Past Drug Charges Derail a Law Student’s Education

from NYTs

David Powers came out of a drug rehabilitation program about 15 years ago hungry to swing his life in a significantly different direction. And that he did.

He went back to college and graduated with a 3.9 grade point average. He was hired at a major accounting firm, worked in senior positions at three hedge funds, and was accepted to the law school at St. John’s University.

Mr. Powers still calls the day of his arrest, when he was pulled off a destructive path, the “best day of my life.”

Halfway through his coursework, while trying to get ahead on his application to the bar, he acknowledged to St. John’s how far he had come. Not only had he been convicted of drug possession, a fact he disclosed on his application, but he had also originally been charged with selling drugs, a fact he had not. St. John’s then rescinded his acceptance — kicked him out — saying that if it had known his complete history, it would never have admitted him in the first place.

Mr. Powers sued the school, taking the case all the way to the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals. Last week, the court handed down the final word in a 5-to-1 decision: Mr. Powers would not return to St. John’s.

More here.

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109 Responses to Past Drug Charges Derail a Law Student’s Education

  1. Leslie T November 4, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    It is extremely unfortunate on how the past can resurface and haunt an individual. In the case of Mr. Powers, the demons of his past came back and not only damaged his potential legal career, but his entire life in general. Even though Mr. Powers participated in rehabilitation after his criminal charges, he came back, got an education and made a name for himself in the tax field. How is he different from another individual with a criminal offense? He possibly isn’t, even though Mr.Powers had clean up his act after his drug charges, St.John’s Law School had stripped him away of his admission after he invested both his time and his money. As stated by Binyamin Appelbaum in “Out of Trouble, but Criminal Records Keep Men Out of Work” explains that, “Men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54” There are legal and societal questions to cases like Mr. Powers that still remains up for debate. How far should a former criminal be protected when applying for work? Should society punish colleges and businesses for firing or expelling these individuals?

    Furthermore, while it can be unfair to those with past criminal records to apply for jobs, businesses should have the right to know who they are hiring.While I believed Mr.Powers shouldn’t have been kicked out of law school based on his past, there should be legal framework that takes into consideration of what the individual has done to better their lives after they committed their offenses. What astonishes me most is the fact the Mr.Powers was able to get an education at Monmouth University, obtained a Masters and held numerous taxation jobs. Were these institutions aside from St.John’s made aware of his past charges before letting him into their respected areas? That should also be taken into consideration because even it they were not made aware, Mr.Powers certainly did not disappoint. While I find those with past charges misrepresented, there should be legal guidelines that allows them to find work in society if they cleaned themselves up after their charges.

    • Moniqua Prince February 23, 2018 at 9:00 pm #

      Leslie, I feel that you had said some things that did contradict itself. I do feel that maybe there should be limitations on the information disclosed to institutions or no information should be provided at all. I agree that “legal guidelines” should be provided in order to protect citizens who have bettered themselves with treatment and repented from their past crimes in order that they may be able to enter normal society again. Making one mistake in a lifetime should not define one person entire life.
      It is almost hypocrital how people in the United States say that people need to repent for this, that and the third for their past mistakes, but they still judge said person for their past mistakes. How else is someone able to better themselves when they are judged for it no matter what they do to repent?
      I agree with you that Powers should not have been kicked out of St. Johns. Especially after he had invested both time and money into the institution. On another note, if they did kick him out, Powers should have been refunded his money and paid for the time he had to invest into that school at the very least. There were too many factors that Powers should not have been kicked and not reimbursed. With that, I do believe Powers should have disclosed the information because from what I understand, it was a part of St. John’s policy to do so, and it was also noted that they did not accept students with past drug history. There was fault on both ends.
      In saying what I just did before, I am not saying that I believe institutions such as St. John should have the power to access that information, but they do. Since they are allowed to collect that information, Powers should have complied and disclosed the information or even applied to another school.
      In all, institutions should not have access or information accessed should be limited. I also feel legal guidelines should be there in order to protect people such as Powers. In the end both Powers and St. Johns were in the wrong.

