Ivey Files

June 26, 2009

Dealing with Your Past: Disclosing Criminal Issues on Law School Applications

For some prospective law school students, the most stressful part of the application process isn't the essay or the LSAT. It's answering a question like this:

Are you currently under indictment, or have you ever been convicted, placed on probation, or given a deferred adjudication or diversion program for a criminal offense? Have you ever been arrested or cited for any criminal violation? If you answered "yes" to any part of the question, please include a separate sheet of paper explaining the circumstances and details of the incident.

That prompt, sometimes called the "disclosure" question in the application, can trigger fear in even the most well-credentialed law school candidate. What about that speeding ticket in high school? Does a fine for drinking in public count? What will it matter if I ignore that thing from college and answer "no"?

There are some important things to know about disclosure of conduct issues and how to answer this type of question. This should not be viewed as legal advice, but rather an overview of how to approach disclosure questions.

"What does it matter anyway?"

Law school applications require a signature certifying that the answers provided are "true and complete." They also warn that false, misleading, or incomplete answers may result in sanctions, including suspension, expulsion, or any other form of punishment deemed necessary by the university. But so what? The applications aren't signed under the pains and penalties of perjury. If you lie about a minor criminal matter that happened years ago, who would find out, and what could possibly happen?

The best answer is: it depends. It depends on whether you want to practice law, what you do in your life, and what type of companies and organizations you hope to work with. Below, the impact of the disclosure question is explained in more detail. As you'll read, the answer can affect you long after you are admitted to law school.

Instead of getting nervous and avoiding the issue by lying or omitting something in your applications, here are five rules for answering disclosure questions on your applications.

1. Read The Fine Print

The most frequent mistake made by applicants is not reading the entire question, or seeing the question and just assuming, "Oh, I know what they want here." Questions among applications vary. Some ask for only criminal "convictions," or incidents where you are "sentenced" or given "probation or deferred adjudication." If you were arrested for drinking in public and the case was dismissed when you paid money in court, you were never convicted or sentenced - so you need not disclose that on the application.

Other questions are phrased more broadly by asking about any incident in which you were "arrested, charged, cited, or summonsed" for a "criminal or civil offense." Such broad answers usually trigger disclosure of even the most mundane and inconsequential events (failure to signal, driving with a suspended registration sticker, noise complaints, etc.). Don't guess, and err on the side of disclosure. If you think you are supposed to disclose but aren't sure about the language, consult with someone who can help explain what the phrasing means and how to classify your incident.

2. Do Your Research

Few applicants need to have a legitimate concern about their criminal history. In most cases, the incident in question is so minor that admissions committees will pay little or no attention to it. Traffic violations (other than operating under the influence), noise / party violations, or drinking-in-public tickets, for example, are usually not considered significant by admissions committees.

Regardless of the seriousness of the offense, it's worth taking the time now - before you're dealing with a state bar - to order any paperwork you can about your incident. Getting your hands on a copy of the ticket, or criminal docket, or complaint from your case will be extremely helpful when you do apply to a state bar, as these documents are often required as part of your bar application.

Once you've gathered everything relating to the incident, take the time to read it all and identify what happened and what you should call it. If you were charged with something, determine whether it is a "civil" or "criminal" offense. If you accepted responsibility for something, figure out whether you "pled guilty," received a "deferred adjudication" (sometimes called a continuance without a finding, or a "nolo contendere" plea), or just had to pay a fine without making an admission.

If you don't feel confident that you know the proper terminology to describe what happened, don't hesitate to speak to a friend or relative who practices criminal law to help you sort out the details. It's not unreasonable to speak with a criminal attorney to make sure you've got it right. A small consultation expense up front is worth it to avoid aggravation in the future. Whether you do the work yourself or consult with an attorney, make sure you know what you did and what it's called before trying to explain it on a law school application.

If you have been charged with or convicted of something more significant - such as operating under the influence, indecent exposure, assault and battery, a domestic violence complaint, larceny or theft, etc. - calling the state bar where you hope to practice is a good starting point. It's unusual for a prospective attorney to have a criminal history that would disqualify him or her from admission to the state bar, but it's worth asking before you go through the expense and time of applying to law school. In addition, consultation with an attorney after gathering the relevant paperwork is not a bad idea.

