By far the number one question we get in our law offices is about the disclosure of criminal convictions on license applications and license renewal forms. Some people see themselves facing the choice of whether to be honest and disclose, almost certainly triggering a license problem, as opposed to lying to possibly get away with it but risking an even more severe license penalty if they are caught lying. For other individuals, it is not whether to answer yes or no, but rather how they should explain what happened.
Going to the first issue, when we are asked whether one should disclose a conviction, the answer is almost always yes. A relatively minor criminal conviction can be aggravated by non-disclosure. In other words, some minor criminal convictions won’t trigger license discipline, but lying about the conviction probably will trigger license discipline.
Expunged convictions must always be revealed. An expungement in California does nothing to conceal, remove or clear the conviction for licensing purposes. By the same token, out of state convictions that have been expunged or dismissed after an individual has been convicted should usually be revealed out of an abundance of caution. The exceptions to this rule are where someone has been found factually innocent or a judge has given them a "true" dismissal ("in the interests of justice"). When in doubt, however, disclosure is the best policy.
Once a conviction is revealed, almost all licensing agencies will ask for certified court documents and a written explanation. Certified court documents can be obtained from California courts without difficulty. Police reports are another matter – they are usually not even obtainable, and if they can be obtained, police agencies, in my experience, have no way to certify them. California licensing agencies know this and therefore usually will settle for certified court documents.
Finally, there is the explanation. I advise clients to make their conviction explanations concise, honest and remorseful. It is a good idea to have the explanation reviewed by an attorney before submitting it. The explanation should be concise because longer statements might contradict official accounts or devolve into making excuses and blaming others – all very harmful things in an explanation. The statement must be honest, but since accounts of the incident may differ – the police report may differ from your account , for example- it is better to stick to a short factual summary and forego details. Finally, remorse must show insight. Everyone who has a criminal conviction regrets that they got caught. Showing an understanding of how the bad conduct affects those around us and our society, and can place others in danger, shows true rehabilitation.
For example, someone who was convicted for DUI might make this statement: "I am sorry that I drove drunk, I spent the night in jail and lost my job when I didn’t show up the next day. I really regret it." This statement shows more that someone is sorry for themselves than truly remorseful. The lesson learned is, next time, don’t get caught! This is not helpful.
A better statement is: "I made a terrible mistake driving drunk. I endangered the other drivers on the road with my carelessness. Others might have been hurt, even killed." Many people who have been convicted, even defendants pleading for mercy at their sentencings with the advice of skilled lawyers, fail to show true remorse. You have just a short statement from which a licensing agency may decide whether to discipline you or not. Your statement might even be used in a hearing. It is therefore crucial to reflect upon your mistake and show true insight in your explanation.
It can take courage to make an honest and thoughtful disclosure on a license application or renewal. However, licensing agencies demand, and expect, honesty. The character of a licensee or applicant is evaluated (or re-revaluated) based upon what little information the agency has about them. Lying to the agency is never worth the terrible black mark it makes.