Student Legal Service warns of hidden costs of police record

Seth Woerhle

Most risks of a night of drinking, such as vomit-stained pants or a minor consumption ticket, are well-known. But the University’s Student Legal Service office is concerned many students aren’t familiar with some potential long-term consequences of minor arrests.

If a student is charged with a misdemeanor such as minor consumption or noisy assembly, pays the fine and goes on with their life, they might be surprised when they have trouble applying for medical or law schools, says Student Legal Service director Linda Aaker.

“What we do is explain to them that what looks fine in the short run in the long term will have costly effects,” Aaker said. “They should contest it and negotiate a more appropriate outcome.”

Student Legal Service charges $75 to represent students on petty misdemeanor charges, according to Aaker. She said she has seen students representing themselves and did not recommend it.

Adam Baso, a fourth-year information systems management student, was arrested by Minneapolis police Sept. 15 for obstructing the legal process.

The Daily featured a story on his arrest Sept. 17.

Baso’s case was dismissed a couple weeks later after he hired an attorney for $1,000. Although the fine was between $100 and $200, Baso said the legal fees were worth a clean record.

“I never even considered just pleading guilty and paying the fine because I knew I didn’t violate any law,” Baso said, adding that while he is still deciding his career, he might enroll in law or business graduate school.

Collins Byrd, the University’s Law School director of admissions, said every application is taken on a case-by-case basis, and while being convicted of a misdemeanor would not disqualify a prospective student, they’d have to make up for the blemish in other areas.

“The admissions committee at this school tends to be a bit forgiving,” Byrd said. “But if you have a so-so academic record or a so-so nonacademic record and this legal issue is in your file, they’re going to ask some questions and have some hesitations.”

The Law School does not conduct background checks of applicants but instead relies on students’ self-reporting on the application.

But Byrd said bar examiners would conduct background checks on students taking the bar exam, and any discrepancies between a law school application and a criminal record might prohibit a student from taking the exam.

The University’s Medical School operates under similar rules. Students must self-report on their applications, which the school examines individually, but the actual background checks are conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health, according to Helene Horwitz, associate dean of the Medical School’s department for student affairs.

Background checks are required of many heath professionals, including doctors and acupuncturists, as part of their licensing every year. The state also looks at licensing applications individually.

The University’s Graduate School doesn’t take criminal history into account at all when looking at applicants, according to Graduate School director of admissions Andrea Scott.

Baso said he worries that even the dismissed charges on his record will keep him from his dream job as a computer analyst at the National Security Agency or FBI. Even though his legal fees amounted to 10 times the amount of the fine, he said contesting the charge was worth it in the long run and recommends negotiation to other students.

“It’s pretty clear that a person should seek an attorney right away,” Baso said. “That’s usually the best avenue. They might even want to run their own background check to see if anything comes up.”

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]