Beyond the terms of the sentence, a defendant can experience far-reaching and unexpected effects.This includes any unintended or unforeseen impact of the charge, even in the absence of a conviction or a trial.These consequences not intended by the judge, or beyond the terms of a sentence itself, are referred to as collateral consequences.
Because many ramifications may stem from merely being charged with a crime, rather than necessarily being convicted, "collateral consequences of criminal charges" has far reaching effects.For example, a person convicted of a felony may experience (in addition to social stigma) disenfranchisement (the inability to vote - in some states this may be separately meted out), disentitlement of education loans (for drug charges in U.S.), loss of professional licenses, or eviction from public housing.To illustrate, even without criminal conviction, the social effects of criminal charges (whether or not they lead to convictions) are mainly because arrests and legal proceedings in the United States are usually public record, thus disseminating the information about the event to the public to the detriment of the accused.
If a defendant is punished beyond the sentence prescribed by law (that is, if collateral consequences do occur), the punishment is then more severe than that intended or warranted. In the worst case, this might violate constitutional protections such as the right to work.
Increasingly, laws and policies are being enacted to restrict persons with a felony conviction (particularly convictions for drug offenses) from employment, receipt of welfare benefits, access to public housing, and eligibility for student loans for higher education. Such collateral penalties place substantial barriers to an individual's social and economic advancement.