  2. Adis Hoti December 8, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    Education is one of the most important thing in today’s society. Education provides everyone the opportunity to better his or her own life as well as the life of someone else. Education makes people better, and gives them opportunities they only dreamed of. In order to further our society and future we must improve our education and continue to educate children. Education ensures we have a better shot of success at our future. The more people that are being educated, the less people commit crimes. We have to make sure that all kids are being educated, regardless of where they are from. Some individuals are not given the opportunity to receive an education. When denied education, individuals result to crime as a means of getting money.
    I always dreamed of being a professional baseball player but I simply just did not have that talent. Education is currently providing me to go after some of my other dreams, investment banking, sports agent, financial advisor for pros. Studying hard and not being denied my education is a blessing. My parents have kept me educated throughout my life. I have never been denied the opportunity to receive a proper education. Education has set me up to the point where I now control the success of my life. If denied an education, I do not know where I would be. If faced with a life without education, I would not know what my other options would be. As a person I would hope that I would never be denied the chance of education due to my past. Mistakes are made, it is part of life. This is the United States of America, the land of opportunity. I believe that everyone has the right to pursue their dreams regardless of the mistakes they have made. It is not an easy world to live in, some people have grew up in bad environments. You must understand why people make these mistakes sometimes and forgive them. Success stories always happen, so do not deny them.
    Denying people the chance of education is wrong. Criminal records are difficult to assess. I do not want to deny prospective students as a result of their past records. For the case of this article, a student is being denied law school as a result of his past. I do not like this, if a student is attempting to go to law school then he or she should not be denied.
    In the article, the writer discusses how people have become successful after facing criminal charges when they were younger. One individual was arrested for drug charges, and became a very successful hedge fund manager. His lawyer, was arrested for two armed robbery attempts and still became a lawyer years later. I believe that we should not give up on these people just because they made mistakes. Murder is inexcusable, and other crimes but drugs, robbery, things of that nature should be passed on. To make these people better individuals, we must allow them to become educated. Educated people know better, and do not mess up anymore.

  3. Rain Cornelius February 2, 2018 at 9:50 pm #

    The purpose of rehabilitation or corrections is to help those convicted of a crime to become productive, lawful members of society. After completing his rehab program, David Powers wanted to take his life in a new direction and he graduated college with a 3.9 GPA, was hired at an accounting firm, held senior positions at three hedge funds, and was accepted into St. John’s Law school. Despite all of his accomplishments, St. John’s could not see beyond Powers’ previous charges with selling drugs when he applied to the bar. Even though Powers disclosed the fact he was charged with drug possession, St. John’s kicked him out of their school. When David Powers sued the school, St. John’s said it did not reject him because of his criminal history, but because he failed to detail his full criminal history on the initial application. I, however, believe St. John’s would have rejected Powers either way.

    After fighting the school’s decision, Powers spent thousands on legal fees and tuition, he is unable to transfer three semester worth of credits to a new law school, and his public reputation makes it harder to find a career in finance on top of his criminal records. Criminal past should not hold someone back for the rest of their life if they successfully completed rehabilitation and prove they participate in society as better people, which John unquestionably has done. St. John’s denying Powers entry to the school after learning more about his past makes the hard work he’s done make it impossible for him to put his accomplishments to use. If anything, Power’s criminal past only demonstrates how motivated and driven he is to lead a good, fulfilling life in light of going down the wrong path before.

  4. Sylwia Marut February 8, 2018 at 10:23 pm #

    Mr. Powers’ expulsion from St. John’s University was unfortunate and harsh. He was wrong in not disclosing the full information of his past. The University should have the right to know the full extent of a student’s criminal past in order to protect its students, professors, and administrators. However, I believe that if a person evidently shows they have turned their life around from demeanors such as drug possession and distribution, their past should not prevent them from reaching success. Yes, it makes sense for universities to question granting acceptance to people that have serious crimes on their records. However, I believe they should look at the severity of the crime and how the person has been conducting themselves since committing the crime before reaching a final decision.
    With the information provided about Mr. Powers in the article, it was clear he made attempts to turn his life around after the violations. Graduating college with a 3.9 degree and becoming a senior tax associate at a large firm as well as being head of finance for a hedge fund displays his ambition and eagerness to attain prosperity. He was actively trying to better his life and pursue his dreams by applying to take the New York bar exam. I feel that St. John’s University should have provided some consequences in regards to him not fully disclosing his criminal past, such as the loss of any scholarships, or service to the school or community. However, it is refreshing to see someone with a criminal past turn their life around the way Mr. Powers did. Many tax dollars each year go to programs for current and ex-convicts trying to piece their lives back together. St. John’s University should have acknowledged his efforts.
    The fact that Mr. Powers is currently looking for a way to make ends meet after attaining such levels of success previously is disheartening. His more public reputation has affected his ability to receive employment offers. I think that St. John’s University refusing to write him a letter of recommendation is unjust. With three semesters of credits wasted and nowhere to transfer, St. Johns encouraged Mr. Powers’ failure. The state of New York has acknowledged the difficulty ex-criminals face in rebuilding a life due to the fact that their full records are released to schools and places of employment. Ironically, the Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Powers should not return to St. John’s. With an ever-present opioid crisis in America, schools and employers should be more empathetic to people making positive changes in their lives. The article never discloses the reason why Mr. Powers did not fully disclose the information from his past. However, it does say that the advice of a lawyer told him to downgrade his criminal charges, likely to avoid the same situation he got stuck in anyway. Mr. Powers’ case leads to a glaring question: how long do we deserve to be punished for the mistakes of our past?

