Help me get over a Class C Misdemeanor
November 14, 2007 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I convince myself that my career options aren't completely limited due to a single arrest for a Class C misdemeanor nearly four years ago?

Nearly four years ago, I was arrested outside of a suburban bar for public intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor in my state. It was one of those stupid stings where cops just sit outside the bar and monitor people coming out. I was far from hammered, but was targeted for questioning due to the fact that I was leaving alone and walking to my car around 11 PM on a Saturday night.

I was submitted to a field-sobriety test, which I thought I passed (but they didn't say anything about) and then asked if I wanted to blow into a breathalyzer. I refused, knowing that I was over the legal limit of .08 (not by much, but I knew I was over). I was then promptly arrested and hauled to the town's small jail for the night.

The following morning I was given the option of a future trial or immediate plea. I pleaded "No Contest" and was simply given a fine (which I paid in the required thirty-day limit) and released.

I've no idea if my current employer at the time was ever notified. If they were, they never said anything to me. A year later, I was laid off in a round of position cuts. Since then, I've been self-employed, but for a multitude of reasons, I'm ready to get my career back on track.

However, I have this ever-present doubt in my head that any potential employer is going to see this arrest on a background check and immediately chunk my resume into the recycle-bin, especially if it's a competitive position and there are a lot of people applying. I also dwell on the thought that many employers these days are doing extremely thorough background screenings for potential employees and any ding on my record would automatically disqualify me without so much as a "sorry". It significantly haunts me and completely kills my confidence to the point that I don't even see the point in applying.

How can I shake this out of my head? How common are situations like mine, and how do people move on? Am I completely over-thinking a plate of beans here?

I know realize that I probably could've taken some steps somewhere in this whole process that would've dealt with the situation better, but it all happened very suddenly and I was very, very scared and humiliated. I still haven't told my parents about this and very few of my friends know. Plus, like I said, this was nearly four years ago and what's done is done.

Other possibly pertinent info -- I've got a bachelor's degree in a very generic field. I'm not looking to land a job with the Feds or anything -- ideally I'd like to find something in the non-profit world, but I've not worked in that field before.

Sorry for the length, but I wanted to be thorough. Throwaway e-mail is Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total)
I'm not a lawyer but while I've seen employers ask if I've been convicted of a felony, I've never had one ask about misdemeanor citations. As I understand it that's in the same neighborhood as a speeding ticket. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by frieze at 9:49 AM on November 14, 2007

There is a very short answer to this question: If an employer actually does a background check on you and rejects you for such an arrest, you don't want to work for that company.

(As an anecdote about the Feds, you could very easily obtain even the highest security clearances if that's all that you've ever done).
posted by saeculorum at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2007

I agree with the others in saying that's such a minor thing it's unlikely to be a problem, but since your own peace of mind seems to be the issue here, you can always do a criminal background check on yourself to see what turns up.

Call your local police station's information line and ask how you go about doing a criminal check on a potential employee. There's probably a form, a small fee, and a waiting period. You don't need to tell them it's you. :)
posted by rokusan at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2007

I don't know any nonprofits who do background checks unless the employee is working directly with children or in patient-care.

All those articles about those super-thorough background screenings seem to assume that companies can justify this expense. They often do not.

And even if it were to become known to a potential employer, this is not the thing that gets resumes dumped. Unexplained gaps in your resume, quitting "for personal reasons", and asking for way too much money are much better ways to get your resume dumped.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 AM on November 14, 2007

How can I shake this out of my head? How common are situations like mine, and how do people move on? Am I completely over-thinking a plate of beans here?

Are you looking for a way out of applying for a job?

You really have little chance of ever having a job if you never apply for one. If you actually apply for one, you may be refused or you may get the job.

The artihmetic should be pretty simple. Given the choice of not having a chance at any jobs (not applying) or having a chance at a job (applying and taking the risk of being refused, for this or other reasons), if I am looking for a job the choice is pretty obvious. You may not like that you may be refused because of some minor infraction 4 years before, but just giving up without trying is simply not going to help you in any way.
posted by splice at 10:06 AM on November 14, 2007

i don't think you have to report misdemeanors when you apply for a job, anyway. they're usually just concerned with felonies. i've applied for a lot of jobs and never been asked about misdimeanors.

it might hurt your job chances if you apply to work for, oh, the baptist sunday school board. but otherwise, i would just learn from the lesson and move on.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2007

What convince? Your doors haven't been closed. People move on by applying for jobs.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:24 AM on November 14, 2007

Anecdotal, but relevant.

