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Responding to Arrest Questions on Law School Apps

Discussion in 'Law School & Careers in Law' started by LibraLaw, Jan 4, 2020.

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  1. LibraLaw

    LibraLaw Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
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    I am noticing that in the character & fitness portions of some law school applications, they ask if you've ever been arrested, even if the case was dismissed, expunged, or records sealed.

    I had an arrest incident in California that was exceptionally unjust. I pled not guilty, did a diversion program, and the entire thing got dismissed. This was 6 years ago. I just found out last year that I could also get my arrest record sealed/destroyed, so I did that and the order was granted just last month.

    Specifically, the order states: "The Court finds that the Petitioner is entitled to have the following arrest sealed as a matter of right because no conviction occurred and Petitioner satisfied the requirement of Penal Code Section 1001.9."

    So as a result of my naturally inquisitive nature that leaves no detail uninspected, I looked up what that section states, and here it is in its entirety (the bold sentences are emphasized by me):

    "(a) Any record filed with the Department of Justice shall indicate the disposition in those cases diverted pursuant to this chapter. Upon successful completion of a diversion program, the arrest upon which the diversion was based shall be deemed to have never occurred and the court may issue an order to seal the records pertaining to the arrest as described in Section 851.92. The divertee may indicate in response to any question concerning his or her prior criminal record that he or she was not arrested or diverted for the offense, except as specified in subdivision (b). A record pertaining to an arrest resulting in successful completion of a diversion program shall not, without the divertee’s consent, be used in any way that could result in the denial of any employment, benefit, license, or certificate.

    (b) The divertee shall be advised that, regardless of his or her successful completion of diversion, the arrest upon which the diversion was based may be disclosed by the Department of Justice in response to any peace officer application request and that, notwithstanding subdivision (a), this section does not relieve him or her of the obligation to disclose the arrest in response to any direct question contained in any questionnaire or application for a position as a peace officer, as defined in Section 830."

    Take a nice, long look at those bold sentences. The arrest has been deemed to never have occurred. More importantly, in response to ANY question concerning a prior criminal record (logically, this means INCLUDING QUESTIONS POSED BY ANY AND ALL LAW SCHOOLS ABOUT PRIOR ARRESTS), I can indicate that I was never arrested, with the ONLY exception being if I'm applying for a peace officer position (certain county/state jobs). Good thing that lawyers are not peace officers, huh? Officers of the court and peace officers are two different things.

    As a result, I will refuse to say on my law school applications that I was ever arrested. Law schools are NOT the law. They don't make the law, they don't interpret the law like a judge, and they certainly don't render legally binding verdicts. All they do is TEACH the law. The California Penal Code is law, not the law school, and if it says I don't have to respond to ANY questions concerning my arrest, then I absolutely will not. In a case like mine here, I think the "even if the records are sealed" phrase on law school apps is a psychological ploy to make me feel guilty that I'd be lying, or to make me think that this would come back to haunt me later on. Little do they know that I actually have the real deal law on my side, and I can outright say that I was never arrested. If they happen to discover this arrest for whatever reason down the road and say that I wasn't truthful, well my dear law school admins, there's a law here that actually states I do not have to be truthful :)

    I'm not sure if prospective law students are that keen to do research like this before answering application questions, but this is a tell-tale sign of somebody (me) who belongs in law school.
     
  2. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Are you applying to law schools within the state of California?
     
  3. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    One of the things you will learn in law school is that state laws only have effect within that state. So you could in an application to a law school in California rely on the statute and answer that you've not been arrested. But schools outside of California are not subject to the California law. So you may indeed have a problem if you answer no in an application to a law school outside of California.
     
    hrforme likes this.
  4. LibraLaw

    LibraLaw Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I am not sure if that's correct, and I highly doubt I will have a problem. Since the incident occurred in California, it falls under California's jurisdiction and its rules, laws, etc. Those are binding on my (now former and long-dead) case. There's no question that I'm absolutely safe in answering a resounding No to arrest questions on law school applications in California, this goes without saying. And of course law schools outside of CA are not bound by CA state law, but my incident/arrest absolutely is, and that law applies to my arrest and everything associated with it.

    When I think about applying to law schools in other states, I still think the CA penal code law holds because the arrest and the incident resulting in an arrest both occurred in CA. Does the "long-arm of the law" apply to other states as well? I'm not sure...

    But I do have a plan of attack for applying to law schools other than CA when it comes to answering this arrest question. Ultimately, I know for a fact that I'll never report it to any law school on this earth because the arrest just can't be located anywhere..no record, no file, etc. I have absolutely no clue why law schools would ask about arrests, even if records were sealed and destroyed. If they're destroyed, how can they find out anyway? Common sense dictates if they can't find out whatsoever, why report that you were ever arrested? Total hogwash.

    From what I've researched, the only way to unseal an arrest record (IF it's even discovered) is to get a formal court order to do it, and I imagine you would have to have just cause to do so (possibly with my authorization). Do you really think that a sealed record could be reopened just because law schools have a "suspicion" that a candidate is lying or not being truthful? Please... no way, no how.

    But even though I'll still be answering no across the board, because I'm legally entitled to do so, I'll research the penal codes of the state(s) where I'll be applying. I'll look at their process of sealing arrest records and if the consequences are similar to CA's code. If they are indeed alike, then that further bolsters my decision to answer no on the arrest question.
     
  5. justblue

    justblue Well-Known Member

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    Tax Counsel is an attorney.
     
  6. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    If your application is rejected you may not be given a clear answer why. The best thing you can do is answer honestly.
    It would not hurt to contact the school and ask them about the situation for guidance.

    While you are right about the school's role to teach, you are forgetting their duty to determine you are qualified to obtain the certificates you seek.
     
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  7. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    You are entitled in CA to answer no because schools in CA could not take adverse consequences against you for the answer. But schools in other states cannot be brought before a California court should they take action against you for the lie and the courts of their own states will not apply CA law. They will apply their own law. Now if the law of that state would also help you then you are good, but you'd need to look at the laws of each state to work through that.

    The part of your plan that suggests you are willing to lie so long as you think you'd not get caught is more troubling. That kind of mindset is exactly what the legal profession does NOT need.

    By the way, answering yes to that question on most law school applications will not automatically disqualify you from getting admitted. The details of the alleged offense matter and how long ago it occurred. If the offense was very minor, did not hurt others, and does not reflect on your ability to be truthful it's not likely to be a problem. So what were the circumstances here? You are likely better off in those non CA schools just disclosing it and showing you are an honest person than trying to hide it and not get caught, assuming that the particular state law does not give you the pass to answer no.
     
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  8. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    I've known several people who graduated from law schools, yet were unable to sit for the bar exam once their criminal records were revealed.

    Getting into law school isn't hard these days.

    Graduating isn't easy, even tough many do scrape by.

    The undoing of many occur once they've been denied admission to take the state bar exam.

    Most of those people denied admission to sit for the bar exam often end up using their JD as one might use their MBA.


    Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 (KJV)
     
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  9. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    The one thing I didn't see in that long post is a question (other than the rhetorical "huh?"). Do you have one?
     

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