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A misdemeanor on your criminal record is not a bar to most types of employment, or it should not be, and many states have laws that govern how or if employers can consider these. Despite that, a new study reveals that in many states across the country a minor offense presents a major obstacle to licensing and certification for certain jobs.
Although 40 states have laws governing the consideration of criminal records in employment, the problem is reportedly widespread. According to the study by the National Employment Law Project, reported in The Wall Street Journal, the majority of state licensing boards do consider criminal records to deny people licenses to work in healthcare and education.
Isn't That Good?
Maybe this doesn't sound too bad to you -- why should people with criminal pasts be allowed to care for kids or sick people or the most vulnerable among us? But the reason the revelations are disconcerting is that they show the collateral consequences of an encounter with the criminal justice system, consequences that are not intended by the authorities and which are often inappropriate.
In Georgia, for example, a person may be denied a license based on a mere arrest, according to The Wall Street Journal. This is problematic because an arrest is not a conviction: it is an officer's suspicion that an offense has occurred. Why should a person who was ultimately not convicted -- or perhaps not even charged -- be barred from an occupation for a lifetime based on the unfounded suspicion of an officer long ago?
Some states, like Minnesota, will not allow consideration of an unrelated criminal record and also considers time passed since a conviction, as well as any evidence of rehabilitation. This more nuanced approach allows individuals whose charges do not reflect on the type of work they plan to do, or who have since proven to be reliable members of society, to get work.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the findings are a cause for economic concern for all of us. One in four jobs requires a license or certification and one in three Americans has had an encounter with the criminal justice system. That might leave very few people eligible for employment in areas that pay reasonably well.
Then there is also the question of basic fairness. The criminal justice system punishes people for their actions and when they have paid the price, the debt to society should be considered fulfilled. What this study reveals is that for some the stain of a mistake in the past -- sometimes not even their own error -- will haunt them all their lives.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you have been accused of a crime, or have a crime on your record you hope to get expunged, speak to a lawyer. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your situation.