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Be Aware of the Long-term Consequences of Criminal Activity

Wabanaki Legal News, Winter 2012

There may be long-term consequences if you plead or are found guilty of a crime.  A criminal conviction or juvenile adjudication can impact your life in many ways.

What is a Juvenile Adjudication?

The Maine Juvenile Code applies to a person who is under 18 years old at the time he or she was accused of committing a crime.  The state or tribal court “adjudicates” a juvenile if he or she admits to committing the offense or if a court finds the juvenile committed the offense.  A  juvenile “adjudication” is not a conviction.  If you have a juvenile “adjudication” and are asked if you have ever been convicted, the answer is no.  

What is a Conviction?

In Maine, a conviction applies to adults (18 years old and older) charged with a crime and found guilty in court.  A conviction can happen from a guilty plea or after a hearing where the judge or jury finds the person guilty.    

The court can look at your criminal history when sentencing you.  If you have a juvenile record in Maine and are charged with a crime as an adult, the court can look at your Class A, B and C juvenile adjudications.  Juvenile adjudications for misdemeanors (Class D and E crimes) are not considered.   

What is the Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor?

  • Felonies and misdemeanors are crimes.  
  • Depending on the age of the person charged, felonies and misdemeanors can result in a conviction (for adults) or adjudication (for juveniles). 
  • The difference between a felony and misdemeanor is the seriousness of the possible  punishment.  If the charge could result in a sentence of one year or more, the crime is a felony regardless of the amount of time you are sentenced to  or actually serve.  
  • In Maine, Classes A, B and C crimes are felonies.  
  • Class D and E offenses are misdemeanors.  They have a possible jail sentence of less than 1 year:
  • Class D (up to 364 days)
  • Class E (up to 180 days)  

These sentences apply only if the charges against you were for actions you committed as an adult.  If you are charged as a juvenile, the adjudication will result in a “disposition” not a “sentence.” A disposition for any class of crime can include commitment to the Mountainview or Long Creek Youth Development Centers.  The length of the juvenile disposition can vary.  It may even be for an indeterminate amount of time, not for a set number of months or years.     

Where Am I Charged?

As an Indian in Maine, you may be charged in one of three courts: tribal, state, or federal. This depends upon the charge, where it occurred, and whether the tribe has a court system.  

Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over:

  • Adult misdemeanors (classes D and E) committed on their reservation by a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Penobscot Nation or Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians
    • except when the misdemeanor is committed against a person or property of a person who is not a member of one of  those Tribes.
  • Juvenile delinquent conduct that would be within their exclusive jurisdiction if committed by an adult, as described above. 
  • Some juvenile crimes committed on the reservation by a juvenile of one of the three specified Tribes.
    • Such crimes include possession of marijuana, alcohol, and failure to show proper identification. 

At the present time, there is no tribal court jurisdiction over members of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. 

Most cases involving crimes committed off the reservation will be heard in State Court.  But, if you are accused of breaking a federal law, you can be charged in federal court (U.S. District Court).  The federal court covering northern and eastern Maine is in Bangor.

Is My Juvenile Record Public?

Every state has laws about whether juvenile records are private or public.  If you have a juvenile record from another state, contact the attorney who helped you to find out if your juvenile record is public.  

In Maine, whether your juvenile record is public depends on the type of charge.

  • Court petitions charging a juvenile with a felony are public.
  • Court petitions charging a juvenile with his or her first Class D crime are not  public.
  • If a juvenile is charged with a second or third Class D crime, the court records are public if the new charge is from a different incident than the first Class D charge. 
  • Court petitions charging a juvenile with Class E misdemeanors are not public.  

Under Maine law, even if a court record is closed to the public, the victim can view the court documents.  The victim cannot have a copy of the documents.

If you have a juvenile record that is public, you can ask the Court to seal your record.  This means it will be kept private.  You must petition the Court and prove that: 

  • At least 3 years have passed since you finished the disposition (sentence), 
  • You have not had any new adjudications or adult convictions since the date of your disposition, and 
  • You do not have any criminal actions pending.

The Court will balance the public's right to know about your juvenile record against your interest in privacy.  If the Court seals your record, court and criminal justice agencies can still access those records.  Other agencies like housing authorities and employers cannot.  You can answer questions about your juvenile history as if your juvenile adjudication never happened.

Indian Tribes may have different rules and practices concerning the confidentiality and use of juvenile records. 

COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES

If you are adjudicated as a juvenile or convicted as an adult, there may be long-term consequences for you.  This is because there are many federal and state laws that allow your criminal history to be considered.  Your criminal history can be considered for the following reasons: 

Student Loans

When you apply for a federal student loan to go to college, you complete a “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (FAFSA) through the U.S. Department of Education.  Federal law says that if you have been convicted of possession or sale of illegal drugs, you may be ineligible for aid.  Because juvenile adjudications are not considered convictions in Maine, you do not have to disclose a Maine juvenile adjudication on your FAFSA. 

