Misdemeanors affect job prospects, study shows

In a weak job market, minor arrests may mean the difference between getting the job or not.

The U.S. Department of Justice released a report in June 2012 relating the conviction of college students for misdemeanor crimes and the resulting obstacles when trying to find employment.

According to Amy L. Solomon, author of the study and senior advisor to the assistant attorney general in the Office of Justice Programs, the study shows that one third of American adults have been arrested by age 23.

Jim Henderson, the associate director of employer relations at Virginia Tech, discussed how misdemeanor offenses can change the application and interviewing process.

“I really want to emphasize that the student has to be completely honest,” Henderson said. “What gets the students in trouble more often than the actual offense is trying to hide the offense.”

Henderson also noted that students will get job offers, but when the employers conduct background checks, they show legal offenses that were not on the application.

That situation can cause an issue with ethics and integrity. The offense may not have prevented the students from getting the job, but can be revoked if an employer learns that they did not disclose that offense.

“If a student has an underage drinking offense, or a drunk in public offense, typically the employer will not care about that,” Henderson said. “If the student has multiple offenses, however, employers are going to care a lot about that.”

According to the National HIRE Network, which helps individuals with criminal records enter the work force, a job applicant could be highly qualified, but a conviction history may make the applicant appear to be more of a liability rather than an asset, regardless of whether the crimes are misdemeanors or felonies.

According to the United States Attorney’s Office, any criminal offense punishable by imprisonment for a term of less than one year is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor that carries a penalty of imprisonment for less than six months, a fine of less than$500 or both, is considered a petty offense.

To clarify the difference between misdemeanor crimes and felony crimes, the U.S. Department of Justice defined what distinguishes one crime from the other through a list of examples.

Misdemeanors include offenses such as minor assaults, simple possession of controlled substances, some tax law violations, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication, indecent exposure and other offenses.

In some cases, those charged with an offense have the option of expunging it. Doing so completely eliminates the offense from an individual's record, however it takes a few months to process.

A sophomore Virginia Tech student, who preferred to remain anonymous, decided to expunge his offenses for being drunk in public and underage possession of alcohol to prevent any problems with employers in the future.

"(I'm expunging it) just to have it completely cleared off and be able to have a clean slate still and so jobs won't see it," he said.

One of the most important messages that Henderson emphasized is that employers want to make sure that the legal offenses are no longer taking place and that the student grew from the experience and changed their behavior.

“Students should expect questions about the offenses in an interview, and they need to make sure they have a good explanation of what took place, and what they learned from that experience,” Henderson said.