As a criminal defense attorney representing students from Penn State and other schools, I must always consider collateral consequences for convictions when determining the best course of action in a given case. It is never good to be charged with a crime as a college student, but when it comes to collateral consequences for conviction, not all majors are created equally. In some professions, a criminal conviction will merely hurt your chances of getting a job, while a conviction will serve as an absolute bar to employment in certain other professions.
Because teachers serve as role models for children, education majors are more adversely affected by criminal charges than students in any other major. First of all, you must pass a criminal background check before you can do pre-student teaching during your junior year. This means that even if you have received ARD for a misdemeanor charge like DUI or small amount of marijuana, you will not pass the background check until the charges are dismissed and expunged from your record. Even if you manage to get an early termination of ARD, it is still going to be months before your record is clean. This means that you might not graduate on schedule, or you might even have to switch majors.
The consequences for summary offense convictions are far more severe for education majors than for other students. For most students entering the workforce, a summary offense conviction is a “negative differentiator” as opposed to a bar to employment. In other words, if five, equally-qualified people are considered for a position, and only one has a conviction for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, the applicant with the record will be the first one eliminated, however, if the employer likes the applicant enough, he could still get the job. This is not so for newly minted teachers. America’s public schools were ground zero for the “Just Say No” campaign, and many school districts have had “zero tolerance” policies for drug and alcohol-related offenses since the 1980s. Thus, if a “zero tolerance” school district discovers a public drunkenness charge on your record, you are not going to get the job. Likewise, almost all school districts have had “moral turpitude” policies for decades. This means that a conviction for even a minor summary offense like disorderly conduct could be a bar to employment.
If you face criminal charges, even if they are just summary offenses, it is important to consult with an experienced, criminal defense attorney right away. Often times, we can resolve your case without a conviction, and then expunge the charge from your record. If you wait until after you have been convicted, it is far more difficult for an attorney to help you, if the attorney can even help you at all at that point.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney and Penn State alumnus in State College, PA. His father is a retired elementary school principal and current adjunct professor at Penn State, and his mother is a retired social studies teacher. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Concerns-for-Penn-State-Students.shtml