What is a criminal conviction and what is not? A Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
As criminal defense lawyers | attorneys, we get asked this question a lot because clients want to know (1) Do they need to admit to a conviction on a job application? (2) Will a plea result in a “conviction” on their record? (3) Will immigration consider it a conviction? or (4) Will it affect their job or security clearance?
What is a criminal conviction?
This question seems pretty easy, but it has become increasingly complicated. A criminal conviction is a formal judgment of guilt entered by a court. In order for such a judgment to take place, a defendant must knowingly admit to the facts of the crime. In general, case law holds that guilty pleas, no constest pleas, decisions with a deferred or suspended sentence, bail forfeitures, pleas of Nolo Contendere, and Alford pleas can all qualify as convictions.
Deferred Adjudication Agreements, also called Stipulated Orders of Continuances or SOCs are generally NOT considered criminal convictions unless you fail to abide by them and you are subsequently convicted or in some cases, stipulate to the facts in a police report. In essence, these kinds of agreements are contracts to dismiss a crime if certain conditions are met. That being said, federal immigration law will call these contracts a conviction if you agree to stipulate to the facts necessary to prove the conviction instead of just stipulating to the courts reviewing the police reports and coming to their own conclusion. Other federal agencies may have similar internal policies that will require a detailed consultation with our criminal defense lawyers | attorneys before we can give an acceptable answer. You can view immigration safe SOC forms here.
Do I need to tell my work or disclose a charge or conviction on a job application?
The Simple Answer.
Job applications, professional licensing and other agencies sometimes ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime or whether you have ever been charged with a crime. Other than Deferred Adjudication Agreements, which are also called Stipulated Orders of Continuances or SOCs or deferred prosecutions (for those who have a drug or alcohol problem and want treatment), if you entered any of the above pleas (guilty pleas, bail forfeitures, pleas of Nolo Contendere, Alford pleas), you would generally have to answer “yes” for a conviction question. If the application asks you whether you have ever been charged with a crime, the answer is “yes” for SOCs or deferred prosecutions. Given the interconnectedness of databases, including but not limited to the Washington State Patrol Identification and Criminal History Section, Washington Court Databases and NCIC, our general recommendation is do not omit information unless you are certain a background check will not be run.
The more Complicated Answer.
The more complicated question for our criminal defense lawyers | attorneys and our clients is what should they say and when should they talk to employers, friends or family about a charge, or if they have just been charged and a job application asks about convictions.
This conversation tends to be lengthy as the answer is not just, “What is a legally ‘accurate’ answer?” We have seen clients disclose serious felonies to their employers in advance and find themselves pleasantly surprised that their employer supports them. We have seen other employers fire clients the day they find out about charges or enter a guilty plea to a crime. We have seen clients disclose a pending charge in the abundance of caution and be hired; yet, we have also seen early disclosure of a pending case result in no interview. The answer to this question generally comes at the end of a lot of discussion and though it does not come with a guarantee, we find talking through the pros and cons, a necessary part of properly representing our clients in criminal proceedings.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled an enormous number of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who takes the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.