3. Disclosure Does NOT Always Require Lengthy Self-Reflection

In almost all cases, disclosure requires some additional written material, such as an "addendum" or additional essay discussing the details and circumstances of the incident. The most common mistake made by applicants in these addenda is going overboard.

As a general rule, the more minor and distant the incident, the less is needed. If you stole a candy bar from a general store when you were 11 and received 10 hours of community service, your disclosure should be short and sweet. You don't need to call yourself a juvenile delinquent. If you sprayed graffiti on a wall in high school, explain what happened and acknowledge the mistake, but don't spend pages writing a discourse on the meaning of personal property or the fact that you now know the difference between art and graffiti.

If your incident happened within the last few years, or was more serious than those things mentioned above, it's OK to take a little bit more space to explain the incident. Make sure the details are included - the time and location of the incident, if you were eventually charged or arrested or cited, and the outcome. Still, it is usually not helpful to go into great detail about something that happened in the past.

First, it can sound defensive and disingenuous. Your disclosure should not be a diatribe against unlawful police conduct, or an explanation that amounts to, "Everyone was doing it, but I was the only one who got caught." If you're disclosing what happened, it usually means you were caught and were guilty of doing something wrong.

Second, the more time and space you devote to this essay, the more the admissions committees will read about it. Answer the question without making the issue a major part of your application. If you feel the need to go beyond a brief recitation of the circumstances of the event, make sure to be economical with your words and concentrate on explaining, not defending, your actions.

4. Don't Believe The Hype

There is great confusion about the criminal justice system and how criminal records are kept and disclosed. Many applicants with some incident in their past make the mistake of answering "no" on a disclosure question because they have been misinformed. If a friend, parent, sibling, police officer, or even an attorney has told you that an incident from your past is "sealed" or "expunged," do not assume they are correct. Rather, do the work up front to make sure you know what is and is not going to come out in your law school (or state bar) application process.

Some states automatically "seal" records in certain situations, including juvenile criminal cases. Others require a formal procedure or an application to seal or expunge a criminal record. In some states, there is no such thing as sealing or expunging a criminal record. In a few states, even "sealed" criminal cases show up on a full criminal background check for prosecutors and judges to see in the future. So does the state bar association in your state get to see that record, or some sanitized version of your record?

You may think you know what happens in your state. After all, that incident from when you were a child has been "sealed" for years, so it's not an issue. Even if you think you know because your neighbor's friend's cousin's uncle told you so, are you willing to bet all of the hassles described above on what he said?

The majority of states will allow you to order a copy of your criminal record (adult and juvenile) by submitting a written request and/or applying in person. Take the time to order your materials because the "advice" you got 10 years ago may no longer apply, or it may have been just plain wrong. The consequences of an incorrect disclosure are significant, so don't assume you've been advised correctly.

5. It's Usually About The Coverup

The disclosure of a minor criminal or civil violation in an applicant's past will usually not have a negative impact on his prospects for admission. This is especially true for driving offenses and civil infractions that resulted in a fine or community service. An incident involving a felony or dishonesty (fraud, larceny, financial crimes) can have more of an impact; applicants dealing with these issues should consult with their state bar and - if possible - a law school advisor to develop a strategy for dealing with the disclosure question. Finally, disclosure of an incident involving the possession, manufacturing, or distribution of illegal drugs should be treated carefully, since disclosure of narcotics offenses can have an impact on eligibility for financial aid.

 

With all that said, your approach to the disclosure question should focus on the long-range impact of your answer. A large number of state bar associations require submission of your law school application along with your bar materials. Why?

All state bars have what is called a "character and fitness" test which uses, among other things, your written paperwork (sometimes including your law school application) to assess whether you will be an honest member of the state's community of lawyers. These state bar materials are often signed under the pains and penalties of perjury, and almost always include a waiver that authorizes the state bar association to check your criminal record. So what happens if you failed to disclose a minor criminal issue on your law school application but it comes out in the character and fitness section of the bar application?