I have a small number of arrests on my background check - several for unpaid tickets, two for assault. (No convictions on the assault, it was revenge-accusations from an ex, but the tickets were my own damn fault, and after getting my head out of my ass, I paid the fines)

They still show on my background, ten years later, and despite a pretty annoyingly extensive background check, I am working for a large financial company in their IT dept - HR knows about my background, I had to write some explanatory paragraphs, felt pretty embarassed about the whole thing, but you know what?

I got the job. No one knows besides HR about what went on.

You'll be fine.

In addition - if you lawyer up, and have a clean record, you may be able to get it expunged. It's a small possibility, I don't know how to do it -per se-, I've just been told several times that the possibility does exist.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:33 AM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Someone once gave me some very useful advice that I think applies here despite the situations being very disimilar. He said, "Imagine for a moment that you're not the first person this has every happened to."

And of course, I sputtered and said, "What, are you kidding? Of course I'm not the first person this has ever happened to."

And he, sage man that he was, said, "Exactly."

Now, whenever I get myself into one of those stupid, sorta bureaucratic situations that I can't see any solution to, I think about that and remember that other people have been through the same thing in the past. And they're not all unemployed bums because they happened to walk out of a bar.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:34 AM on November 14, 2007 [4 favorites]

Situations like yours are super common. You are worrying over nothing. You have a fine explanation, should the need ever come up. Try telling more people in your life about it. You will notice that they don't react with a dropped jaw, because it isn't a big deal. You just need to get used to it. And listen, I have the same problem, but worse, less excusable and multipled by two, and I've been gainfully employed in the time since the conviction.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2007

i haven't previewed, but in my work as an executive recruiter, i've encountered some candidates with similar issues in their past, and have never had that cause a problem as long as the candidate told me about it, and i explained in to the employer prior to a background check. i imagine the same thing would hold true for you representing yourself to possible employers. everyone makes mistakes and i doubt that you'll encounter prejudice if you're qualified for the job, and are upfront about the situation once you get to job offer/background check stage. don't lie about it on your application, if you have to fill one out too (in my field, that frequently doesn't happen till mid-interview process).
posted by Soulbee at 1:11 PM on November 14, 2007

First off, take it off your cover letter.

Second, relax.

Third, apply for the jobs because no one gets turned down just for this.
posted by klangklangston at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2007

There would be a lot fewer employed people cants if everyone who was convicted of a misdemeanor lost out on jobs just because of that. A lot of young people have a misdemeanor or even two on their records.

FWIW, I had to submit to a credit check at a former job. The HR director told me, "Don't worry if you have a criminal background. Lots of our employees have major felonies on their records (!!!) and we just want to know if you're trustworthy with money." At that job, it was fine if you murdered someone, but they'd never hire an embezzler. Public intoxication is pretty damn small potatoes. If you were a politician, a misdemeanor charge incurred in your youth would hardly get a passing mention in the papers.

At another job, I had a background check because I would be working at a school administrative office - I would hardly ever see a kid, but they had to cover their behinds.

Most companies are not going to give you a "thorough background check" unless you work with kids, handling money, or need a high-level security clearance. Even then, mostly what they are looking for is evidence you won't steal money or diddle kids.

So go forth and apply for any and all jobs you are interested in.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:22 PM on November 14, 2007

Ack. Fewer employed people.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:23 PM on November 14, 2007

Here's a fun anecdote: When you've done something wrong in my community, especially if you've done it more than once, the prosecutor will charge you with *all* the recent unsolved whatevers in the community. My case in point? I received some stolen property in my freshman year of college. That became an arrest for 30 felony counts of breaking and entering. I wasn't convicted of anything LIKE that, but 30 counts still show up. My background check takes about 4 pages to review.

I've worked in behavioral healthcare, social service, and with children for 10 years, and they've all done background checks. Of course, I wouldn't want to work for a place that wouldn't hire someone with the same back story.
posted by TomMelee at 5:27 PM on November 14, 2007

I have a friend who got a DUI a few years ago under the infamous DC zero tolerance stuff. She later interviewed for a job in an educational program, and admitted to it. Evidently, two of the interviewers also had DUIs on their record, and it wasn't a big deal at all.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:00 AM on November 15, 2007

IANAL and I don't know what state you're talking about, but four years sounds just about right for seeking expunction. If you've proven yourself to be an upright citizen since then, they will seal your record. Lots of people have little blips on their record and have no trouble getting employment, but you never know when it will pop up so expunction might give you some peace of mind. As far as lawyer-y things, this is a really straight forward process (You might not even need a lawyer.) and shouldn't cost too much. There might even be non-profits that help with the costs. You might start by googling, "expungement help" and your state.
posted by Skwirl at 10:48 AM on November 15, 2007

I work for a company that is very difficult to get a job with, and they overlook felony marijuana convictions. Lots of folks won't pay the least attention to this.
posted by jewzilla at 9:21 PM on November 24, 2007

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