Tribal educational assistance programs may have different rules about convictions and juvenile adjudications.

Subsidized Housing

Federally assisted housing programs, such as “public housing” and “Section 8,” use federal rules to decide who is eligible for assistance.  The rules allow housing agencies to deny admission to an entire household or a specific member of a household if that member has a criminal past.  The criminal past must have happened within a “reasonable time” before the household applies for admission.  The federal rules do not define “reasonable time,” but housing agencies may have their own definitions.

Criminal activities that can be grounds for denial of admission are:

  • Drug related criminal activity,
  • Violent criminal activity, or
  • Other criminal activity that would:
  • threaten the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the property by other tenants, or 
  • threaten the health or safety of the housing authority, owner or employees.

A housing agency will ask adult members of the household applying for admission to reveal any criminal history.  The agency will also ask you to sign a release of information form that the housing agency can send to law enforcement.  The housing agency can contact law enforcement in the state where the housing is located or any state in which a household applicant has lived. What the law enforcement agency will release depends on whether juvenile records are public under that state's law.

If the housing agency receives a copy of a criminal conviction and denies admission to either the entire household or the person with the criminal conviction, it must notify the applicant and the person with the conviction.  It must then send both of them a copy of the record.  The applicant can challenge the accuracy and relevance of the information.  The housing agency must keep confidential any criminal records it receives.  It also must destroy the records once the reason the housing authority asked for them is complete.

If you or a household member is denied admission because of past criminal activity, you can submit proof of rehabilitation.  Rehabilitation will depend on what the criminal activity was.  If it is a drug charge, then completion of drug rehabilitation will be important.  If it is a violent crime, then anger management, no further criminal activity, and successful probation may all help prove rehabilitation.

If a member of your household is required to be a lifetime sex offender registrant under any state's registry, that person must be denied admission to federally assisted housing.  

Tribal housing agencies use special federal laws concerning Indian Housing. Because of tribal sovereignty, tribes have a lot of authority to make their own policies. They may have policies on criminal records that are different, and possibly stricter, than other housing agencies.

Sex Offender Registry

Juveniles adjudicated of a sex offense do not have to register on Maine's Sex Offender Registry.  However, the law may change.  Every state has different requirements for who has to register.  If you have been adjudicated of a sex crime and you plan to leave Maine (even for a short while), find out if the state you are going to requires you to register.  

Employment

Maine is an “employment at will” state.  This means that without a contract you do not have the right to get a job or keep a job.   It is not illegal for an employer to ask about your criminal history.  

Some jobs require a professional license or permit.  Some require you to register with a state licensing agency.  A conviction does not mean you will automatically be denied a license.  However, the agency can consider certain convictions.  Those include:  

  • Misdemeanor convictions
  • for dishonesty or false statements, or
  • that are directly related to the trade you are applying for a license in, and
  • All felony convictions
  • The licensing agency can only look into your criminal past for the last:
  • 3 years, or 
  • 10 years if the job involves health care or law enforcement.  
  • Remember, juvenile adjudications in Maine are not convictions.

Welfare

Federal law allows states to deny welfare benefits such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps (now called SNAP  Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) to a person convicted of a drug related felony.  Maine currently does not have such a rule, but other states do. There are many changes to Maine's welfare system expected in 2012.  DHHS can now ask TANF recipients who have a drug-related felony conviction dating back to 1996, to take a drug test.  

  • If you refuse, you can be denied TANF.  
  • If your drug test is positive, DHHS can require you to be in a drug treatment program if you want to get TANF.
  • If you refuse drug treatment, your entire family can be cut off  TANF.  
  • It is important to know that DHHS cannot require you to take a drug test if you have not had a felony-related drug conviction from 1996 to present.

Voting

You can vote in elections in Maine if you have a felony conviction.  Some states do not allow convicted felons to vote.  If you move to another state and have a felony conviction, ask about your right to vote.  

Tribes make their own rules about who can run for tribal office and vote in tribal elections.  Check with your tribe to find out how a felony conviction affects your right to vote or run for office.

Military

If you are thinking of joining the military, you should disclose everything.  The military can access all information regarding criminal activity, including sealed juvenile records and information kept at local police departments.  The military can reject your enlistment if it has evidence that you may be a discipline problem.  However, if the military accepts you, it can help you seal, expunge, or reopen past criminal cases.   

Firearms

The Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 includes rules about possessing a firearm and ammunition. Two types of convictions trigger an automatic prohibition for life:

  • An indictment or conviction of a felony, or
  • A conviction for a domestic violence misdemeanor. The name of the crime you are convicted of does not have to have “domestic violence” in its title.  

Conclusion

This article only addresses some of the problems you may face if you have a juvenile or adult criminal history. To learn more about how your history may affect you, contact the attorney who represented you or Pine Tree Legal..

Publication Volume: 
2012.1
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