State bar associations look very unfavorably on inconsistencies and intentional misrepresentation. If you lied to your law school's admissions committee by signing your name and promising to make honest answers - and then lied anyway - how can anything you said in your bar application be trusted? How can you be deemed to have the character and fitness needed to be a member of the bar?

But the problems don't stop there. In some states, a discovery of such an intentional misrepresentation will trigger hearings in front of the board of bar examiners, including a face-to-face interview with the applicant in question. Some applicants consult with lawyers before the hearings, at great personal expense. Others are unprepared for the issue when it comes up in the hearing; after all, why would they warn you about catching you in a lie? And all of this comes at the tail end of a three-year journey that costs time, money, and energy. Oh, and you've just finished taking the bar exam.

It can get worse. State bar associations have close relationships with law schools, especially those found in-state. If an intentional misrepresentation is discovered, it's not unheard of for the bar association to notify the law school from which the applicant graduated. Remember that language from the law school application you filled out more than three years ago - the part that said failure to disclose can result in "...any other form of punishment deemed necessary by the university?" That can include rescinding your degree.

But let's say you failed to disclose an incident that isn't on your criminal record and the state bar never finds out. You pass the character and fitness section. Congratulations! You're a lawyer, and for now your omission has not been uncovered.

Fast forward 10 or 20 years when you have a house, a mortgage, children, and a successful law practice. You're nominated for a judgeship, or a government position, or a place on a sought-after corporate or community board, and the application involves a "full background check" and a review of your bar application (which includes your "disclosure" answer from law school...). Are you still happy with your decision to lie on the law school application?

You get the point. In most cases, your past will not be a hurdle to admission, but a lie or omission today on a law school application can have consequences far down the line.

Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston. As part of the Ivey Consulting team, Greg works with law school applicants. (Note that in this capacity, and on this blog, he dispenses admissions advice, not legal advice. If you need legal advice, do seek legal counsel. Do not confuse Greg or this blog or Ivey Consulting with legal counsel.) 

I received a drinking ticket from my college and did all of the necessary things to get this offense off of my disciplinary record. Should I disclose this information, or does it not matter because it was handled in house by the school?

Hi Gregory,

I've been wondering about this for a while and I'm really glad I came across this post. Here is my situation: I am now one year out of college and will be applying to law school in the fall. In my junior year of college, I was arrested for shoplifting at a department store. The value of the merchandise was more than $100. I received a Larceny charge and got an ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) plus community service, which I successfully carried out. Do i need to disclose this? I am thinking yes in light of your post, but just want to make sure.

I've also been seriously considering of writing about my run-in with the law in my application essay as a part of my larger topic. I think the particular aspects of my experience I'd like to write about help explain why I want to go to law school and what I plan to do with my degree on a very personal and philosophical level; however, do you think this is unwise or naive? As you said, the more I mention it, the more the Admissions Officers will read about it. Along these lines, since the incident occurred only a few years ago, will it have a negative effect on my application? I am planning to apply to schools in the top 14.

Thank you so much!

Dear App308,

Thank you for your post.

From the explanation you provided, it sounds as though you were (1) arrested and (2) charged with a crime. The description of the offense suggests that it was likely a misdemeanor (shoplifting), but the value you listed could classify it as a felony, depending on the state. Some states, for instance, separate felonies and larcenies based on a dollar amount, so finding out the specific amount and the resulting charge is important.

So, if a question were to ask about (1) arrests or (2) criminal charges, you would have to disclose. If the question asked only about felony arrests and charges, you could have to disclose depending on the charge brought against you. As a general rule -- and because of the uncertainty about the specific charge -- you want to order copies of all documents relating to the case so that you can honestly and fully address any questions.

The more difficult calls will be if you are asked only about "convictions," rather than arrests and charges. The ACD you describe sounds like a "deferred adjudication," also known in some jurisdictions as a "continuance without a finding," "withheld adjudication," or "deferred prosecution."

