Law from both sides of the bench
June 11, 2007 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Law student background check question (disturbing the peace, etc.)

I just finished my first year of law school, and am working for a judge for the summer. This past weekend I was cited for indecent exposure (even though I was wearing shorts; once the cops detained us everyone threw on clothes while they waited so the cops just cited everyone; when I protested the reply was "deal with it in court") and disturbing the peace while participating in Naked Bike Day. I (somewhat foolishly, I suppose) reasoned to myself that since I wasn't exposing myself I wouldn't be cited. Silly me.

Since I can prove that I was wearing clothes the whole time, I'm not terribly worried about the exposure charge sticking. Likewise, I don't think they have much of a case on disturbing the peace, but it could be arguable.

On to the heart of the matter: how should I handle all of this? As of now, my plan is to make them drop the exposure charges. Should I pay the $100+ filing fee to have the record sealed? Furthermore, should I accept a deferred judgment/prosecution on the disturbing the peace, or make them go to trial?

Finally, how will employers look on this? One career path I've been considering is working as a federal prosecutor.
posted by craven_morhead to Law & Government (12 answers total)
On your bar application, they will specifically ask you to reveal any crimes which you've been convicted of, regardless of whether or not they have been sealed/expunged/whatever.
posted by falconred at 1:19 PM on June 11, 2007

Response by poster: As far as I can tell, these won't be a big issue for the bar; they'll have to be explained, but I know of a number of people who have gotten convicted for DUI's, etc. and been admitted.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2007

On the plus side, Naked Bike Day is a pretty funny offense to have on your record.
posted by footnote at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2007

Fight it with a lawyer. It will be worth the money, especially to get rid of the indecent exposure charge; that one could potentially cause some difficulty.
posted by caddis at 2:40 PM on June 11, 2007

If the courts where you live are anything like the ones where I live, you'll have several options:

(1) Hire a good attorney who knows the prosecutors and will be able to persuade them to enter a nolle prosequi (formal declaration of no further prosecution, upon which the court will dismiss the charges).
(2) Plead guilty, pay a fine, have it on the record for the rest of your life.
(3) Plead guilty, go into a diversion program for first-time offenders, and get it off your record or get the record sealed (but still have to admit to the licensing committee that you pled guilty to a crime).
(4) Take it to trial, and take your chances about whether you will be acquitted or convicted, and if convicted, the sentencing will be up to the judge.

Obviously, option (1) is the best. To have the best shot at option (1) happening, you need to find a good attorney who does a lot of criminal law. There are lots of excellent, high-paid civil lawyers who wouldn't be able to find the entrance of the criminal courthouse, much less know which prosecutor to talk to in order to get a nolle prosse.

And be sure to spend the money necessary to hire a GOOD criminal attorney. Don't just hire some courthouse shyster, whose objective it will be to plead you out quickly so they can move onto their next case.

A good attorney will have the relationship with the prosecutors, knowledge of the judges, and savvy to get the thing nolle prossed so that you never have to admit to a conviction, because there will not be one.

(I am an attorney and I do a lot of criminal law; if you were in my city, I feel confident that I'd be able to get the prosecutors to agree to a nolle prosequi, perhaps with you paying the court costs as a nominal "punishment.")
posted by jayder at 3:14 PM on June 11, 2007

... and the other cool thing about hiring a good attorney is that you don't have to turn to a bunch of random strangers on the internet for legal advice. :)
posted by jayder at 3:21 PM on June 11, 2007

Things very from state. First off, IAAL, but IANYL. That said, you have a citation not a conviction. Typically you are only asked to report convictions so you really want this charge dismissed such that it becomes invisible.

If you have rock solid grades and references, employers will likely let this one thing pass. However, there are plenty of conservative folks in law who will view such a conviction as a sign that you have poor social judgment and they will hire another similarly qualified candidate instead.

As for government jobs (and bar membership), the background checks are typically for crimes of "moral turpitude" which amounts to dishonesty. However, all public records will be revealed and it could be embarrassing for you when your judge or supervising attorney sees that.
posted by GIRLesq at 4:41 PM on June 11, 2007

As mentioned above, this varies state by state. But a friend of mine had a run-in with the police in his state with similar charges (disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct) and he was able to lawyer-up and the conclusion was that he had to do a miniscule number of hours of community service, and the charge was technically dropped once those hours were completed. Thus, no conviction, a full expungement of records--with the exception of inquiry by Federal Agencies, who can still find the police records--and the ability to say on a job application, bar application, whatever, that he had never committed a crime without purjuring himself.
posted by jckll at 7:49 PM on June 11, 2007

You definitely need to get a criminal attorney. Any type of charge that has any sort of potential sexual aspect to it is always harder to explain in your fitness interview than the standard underage drinking "I got busted standing over the keg" story. Those stories add character. Indecent exposure can be creepy if not explained.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:49 PM on June 11, 2007

Plus, with a lawyer, the prosecutor might nolle it as professional courtesy.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:51 PM on June 11, 2007

Good advice already. IAAL, IANYL, you need a lawyer, etc.

Whatever you day, comply to the letter with the rules of your law school and the bar or bars to which you apply. And make sure that you understand the implications of the adjudication of the charge and what it means you have to report.
posted by jcwagner at 8:35 AM on June 12, 2007

It also might be worth calling your dean of students or equivalent and asking him/her about this. S/he can tell you about implications for Bar admission and employment. S/he might be even able to recommend a lawyer who has helped law students in similar situations in the past.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:05 AM on June 12, 2007

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