Third-Class Citizenship: The Escalating Legal Consequences of Committing a “Violent” Crime

Michael O'Hear | January 1, 2019

For many years, American legislatures have been steadily attaching a wide range of legal consequences to convictions—and sometimes even just charges—for crimes that are classified as “violent.” These consequences affect many key aspects of the criminal process, including pretrial detention, eligibility for pretrial diversion, sentencing, eligibility for parole and other opportunities for release from incarceration, and the length and intensity of supervision in the community. The consequences can also affect a person’s legal status and rights long after the sentence for the underlying offense has been served. A conviction for a violent crime can result in registration requirements, lifetime disqualification from employment in certain fields, and a loss of parental rights, among many other “collateral consequences.” While a criminal conviction of any sort relegates a person to a kind of second-class citizenship in the United States, a conviction for a violent crime increasingly seems even more momentous—pushing the person into a veritable third-class citizenship. This Article provides the first systematic treatment of the legal consequences that result from a violence charge or conviction. The Article surveys the statutory law of all fifty states, including the diverse and sometimes surprisingly broad definitions of what counts as a violent crime. While the Article’s aims are primarily empirical, concerns are raised along the way regarding the fairness and utility of the growing length and severity of sentences imposed on “violent” offenders and of the increasingly daunting barriers to their reintegration into society.