The particulars of the adjudication are only going to be known once you pull the court documents and review how the adjudication is classified under the state law. In some cases, a deferred adjudication is not a conviction (for instance if you were being considered for a second or subsequent offense of a particular charge, a prior "continuance without a finding" is not a first conviction). However, for other purposes a continuance without a finding or deferred adjudication may qualify as a "conviction" (for instance, if you applied for a firearms permit).

Bottom line on this: the phrasing from the law school app and the law of the state where you had the arrest will determine whether disclosure is necessary in those situations where you are asked about "convictions." If you have additional questions once you receive the court papers and review the applications, consult with an attorney from the state in which the incident happened.

With regard to writing about the incident in your essay: the answer depends entirely on the tone and content of the statement. It is difficult to respond about a statement that has not yet been written, but I would caution you that using this incident for your law school essay may be difficult to effectively pull off. First, it was a recent event (within the last 2 years) and therefore it may be hard to show that you have learned from the incident or gained perspective in that short period of time. Second, you will probably have to disclose the incident as an addendum to the application (see above), so strategically it may not be useful to use one of your only other substantive written submissions to also address this incident.

Hello,

A few years ago I received a citation for a fake ID. In court, I was not convicted, paid no fine, and immediately received an ACD. The incident was expunged from my record 6 months later. My mom is a lawyer and told me that she checked on some kind of database she has and that there's no record of of this incident in connection with my name.

I thought my run-ins with the law were over until a couple of weeks ago when I received a noise violation. The officer who wrote me the ticket told me that it was only a civil violation and that it would never appear on my record. In addition, I plan on fighting the ticket because he issued it at 10:30 when the village ordinance states that 11PM is the cutoff for excessive noise.

So my question is, if these very minor offenses do not appear on my record, then is it really worth disclosing them? Is there any way that the bar could discover these violations upon my graduation from law school?

I have good credentials and am applying to some top schools (Cornell, William & Mary, Fordham, UNC). I understand that you are stressing that honesty is the best policy, but don't you think that if the aforementioned schools were torn between myself and another applicant with similar credentials and no criminal disclosure, they would choose the latter?

Can a law school really access records of these mishaps if they decided to randomly initiate a background check? What about the state bar? What was the point of having a violation expunged if it's going to continue to follow me anyway? And if it's still a matter that is attached to my name? And how would anyone ever discover that I received a citation for noise in the tiny village where I attend college? (providing I even have to pay a fine due to the 10:30 technicality)

Thanks for your help!

Zombiebyte,

 

Thank you for your question. The short answer is: it depends. What you describe as a "drinking ticket" sounds like a citation for a disciplinary incident from your school school. While this would not trigger a disclosure in an application question that asks about arrests, convictions, or criminal charges, it may require disclosure if an application asks about "disciplinary" issues in general. 

Whether to disclose will depend a lot on the phrasing of the application question. If it asks if you have "ever been disciplined" by your school, I believe disclosure would be required; after all, the "necessary things to get this offense off my disciplinary record" was a punishment. Remember that what you are required to disclose and what's on your "disciplinary record" are two completely different things. 

Check with your school to see if the drinking ticket is going to be a part of your "Dean's Letter" that goes to the law schools. While you're at it, get any details you can about the drinking ticket (when it happened, when your punishment was completed, what the process is called, etc.). Then read each application question carefully to see if you have to disclose.  

Hello,

I was arrested with 2 felony counts about 20 years ago and they were dismissed. I also had a failure to appear 10 years ago(traffic violation) that was subsequently dismissed as well. The majority of the law school apps indicate "any arrests" so my disclosure is inevitable.

Would it would just be to my advantage to get copies of court documents also a FBI criminal background record and submit with my applications as well an addendum explaining what happened? I am so worried about this any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,

StressedNonTrad

stressednontrad,

Thank you for your post. Gathering your documents is always a smart move. A background check is probably not necessary, but if it makes you feel that you're being more thorough, you can certainly acquire one.

The questions that ask for disclosure of "arrests" obviously trigger more disclosures. However, if you wrote an addendum saying that the charges in the felony cases were dismissed and the failure to appear was for a traffic citation, the impact (if any) should be limited. In addition, I would stress in the addendum that these incidents took place 20 years ago and 10 years ago -- meaning they shouldn't reflect negatively on you today.

