be considered a crime. There are specific reasons that you may be charged as an adult system instead of a juvenile. Each state has different situations or instances that the juvenile can be charged as an adult. This is at the prosecutions, the lawyer for the state, discrecion. Even if you are being charged as an adult you may get certain protections that juveniles obtain, such as sealing records. It is important to check your state's specific procedures for “juvenile delinquency.
What are some of the differences between the juvenile and adult systems?
The stated goals of the juvenile and adult systems are different. The juvenile system recognizes that young people make mistakes and focuses more on helping the youth grow, learn and be rehabilitated while the adult system focuses more on punishment, deterrence, and incapacitation. The juvenile system the judge may take into account your family situation and your upbringing, neighborhood, family, school etc., more than in the adult system. The parents are also more an important part of the juvenile system and are often consulted together in determining your decisions in the juvenile process.
The post conviction outcomes are also different, since you are charged with a delinquency and not a crime your options are different. These options include adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, probation, and detention. In the juvenile system there are 4 different detainment facilities. Minimum risk/non-residential where you will be at home and receive programs required by the court. Non-secure residential, where you will live in a facility but still have access to the public and be able to leave for the day. High risk residential, where you will live in a facility and have a maximum of 72 hours outside of the facility for specific reasons. The most severe, Maximum risk residential, these are most similar to traditional prisons with no access to the public and continued detention.
What is the Juvenile sealing and expungement process?
The process for seal and expungement is generally easier in the juvenile system. 15 states automatically seal or expunge your record when you reach a certain age. The ability to have your record sealed or expunged may change with the type of crime that you were convicted of. There are also other actions that you can take to get your record sealed or expunged. Many of these actions depend on your state’s laws. The best way to learn about your specific situation is to check with local legal aids.
Resources on Juvenile Delinquency:
Incarcerated People's Rights
Find help or resources related to Incarcerated People's Rights issues listed below.
Incarcerated People's Rights Resources
Record Expungement and Sealing
What does it mean to expunge or seal my record?
An expungement removes an arrest and/or conviction from your criminal record completely. An expungement order essentially tells a court to treat you as though the arrest or conviction had never happened, (although there may be times that law enforcement can still access your expunged record). Sealing a record generally hides your criminal record from public view, though court, law enforcement, and others can still access it if they receive a court order. Generally, the public can access criminal records that are unsealed and unexpunged.
Can my criminal record be expunged or sealed?
The processes to expunge and seal records can be very different from state to state. Different states have different rules on what can be expunged or sealed. In some states, many different convictions can be expunged, in other states only a few can be expunged or sealed. It’s also possible you may have to pay a fee. Currently, there is no process to clear federal criminal records.
How do I get my record expunged?
If you want to receive an expungement, you need to send in a petition or application to your state court or state judge. Not all convictions may be eligible for expungements. For example, some states only expunge misdemeanors. Some states only expunge cases where the deferred disposition, sentence, probation, and/or parole has been served. Once your conviction is expunged, it is either sealed or completely destroyed. Check out the laws in your state to learn how to best treat your case.
How do I get my record sealed?
In some cases, sealing your record may happen automatically, in others, it might require a petition to court. Some states might automatically seal criminal court records if your case did not result in a conviction. Other states might automatically seal juvenile criminal records once you turn 18 years old. Check out the laws in your state to learn how to best treat your case.
Resources on Expungement & Sealing:
What is restitution?
In some cases, a defendant may be ordered by the court to pay restitution as part of their sentence. Restitution is a sum of money to compensate a victim of a crime for any losses or injuries suffered due to the crime. A “victim” can be a person (or their surviving family member) or a business. In certain states, a defendant may also be ordered to pay restitution to third parties like insurance companies or victim service agencies.
When does a court order restitution?
A court may order restitution for any type of criminal offense. The likelihood of being sentenced to pay restitution will vary depending on the state and type of offense. For a wide variety of federal offenses (including violent crimes, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children, domestic violence, property damage, and fraud), restitution is mandatory. For state offenses, the law varies on a state-by-state basis. Some states mandate restitution in all criminal cases unless the judge provides a compelling reason not to require it. Other states may mandate restitution only for violent crimes, while others only mandate restitution for property crimes.
How is the amount of restitution determined?
The amount of restitution is meant to compensate the financial losses suffered by the victim. A victim of a crime must provide documentation (such as bills, receipts, and financial statements) to demonstrate their expenses. Eligible expenses will differ depending on the circumstances of the case. Typically, restitution may include medical expenses, lost wages, counseling expenses, lost or damaged property, funeral expenses, or other direct out-of-pocket costs due to the crime.