  5. Moniqua Prince February 23, 2018 at 8:45 pm #

    Should institutions such as educational institutions have access to your background? This dilemma reminds me of educational institutes such as colleges looking at one’s social media in order to decide if they will accept a student. Whether a student applying to a college has made bad decisions or not, I feel that institutions should not be able to access backgrounds. My mind is consumed on the logical and illogical answer, and this is what I have decided. Yes, it would be logical for institutions to be able to access the background of their students. Yet, it is not humanistic. Looking at their background does not count looking at their personality. When an institution looks at the bad decisions that an adolescent has made, it is unfair to that adolescent. Adolescents, as I pointed out in an earlier argument, have not fully developed in their brain. They will not make wise decisions based on the fact that not only have they not experienced life enough and are so consumed in their self and emotions, but also that due to the fact that these students biologically have undeveloped frontal lobes which help to make wise and non-risky decisions. That is why I feel that institutions should not have access to student’s records. I do believe that there will always be exceptions though. That does not mean that overall this information whether criminal or not should be disclosed. If the student decided to disclose it, it should not be counted against them. What they have done in the past should not decide their present of past in such circumstances as selling drugs. Again, I do feel that there are exceptions though.
    This is why my mind is so consumed on what the right answer would be. For instance, if someone murdered someone at a young age…I would definitely want to know that information. Yet at the same time, what if that person had mental issues and had been treated effectively. What if they saw the wrong in their ways and realized what they had committed was wrong. Everyone deserves a second chance. If the information that they had committed something like that was revealed, it would not matter if they received effective treatment. That person would no longer be accepted into regular society with hopes of making a living. I will still settle on the answer that information such as criminal records should not be accessible by institutions unless disclosed by said person the information is related to.

  6. Julia Garlock February 12, 2020 at 11:52 am #

    In recent years Americans have seen an increase of drug use due to practitioners over prescribing narcotics post surgery. Although most addicts turn to the choice heroin, there is a small percentage of the population that turns to drugs like LSD and MDMA. In the New York Times Article “Past Drug Charges Derail a Law Students Education” David Powers a recovered addict was discriminated against by the law program at St. Johns, being kicked out from the program mid semester. When Powers took this case to court to argue the extent of punishment the school enacted on Powers he was disappointed to find the court upheld the decision. Powers, although a past addict and deal had made a complete turn around in his life using rehab as his chance to become free of his addiction and reach his full potential. After reaching his full potential he entered society got several degrees and worked for a very pristine company. After his case arguing his dismissal from law school his past drug offenses became public and now he can find no further employment. This article was deeply disturbing for me to read. Personally, I feel that most addicts have this disease at the fault of doctors carelessly prescribing copious amounts of addictive medication. Addicts go into rehab inorder to rehabilitate themselves from this disease so that they can enter society again and their full potential and once again become a contributing member to society. The entire point of rehabs is to help give back people their lives that the addiction takes all the quality out of so to have institutions not accept these recovered addicts who worked very hard to get to where they are is appalling. Recovered addicts with low grade drug offenses should legally not have to disclose those charges when applying to higher education or for work to avoid the stigma of being a recovered addict. Drug addiction is a lot more common amongst families in America than the public eye would like to admit and it causes the solidification of this stigma and mistreatment of civilians with past drug offenses even though most Americans have a loved one battling the same addiction. I’m not saying that all convicted felons should not have to disclose criminal records when applying to be hired, however if the charges were not violent or for theft then there is no danger or threat to these individuals not disclosing their information. This is the part of the government that I hate and feel needs to be fixed because it is clearly corrupted. People with a lot of money can go on a drug binge, hide away at a luxury rehab and then come back to society as if nothing happened. However, average Americans that bust their ass to beat addiction try to enter society again and are smacked on the wrist time and time again. There are far worse things that a person can do like lie, money launderer, deceive the public, and abuse power which are all common headliners for most politicians but the drug addicts are the ones who are painted as a danger to the general welfare of Americans and its sick.

  7. Mya Jackson February 12, 2020 at 9:59 pm #

    The story of David Powers is very upsetting to hear from the stand point of someone that has seen what is like to be denied an education because of past actions. I do not want to go into extreme detail but someone that I know was denied the opportunity to go back to get their college degree because of some previous charges that they were not proud of. I completely understand that at an institution such as St.Johns and especially in their law school, they want to maintain a certain sense of prestige. However, to say that if they would have known his whole story, then they would have never excepted him sounds outrageous to me. I say this because before they except him or any other student, they should already know a good amount about them, in order to determine the character that they are letting into their institution.
    Education is the way to our innovation. In order to be innovative, we have to be able to learn and teach others. In this case, Mr. Powers had grown since his arrest and battle with drugs, and therefore, should have been given more of a chance to prove to the law school that he was capable of being apart and excelling in their program. It is hard to assess criminal records, I do not doubt this. However, because he had earned that 3.9 GPA, and graduated already, he should have been given that same opportunity to pursue his passion. He was doing very well in life at this point. This just shows how much the past can truly effect ones future, so we must be careful about what we do and put out there for others to see. I respect his decision to sue the school and although he did not win, hopefully he can reach his ultimate goal and help others that had the same issues as him, break through.

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