I am going to start law school in a couple of weeks and I am concerned of something I did not disclose in my application. I was previously dismissed from school for student misconduct ie. accused of cheating on an exam and plagiarism on an assignment. This was at a medical school which I did not disclose that I was dismissed from a school as well as that I even went to that school. I am concerned that in a couple of years when I go to take the bar this information may come up and I will have wasted the next three years. I understand that I may be able to alert my school before I start, but I am concerned that I will be expelled before I even begin. Please advise me to what you think.
Thanks

snowlaw

You need to disclose this as soon as possible. If you don't, you may make it through law school and instead face an even more difficult situation when you apply for a state bar. If you're caught at that point, it could seriously impact your chances of being admitted to a bar (because of the character and fitness issues). More importantly, by that time you will have wasted tens of thousands of dollars on law school.

Given the circumstances of the expulsion, there is likely going to be an impact on your chances of admission (or enrollment) in law school. But failing to address it now will compound the problem for you.

For an interesting blog posting on this issue, check out:

http://www.annaivey.com/iveyfiles/2008/05/fudging_your_applications

I received a misdemeanor theft charge after applying and being admitted to law school. The case was never prosecuted and prosecution was suspended after I paid a fine and court ordered restitution to the store (a major chain store). I was an employee there but they did not press a civil case.

Should I even bother getting this degree? Will the bar accept me?

Thatsyourjourney,

What you're describing seems like a larceny case, and the circumstances were in an employee/employer context. That's obviously more serious than a shoplifting charge, but from what you've described I don't see it as fatal to your chances of admission. You may have to disclose that you were criminally charged in the case, but I don't think it will keep your from gaining admission to a bar.

State bar committees will probably run yourt criminal record when you apply to become a member of the bar. If, as you say, the case was "never prosecuted" then you shouldn't have anything show up on a criminal record (except, perhaps, a dismissal). Thus even if you had to disclose on a bar application that you were "charged" with a crime, it would be apparent from your criminal record that it never proceeded past the initial stage.

Theft and larceny offenses are taken seriously by state bar groups. Because lawyers are often required to keep watch over client funds, crimes and conduct involving theft are serious issues among attorneys. That being said, a misdemeanor charge that ended in a dismissal is likely not going to prevent you from passing the character and fitness section for a state bar.

If you have a question, you should (1) gather up any documents relating to the case and (2) call the state bar(s) to which you will apply and ask them ahead of time. I don't think you'll find anyone who says it will prevent you from passing the character section of the bar, but it never hurts to ask.

All of my close friends are applying to law school in the next few years after graduation from their respective undergraduate institutions. One of my friends was arrested in a car for possession of marijuana that was not his, an amount of under one gram. He was found not guilty of the charge, and asked to attend a first time offenders program, and told it would never be on his record. My question is, what is this type of situation classified as? What is his best avenue of travel? You are advocating full disclosure, as it is probably the best way to proceed, but I worry that he may be scared to do so. I wanted to know how he should view this. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to have this burden and wish to help him out in any way possible. I would greatly appreciate your opinion. Thank you!

Crankinlaw, thank you for your post.

Classifying the situation you described is difficult, in part because a few of the pieces you mentioned aren't entirely consistent.

First, it sounds like he was charged with possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor drug offense in most jurisdictions. In general, all criminal charges -- if they are "arraigned" in a criminal court -- will be "on" a person's record. By that I mean: if you are charged with a criminal offense and are arraigned on that charge (arraign: a formal reading of the charges and a plea of guilty/not guilty), some record of your charge exists, whether you're convicted or not. This may be altered later (if the charge is expunged, for example), but a criminal record is usually generated if a person is charged and arraigned.

In this case, part of your description indicates that your friend was charged (and arraigned), and that he proceeded to a trial in the case. I say that because you said he was "found not guilty." That is basically the only way a "not guilty" finding can be entered on a case.

However, you also mentioned that he was "asked to attend a firm time offenders program." If he was found not guilty at trial, it's unlikely that he would have been given a court sanction or punishment, even a first offenders program; an acquittal would not result in a punishment like that.

