The Impact of Criminal Convictions on Security Clearances in MarylandIf you were to ask the average person what punishments they think of when they hear the words “criminal conviction,” you would likely hear answers like “jail time” or “fines.” Others might mention restitution, or the loss of the right to vote. All of these penalties are, of course, possible – but there are collateral damages to a conviction that you may not know. One such example is the loss of a security clearance.

A security clearance gives individuals the right to access information that is deemed classified for reasons of national security. If you are charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one, you could lose this access indefinitely, or have difficulties renewing your clearance in the future.

What do I stand to lose if my clearance is revoked or denied?

The loss of your security clearance will likely result in the loss of your job, and/or an inability to advance in your career. As such, you also stand to lose your home, your car, or anything else you pay debts or installments on. You may also lose access to educational opportunities, such as the GI Fund, or be forced to pay back educational loans or grants that were offered as part of your job.

Finally, if your security clearance is revoked or your renewal is denied, this information will become part of your “record,” meaning other potential employers may see it. This can lead to a loss of future employment opportunities, as well as a loss of reputation.

Who needs a security clearance?

Government and military personnel are most likely to need security clearances, but there are many civilian positions that require one. They can include:

  • Aerospace engineers
  • Weapons manufacturers
  • Federal/State contractors (for any agency or department)
  • Federal/State consultants (for any agency or department)
  • Intelligence analysts
  • Custodial staff in government buildings

In short, if you work in a profession or industry that interacts with the federal or state government, you likely need a security clearance.

Who decides if you are eligible for a security clearance?

The U.S. Department of State has ultimate control over the decision to grant a clearance. Eligibility is based on numerous factors, one of which is a criminal background check. Understand that the background checks conducted by the United States Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) – the security arm of the State Department – are not like background checks conducted by, say, a local restaurant or even a bank. DSS has access to your entire life. You cannot hide a criminal charge nor a conviction from them, and failure to report a charge of conviction will almost certainly lead to a revocation of your clearance.

Which crimes can cost you a security clearance?

It depends on the level of your clearance, and for whom you work. In most cases, a felony conviction of any kind – especially one associated with drugs, sex crimes, or fraud – will almost certainly lead the agency to pull your clearance. You could also lose your clearance for shoplifting, petty theft, a DUI charge, or any charges that indicate you cannot be trusted with national secrets.

While there is no set list of crimes, under Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations, there are certain guidelines that may constitute a loss of security clearance:

  1. Allegiance to the United States
  2. Foreign influence
  3. Foreign preference
  4. Sexual behavior
  5. Personal conduct
  6. Financial considerations
  7. Alcohol consumption
  8. Drug involvement
  9. Emotional, mental, and personality disorders
  10. Criminal conduct
  11. Security violations
  12. Outside activities
  13. Misuse of information technology systems

Federal Regulations 32 § 147.12 says the following about “criminal conduct” and security clearances:

  1. The concern. A history or pattern of criminal activity creates doubt about a person’s judgment, reliability, and trustworthiness.
  2. Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
  3. Allegations or admissions of criminal conduct, regardless of whether the person was formally charged;
  4. A single serious crime or multiple lesser offenses.
  5. Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
    1. The criminal behavior was not recent;
    2. The crime was an isolated incident;
    3. The person was pressured or coerced into committing the act and those pressures are no longer present in that person’s life;
    4. The person did not voluntarily commit the act and/or the factors leading to the violation are not likely to recur;
    5. Acquittal;
    6. There is clear evidence of successful rehabilitation.

Should I hire a lawyer if my security clearance is in jeopardy?

Yes, you should. While legally you are never required to hire an attorney, your entire life and future could be at stake; you do not want to tackle this on your own. At Carey Law Office, we can review the details of your case to see what your options are, including your duty to disclose. Typically, you do NOT want to avoid disclosing a potential criminal charge, as it can come back to haunt you later, but there may be things we can do to get that charge dismissed entirely, or have you acquitted, which could mean the difference between keeping your clearance or losing it.

At Carey Law Office, we understand what is riding on your security clearance. We provide discreet, honest assessments of your legal options, and protect your rights under the law. To schedule a consultation in our Bowie, Crofton, or Owings offices, call us today at 301-464-2500 or fill out our contact form.