Many people think that a misdemeanor conviction is “no big thing.” In truth, in the federal system, there are very few misdemeanor convictions, usually exclusively obtained through very diligent plea bargaining. When facing serious felonies with all the potential collateral consequences (beyond prison even), getting a misdemeanor plea bargain is often the very best way out. We’ve been able on occasion to negotiate misdemeanor pleas for our clients at Burdick Law, P.C. in federal criminal cases, but it is very rare.
One of the biggest problems is that some lawyers (mostly in state prosecutions) are willing – or even anxious – to press innocent clients to plead to “just a misdemeanor.” The reasons vary from lazy lawyer; to inexperienced or frightened lawyer; to court-appointed lawyer with a zillion cases trying to curry favor with the local prosecutor’s office for the next five cases he or she has to negotiate.
But what a lot of lawyers either don’t know, or don’t bother telling their clients if they do know, is that there are serious consequences even to misdemeanor convictions.
For example, Christian Watts made a bad decision in 2002, and he has been paying for it ever since. As a 31-year-old, Watts was working for a Las Vegas limousine service when he connected a friend with someone who had a supply of the illegal party drug MDMA, or ecstasy. Federal investigators who were tracking another drug dealer got wind of the deal, and charged him with felony possession. At the advice of his lawyers, he pleaded the conviction down to a misdemeanor, and served no jail time. But he says he still feels imprisoned by his conviction.