My guess is that your friend was (1) charged with a criminal offense and (2) was given some sort of "deferred adjudication," a light punishment (the first time offenders program) in exchange for the case being dismissed. This is different than being found "not guilty." Whether he was arraigned on the charge or not is unclear; it varies by jurisdiction, and there's no way to tell if a criminal record was started in this case without pulling the court papers or ordering a copy of his criminal record.

The good news: a simple possession of marijuana case that resulted in a "not guilty" or a dismissed charge is probably not going to have an impact on his chances for admission. While each school's standards vary, marijuana and minor alcohol possession cases come up with some frequency, and the end result of this case was positive for your friend.

In short, the advice to disclose still applies here. If he is asked about prior "convictions," he can honestly say "no" and will not have to disclose the incident (provided that he did not plead guilty, or "admit to sufficient facts" in the case). Some questions may trigger disclosure (for instance, if he was arrested in this case and is asked in an application about any prior arrests). However, even if he has to disclose, a simple addendum explaining the circumstances and the disposition should be sufficient. As indicated in the original post, your friend should consult an attorney and order copies of his paperwork from the case if he is seeking legal advice.

During my 3rd year in my undergraduate career, my group and I were accused of plagiarism in a lab course, but no disciplinary action was taken and the teacher gave us a zero on our lab report; during that same semester, I was also struggling with my classes, and being stretched thin in fraternity duties, and all that led to academic probation. I also recently got a speeding ticket (my first one), which I paid promptly. Now I've shown significant improvement in the later semesters, and am even doing well in graduate school, but my heart just unsettles when thinking about that.

When writing my addendum for why I got academic probation, since I received no disciplinary action and the teacher let us off with a warning, do I still need to disclose that certain class? Can I choose not to disclose that, unless the application specifically states that you do, regardless of whether or not action was taken (I've seen at least one aplication ask that)?

Hello,

Around ten years ago (at age 13 or so), I was arrested and charged with a few crimes. I know that burglary was in the mix, which appeared as a felony. The crime itself mostly amounted to teenage vandalism - no actual theft, nothing even remotely violent.

After going through the juvenile court process, I am pretty sure that I was found guilty and sentenced to two years probation and some community service, which was completed without incident.

The record was allegedly "sealed," but after reading this blog, I'm clearly unsure as to what that means. I'm hoping to apply to Cornell Law this year, and they ask in no uncertain terms about matters like juvenile charges, whether or not they happen to be "sealed."

I know that disclosure is my best bet. What are your thoughts as to what the admissions officers will think regarding this? I plan on writing a short letter describing the matter. The crimes occurred in NY state - should I contact them to discuss my criminal record?

Thanks in advance for your help.

All my best,
Alex

Alex,

Thank you for your post.

Contacting NY at this point may not be necessary if you remember the details of the incident, but it will save you time in the future (when you need to compile the paperwork as you apply for a state bar). So the first thing is to order the paperwork from the case.

Disclosure in this situation will obviously be required, but I think you can effectively address the incident in an addendum without having a significant impact on your chances for admission.

Juvenile incidents, even those resulting in criminal convictions, are looked upon somewhat less seriously than "adult" convictions. While this incident is more than a youthful indiscretion, it's also easy enough to say that you made a mistake as a 13-year old, have not done anything since then, and learned your lesson from the probation.

In short, order your paperwork and write an addendum. The addendum should cover the essentials(the charges, the result, terms of probation, etc.) but not go into painstaking detail about the incident. Then explain it for what it was -- a mistake you made as a kid -- and remind the reader that it was a single event and your record is clean since then. If done effectively, I think the addendum will convice most readers that this juvenile conviction shouldn't stand in the way of your admission to law school.

Hi,
I was arrested last year for a charge that is considered a violation in the state of New York. I spoke to a lawyer that informed me that this is not considered a crime. My question is: when law schools ask about pending charges if they specifically state pending criminal charges, can I reply no?
A lot of applications seem to word it like: Have you ever been convicted of a crime or do you have any such charges pending other than a traffic violation? Can I technically say no to this question. The charges are due to be dismissed in December, but even if convicted I have researched that you would not even be considered to have a criminal record. I know that this is minor and you might say just disclose to be on the safe side. The problem with that is I have had a bunch of run ins with the law none resulting in convictions but these were all like 5 years ago, and then this happened within the last year. So I think it really amplifies what I had done previously. So I think it would be pretty damaging to my application if I have to put it.
Thanks

NY111,

Thank you for your post.

I assume from the title of your post - ACOD for Violation - that you received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACOC) for some criminal or civil charge. Without knowing what the violation is -- you did not include it in your post -- I will assume it was unlawful possession of marijuana, since that is the charge that most frequently comes up with ACOD issues in the context you provided.

In some states marijuana possession can be considered both a civil violation (the most minor level) or a criminal violations and would be considered like any other criminal charge. The classification of marijuana possession in states with both criminal and civil penalties is a wrinkle that is not really contemplated in the language of application disclosure questions.

Assuming you are charged with the lowest level - unlawful possession of marijuana - your answer should be determined by(1) the New York law and (2) the phrasing of the application questions.

If New York law does consider the lowest level of possession to be non-criminal (also called a "civil offense"), a question that inquires about "criminal" offenses or charges would not trigger disclosure. Before answering, though, you want to be absolutely sure of the classification of your case in NY, thus consulting with an attorney (more than one, if necessary) is a good idea.

The second issue is the phrasing of the question. If an application were to inquire about any "criminal or civil charges," or asked if you had any matter "pending in criminal court," that might be broad enough to require disclosure in your situation (assuming your ACOD was in a criminal court).

You noted in your question: "The charges are due to be dismissed in December, but even if convicted I have researched that you would not even be considered to have a criminal record." Do not confuse having a criminal record with the need to disclose. The absence of a criminal record does NOT mean that you are free to answer "no" to any disclosure question.

In short, you need to be diligent about reading each question carefully and knowing precisely how your case is classified in New York. Some applications might require disclosure; others may not. It will likely be a case-by-case answer.

One final thought: if your case does in fact involve marijuana possession, it is likely going to be viewed as a minor issue (especially if it doesn't even rise to the level of a criminal penalty in New York). If you are in doubt about whether to disclose, you should err on the side of disclosure to prevent problems down the line. Of course, if the previous charges you alluded to involved similar issues (narcotics violations), your most recent ACOD may be viewed differently.

My son plead guilty in a plea bargain arrangement to a felony charge of over $500.00 in md. for a drunken night out with friends two years ago. they broke into the neigbours house while they were away, and a couple more houses. he is on 5 years probation, spent some time jail because i refused to bail him out and I used what i had to find a lawyer, he wasn't much help, but it was my son's own fault for getting into the bind. He also has to pay $3,000 back in restitution.

This november 1 he has deadlines to turn in his application to transfer to a four year college from the community college he had attended since his release. he has a GPA of 3.82 and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa, jr college honor society. In short he has turned it around and curbed his drinking problem . Ths schools he is applying to include Emory, Wake forest, villanova and Univ. of Virgina. the coomon application asks the question about criminal past, he wants to be honest but is afraid, he desperately needs a full scholarship ride to atend these schools and can do the work. I read your adice to law school hopefuls and wondered if he should just be forthcoming and keep it real showing that he has moved on swiftly or just say no. he is up for reconsideration but i'm not sure if that would be done in time to affect his application. please help!

Hello,

When I was 15 or 16 i was caught shoplifting. i was taken to the police station where i waited for my mother to pick me up. i was told to write a letter to the police officer apologizing and stating what i had learned from the experience, etc. Six months later, we received a letter from the store requesting money which we payed. Bottom line, i was never convicted, I never signed any documentation, i was not finger printed... but i was arrested. Should I report this on my law school applications?

thank you for your help!