A defendant has the right to object to the amount of restitution. A court may hold a hearing on the issue of restitution to determine the correct amount. Federal courts and some states will take into account the defendant’s ability to pay when they decide the amount of restitution.
How is restitution paid and what happens if it is not paid?
Restitution may be ordered in one single payment or through smaller payments over time. It is expected to be paid by the end of a person’s sentence. Depending on the jurisdiction, portions of prison wages or portions of deposits into an incarcerated person’s account may be deducted to cover restitution payments.
Restitution payments may be considered a condition of probation or parole. If a person refuses to pay their restitution, this can result in a violation of probation or parole. However, if the person can prove in court that they are unable to afford their payments, they cannot be incarcerated for their inability to pay. In some states, restitution will be forgiven if the person demonstrates financial inability to meet their payments. In others, the court may extend the duration of probation or parole for a certain amount of time until the person fulfills their payment obligations. Even if the court decides that restitution no longer has to be paid, there is still a possibility that a victim could decide to separately bring a lawsuit outside of the criminal case to try and recoup their losses.
Resources on Restitution:
Sex Offender Registration
Who must register as a sex offender?
If you have been convicted of specified sex offenses, you must register as a sex offender in the state you live in. Each state is different,, but some of the convictions requiring registration include sexual assault, rape, incest, sexual offenses against children, and prostitution.
If you have been convicted of a sexual offense and move to another state, you need to re-register in that new state. You also need to notify the government of the state that you left.
What will I be asked for when I register?
While each state can ask different questions, all states will ask for basic information about you and your conviction. This includes your name (and any former names if changed), where you live, what you were convicted for and when, and other basic personal information. Additionally, depending on the state, you may be asked for information about your employer if you currently have a job. A picture of you will be taken.
How long will I need to be registered for?
This will depend on the offense you have been convicted of and the state you live in. States might classify you differently (like “Level 1,” “Level 2,” and “Level 3”) that correspond with shorter or longer periods of time. Some offenses require registering for life. Some states may require you to be registered for life.
What are the basic rules I need to follow?
For as long as you are registered, you must regularly report where you live and re-register with your state’s government. This period can vary from state to state but is often one year, and the renewal date is often around your birthday.
If you change jobs, you may need to notify the authority that you registered with that you have taken on a new job and provide the address of that employer. Additionally, many states have specific guidelines that you must alert the authority that you attend, enroll in, live at, or are employed by any institution of higher education (such as a college or vocational school). There are certain jobs that you may be disqualified from, like driving a school bus.
What if I fail to comply with requirements?
Failing to comply is classified as a felony, which can be punished with fines or imprisonment.
What else should I keep in mind?
Rules about sex offender classifications, notification requirements, and registration times vary by state to state. Depending on where you live, looking up information about that specific state’s sex offender registry, which can usually be found by googling the name of the state + “sex offender registration faq” will provide more detailed information.
Resources on Sex Offender Registration:
When will I be sentenced?
Once you have been convicted of a crime, either by guilty plea or guilty verdict, you will be sentenced. In some cases (such as when you are convicted of violations or minor misdemeanors), you will be sentenced immediately after the verdict. In other cases, the judge will set a future date, usually at least a few weeks away, for a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, both the prosecution and the defense are allowed to make arguments before the judge decides and announces a sentence.
Who chooses my sentence?
The laws, rules, and processes governing sentencing may differ from state to state. In most state and federal courts, the judge, alone, will decide your sentence. In federal courts, and some state courts, the judge will use sentencing guidelines to help make their decision. (Sentencing guidelines are charts that recommend a specific stance based on the elements of the crime you have been convicted of). In some states, a jury will decide your sentence, particulary in cases where the death penalty is possible.
What are my possible sentencing options?
Not all sentences include prison time. A sentence may include a term of imprisonment, a term of probation, a conditional or unconditional discharge, paying money to the victim (restitution), paying money to the government (fines), community service, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, and more.
Who decides my sentence?
There are statues which set out the range of possible sentences for each class of crime. To determine a sentence within that range, the judge may consider many factors about the crime committed and your background. These factors include: the nature of the crime, your participation in the crime, whether you have expressed any regret, your prior criminal record, your family situation, your health, your work record, and more.
Resources on Sentencing: