Answering Criminal History Related Questions for Job and College Applications

One issue that people who have experienced a run-in with the law tend to encounter is how to honestly answer a job or college application.  For the purposes of this article we are addressing run-ins with the law in Georgia after an individual turns 17 years old.  Understanding how to answer the common questions requires the person to understand what happened with their particular case in two categories: 1) how was the person was charged; and 2) what were the results of those charges.

How the person was charged typically falls in to one of two categories.  Either the person received a citation/ticket or the person was arrested.

Understanding what happened to a case is usually the most confusing part of this process.  The result of the case usually falls in to one of the following categories: the case was dismissed or nolle prossed; the person was convicted of a misdemeanor; the person was convicted of a felony; the person was sentenced to a misdemeanor or felony under Georgia’s First Offender Act or Conditional Discharge.

The common questions that people see on job or college applications ask some combination of the following questions:

  • Have you ever been charged with a crime?
  • Have you ever been arrested for a crime?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
  • Have you ever plead guilty to a crime under first offender?

If the question asks if the person has been charged with a crime, then receiving a citation or ticket, as well as having been arrested, would require a “yes.”  If the question asks if the person has ever been arrested, then the answer would only be “yes,” if the person has been arrested.

The next set of questions is usually the more complicated set.  Understanding whether someone was convicted of the crime or not, is probably the most important part of the question.  This is followed by whether the conviction was to a misdemeanor or felony, and whether that conviction was under Georgia’s First Offender Act or Conditional Discharge Statute.

When determining whether someone was convicted or not, do not confuse what the person had to do to resolve the case with whether there was a conviction.  In some instances, a person may have gone in front of a judge, admitted to the crime, completed community service work, attended classes, and even reported to a probation officer, but their case was ultimately dismissed.  Never assume a case resulted in a conviction, when unsure.  Not understanding the difference between the dismissal and conviction could disqualify a person for a job, which they may not be disqualified from.

If the conclusion is that the person has been convicted of a crime, understanding whether that conviction is for a misdemeanor or a felony is important.  Sometimes people are arrested for felonies, but they later are convicted of misdemeanors.  Some charges even have different versions that are misdemeanors and felonies.  Asking your attorney is usually the best way to know whether your conviction was for a misdemeanor or a felony.

Some sentences are entered under Georgia’s First Offender Act or Conditional Discharge Statute, which is like First Offender, but it is for drug related cases.  If the person was sentenced under either of these provisions, and the sentence has not been revoked, then that person has not been convicted of a crime in that case, and can answer “no” regarding that case to questions asking about a conviction.  However, if the question asks if the person has plead guilty or been sentenced under the First Offender Act or Conditional Discharge, and this was the case, then the answer would be “yes.”

Please note that this article does not intend to address what an employer can legally ask or consider, which is really the topic of an employment law article.  This is intended to assist an individual in understanding his or her own criminal history, to honestly and accurately answer questions that may be asked.  When unsure of how to answer a question honestly for a job or college application, contact an attorney who can review the case and the application question to ensure an accurate response.  It is not worth having a person’s future held back by incorrectly answering one question.

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