I made a big mistake about a month ago, and I'm in the process of applying to law school. I was charged with misdemeanor larceny for stealing a text book from the campus bookstore. The school has placed me on probation for the minimum sentence of 60 days.
I quickly handled the misdemeanor charges by talking with the DA, doing the 24hr community service and the charges are now dismissed.(all within a month) This was a big mistake, and completely out of character. With a month away from turning in my applications, I'm going back and writing an addendum to explain myself. The DA understands my regret and has agreed to right a recommendation letter for me despite my recent incident.
Will this help?
I've been told to take a year off, but I don't want to, I know I want to go to law school. I'm just hoping this mistake won't bar me from admissions?

I am going to be taking the New York State Bar this February. In the past two Months I have been the victim of Domestic Violance twice. Unfortinatley, my ex was injured over seas and since has a traumatic brain injury as well as PTSD. He has problem blacking out and then flipping out. Regardless as I said he is my ex. Despite me not wanting charges pressed the State has decided to go forward with both cases. I am extremely worried this will effect me passing the character and fitness requirements for the New York State Bar. Please give me any insight you may have about my situation. Also, should I be notifying my school as to these new contacts?

Hello,

I am in the process of applying to law schools and have come across the the "disclosure" question on several applications. The wording on each application is different and will most likely need to be addressed or not addressed accordingly. I have two concerns regarding my criminal history.

First I will describe my most recent situation. This year I was involved in an altercation where I used self defense to break up a fight. I was not arrested but was issued a violation and summons for disorderly conduct in New York City. I received an ACD and my six month window has now passed without any problems. Since the charges are dropped, do I have to disclose this on my law school application? Since these charges have been dropped are they still considered a charge at all? This question being important for the broader disclosure questions. Regardless, from what I understand this should not make or break my acceptance to law school or the Bar.

Second is a more complicated issue. When I was 18, ten years ago, I was caught with a small amount of marijuana and a pipe. I left these two items in a friends car and he ended up getting pulled over. He told the police that the items belonged to me and was relived of responsibility. I was called by that police officer to pick up where my friend left off. As they did belong to me, I agreed to meet the officer at the police station a few days later to discuss. In the end I cooperated with police to aid in the arrest of a drug dealer. For doing so I received no punishment. I never received a ticket or went to court or was technically arrested. This was several years ago and the fine points of the situation have faded over time. On a weaker note, I feel I was taken advantage of by police officers who used scare tactics on someone who didn't know better. I am older now and definitely take responsibility for my actions. I was young, immature and had no legal advice. My main concern is where this issue stands on my criminal background. I have passed several in depth background checks in the past without issue. With this limited amount information, do you think I should disclose on my application? More importantly, how do I acquire the paperwork to figure out if this is even on my record?

Time is running short and I'm sweating the details on this. Several years have passed since then and I'm now an honest and hardworking member of society. I have no problem facing the music. I just need to know how to get the information needed to address the situation properly.

Any insight into the above would be greatly appreciated.

Hello, I am an honors student finishing up my English degree in Florida. I have off and on been considering a career in law (paralegal, attorney, etc.) but am unsure if an event that happened last year would disqualify me from consideration altogether.

My sibling and I were involved in a very heated verbal argument that turned into a push/shove incident. Afraid of things escalating further, I called law enforcement to "calm things down." I was simply hoping cooler heads than ours would prevail and that we would be separated and that would be it. I did not know about the process that naturally comes after in a "domestic violence" situation.

The Sheriff's office reported the incident as "Misdemeanor Simple Battery Domestic," claiming both of us as victims and offenders (mutual fight?). Criminal Report Affidavits were made on each of us for simple battery on the other, but neither of us was arrested. The case was direct filed to the State Attorney, where the case quickly became a "no file." No formal charge was ever filed against either of us.

I spoke to a lawyer and we were both told that we were never "arrested, charged, or convicted." I even paid to have the report and any related documentation expunged. Still, this seems like a serious incident, and it is definitely something I would need to disclose. However, I now believe in light of the whole event that I should simply not consider a career in law anymore.

Would I still have a chance of being accepted into a law school or have a realistic shot at a job in law after that? I have had absolutely no other brush with the law whatsoever and expect not to again. If nothing else, this was a big lesson learned on what "civility" means - something I should have learned and applied a long time ago.