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Criminal to Cop: Can It Be Done?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

Sometimes our dreams develop based on strange or unexpected encounters -- a college student attends jury duty and is inspired to go to law school, say, or a teen is arrested and swears to join the police force someday. But will that youthful conviction bar you from making good on the dream of becoming a police officer?

The unfortunately unsatisfying answer is maybe. It depends. Let's take a look at what crimes disqualify a convicted criminal from becoming a cop.

Police Force Disqualifiers

Officers of the law are required to follow the law, ethical rules, and certain standards of acceptable societal behavior. This applies to lawyers, police officers, and public officials, and entails more than just staying out of serious criminal trouble. Cops generally have to be financially solvent and otherwise responsible, too.

The specifics will vary from state to state and even from one police department to the next. But the following are some things that might typically disqualify a person from becoming a law enforcement officer:

  • Felony conviction (adult or juvenile)
  • A misdemeanor conviction involving domestic abuse or a sexual component
  • Illegal drug use
  • Poor driving record (including reckless driving conviction)
  • DWI/DUI conviction
  • Poor credit history or other financial problems

Agencies use their discretion when reviewing past infractions, considering how long ago they happened as well as the severity and type of offense. Some agencies will consider past infractions with a sliding time limit that adjusts. For example, a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction 10 years ago might not be problematic while a recent arrest is unacceptable.

Note too that departments have different requirements. A person may be found to be unsuitable for one department, but acceptable in another. Decisions are made on an individual basis, and people with past criminal convictions may also have done significant community service or some other kind of work that shows a commitment to society that can be considered a mitigating factor.

Other Issues

There may be medical, physical, or mental health issues that disqualify people from joining the police force as well. Plus, there are minimal education requirements for all law enforcement officers.

That said, the requirements range from place to place. Dreamers, do not be deterred.

Can a Lawyer Help?

If you are interested in joining the police force and have a past conviction, talk to a criminal defense lawyer about your options. You may be able to get your record sealed or expunged or even seek an official pardon, depending on the circumstances. Many attorneys consult for free or no fee. Get advice.

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