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Despite Ruling, Criminal Records Still Haunt Pennsylvania Employees

In 2003, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania struck down a state law that banned people convicted of certain crimes from ever working in nursing homes or other personal care facilities, no matter how much time had passed since the offense. The court found that the ban violated the Pennsylvania state constitution by depriving rehabilitated individuals of their right to pursue their occupations long after they had paid their debts to society. Unfortunately, the ban has remained in effect in Pennsylvania despite the court's ruling.

In the 2003 case Nixon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a man was unable to work in the state because of a conviction for a nonviolent drug offense that had occurred 30 years earlier. Under the ban, the man was permanently disqualified from working with the elderly in Pennsylvania because of an arrest for possession of marijuana when he was just 19. Before the ban took effect in 1998, the man had been working in the long-term care industry with elderly and mentally handicapped individuals in Pennsylvania, but he was forced to relocate when the ban made it impossible for him to continue his occupation in the state.

Intended to protect vulnerable populations from fraud and abuse, the ban applies to people who have been convicted of almost any felony, as well as to those with two or more convictions of certain misdemeanors, like theft. People affected by the ban are barred for life from working in certain settings, including nursing homes, home health providers, long term care facilities and homes for the mentally handicapped.

Unlike similar laws in other states, the Pennsylvania ban does not distinguish between crimes that occurred in the distant past and those that took place recently. Similarly, the ban does not differentiate between violent and nonviolent offenses. Nor does the Pennsylvania law provide for an appeals process, as some states do, allowing former offenders to obtain a waiver of the ban by proving that their past conduct is not relevant to their suitability for employment.

Repeated attempts to soften the impact of the ban and give former offenders an opportunity to resume their careers have been unsuccessful, despite evidence that gainful employment is an important factor in preventing recidivism among people who been convicted of criminal offenses. People facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania are encouraged to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help protect their rights and advocate vigorously on their behalf.