The toughest part of a license application is often not the test you had to pass, or the extensive experience information you have to list, but instead is the answer to one simple question: Have you been convicted of a crime? Actually, this is not really the question the board, bureau, department or agency is asking. The real question is: Are you a person we can trust with this license? I will explain.
First, a detour to Costco. Yes, that warehouse membership store you belong to. Everyone has seen Costco store security, or, I should say, what they think is store security. A barely interested employee standing at the exit glances at your cart and puts a highlighter mark (and sometimes a happy face for the kids) on your receipt. Considering how laughable this security seems, thousands of people brazenly attempt to steal from Costco each year. At that point, they find out (the hard way) that Costco has a very sophisticated and agressive loss prevention team, which has nothing to do with the folks at the door with the green highlighters.
Back to licensing agencies. When an applicant is asked, "Have you been convicted of a crime?," if we assume that this question is the sole source of information for the agency, this is like assuming that Costco’s loss prevention is the bored guy at the door. The truth is, the agency will run California Department of Justice and FBI background checks to scour the applicant’s background for arrests, indictments, and convictions, even from 20 years ago, even in other states, even for a DUI the applicant got when she was 18. So then, back to my "real question" point – why does the agency even ask?
This a major part of the "real reason" can be explained in two ways. One way of looking at it is the agency is giving the applicant a chance to "come clean" with the agency. Another way of looking at it (and, in my view, the key) is this is a test of the applicant’s honesty. If the individual with a criminal record answers "no," then even if they swindled their boss 15 years ago, it is not ancient history, because the applicant is still a dishonest person, according to fresh evidence – their license application – sporting a lie told in 2009. Of course, there is a chance that the licensee will inadvertently lead the agency to a deeply hidden or obscure conviction by disclosure – but guess what? – if the agency can’t prove the conviction (usually true if they can’t find it) they probably can’t use it against the applicant.
Finally, there is the issue of dismissed convictions. Many people are running around thinking they have a "dismissal" or an "expungement" or that the judge himself ran their record through the shredder. At least in California, this is rarely the case. If an applicant hides what they believe is a "dismissed" conviction and it turns out they are wrong, again, they may be seen as lying. All in all, it is best to only put "no" if a license law attorney with extensive criminal defense experience (like me) reviews the criminal case records and the application side-by-side and declares the disposition of the criminal case a non-disclosable event. Otherwise, get ready to meet loss prevention – getting past the guy at the door really didn’t mean anything after all.