Still Paying For A Youthful Mistake?

Last week, my neighbor's son came over to ask a few questions about traveling to the UK and France for about a month. We talked for about an hour before he dropped a bomb which really left me with no advice to give him. It seems that when he was 19 years old (about 7 years ago) he was going to the local community college and living in a rented house with a couple of friends. One Saturday, in the midst of a summer barbecue picnic (after a few beers), he and one of his room-mates got into a fight. While wrestling around on the deck of the rented house, they knocked over the charcoal grill, which resulted in the deck catching fire. The result was that both boys were charged with "Domestic Assault" (thank you, Senator Lautenberg), and due to the fire damage being in excess of $1000, were also charged with "Felony Destruction of Property". The boys paid for the damage to the deck, and have remained good friends, but they are now both convicted felons. They cannot vote, hold a security clearance, join the armed forces, or own a firearm. Of course, their job choices are limited, but both have done quite well. Neither of them have had any further brushes with the law... not even a parking ticket. And now my neighbor's son wants to take a trip to Europe. I don't think that he'll have any trouble getting a passport. But what about entering the UK or France as a tourist? Anybody here have any experience with a situation like this?

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6837 posts

The best thing to do is contact the nearest consulates for the countries he will be traveling to. He should be completely upfront and honest about what he was convicted of. They should be able to give him an answer right away...they have heard it all before;)

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1520 posts

He should be upfront and honest about the crimes and conviction. However, he should probably not give his real name.

Posted by Pauline
BROADSTAIRS, Kent, United Kingdom
81 posts

Karen by not giving his real name he is probably compounding his previous crime. He would be more sensible to tell the whole truth and allow the authorities to make their minds. Any attempt to deceive the UK Border Agency is grounds for return to country of origin immediately. Even doing this as an initial inquiry could prejudice his chance of being admitted to the UK

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2386 posts

I think Karen was making an awkward, unhelpful attempt at sarcastic humor. Michael's advice is best, he should double check with the consulates. In general, if he has a US passport, he can travel to any Schengen nation (Frane included) without a visa for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. Tourist travel to the UK does not require a visa either, but they are more likely to ask questions at the border. He'd be best to understand any felony restrictions now, before he shows up at their door...

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
780 posts

The relevant Immigration Rule for the UK is Part 9 paragraph 18: Grounds on which entry clearance or leave to enter the United Kingdom should normally be refused: ... (18) save where the Immigration Officer is satisfied that admission would be justified for strong compassionate reasons, conviction in any country including the United Kingdom of an offence which, if committed in the United Kingdom, is punishable with imprisonment for a term of 12 months or any greater punishment or, if committed outside the United Kingdom, would be so punishable if the conduct constituting the offence had occurred in the United Kingdom ... Criminal damage of less than £5000 value carries a maximum sentence in England & Wales of three months' imprisonment or fine of £2,500. Common assault carries a maximum sentence of six months. Doesn't seem from this that they would fall foul of the entry rules here, but these offences are not necessarily direct equivalences. Usual disclaimers, not a lawyer etc.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7682 posts

I have a relative with a felony. He traveled with us to the UK and Ireland several years ago, and encountered no problems at all. In fact, we never even considered the possibility that it could be a problem since it happened so long ago. Maybe he was lucky, or maybe they don't care.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

May be a bit off-topic but have these guys applied to have their rights restored? There is a process for this and it depends on the crime, sentence served, length of time since crime, etc.? Just wondering if that would solve the problem of being able to travel to other countries.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Morris, The best course of action would probably be to contact a Lawyer and submit to have his rights restored, as Nancy mentioned. He may find it helpful to have a look at THIS Government of Virginia website. Good luck!

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Having your rights restored refers to voting rights, and running for public office. It does not expunge the record of the felony conviction. And it is not binding on other countries. If the UK has restrictions on entry, that is who the young man needs to consult. If it was long ago maybe it no longer appears in the records available to immigration checks. maybe it is forgiven after the passage of time. Or maybe they won't even check to begin with. But we have heard (on this board) of people being turned away at the border for prior DUI convictions. He probably needs to geet this settled before getting on the plane, just to make sure he won't be denied entry to either country.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

What a horrible shame, that felony charges/ conviction was overkill, , sorry, just saying..
Convicted felons because of that situation specifically is a joke.

Posted by Morris
Loudoun County, Va., USA
157 posts

Michael, Ken & Nancy... Many thanks for your help and suggestions. I have printed out the forms on the Virginia website and will do what I can to assist this young man in getting the forms filed. The rest is up to the Governor. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, I have advised the young man to contact the British and French embassies in Washington, and to furnish them with any information they need. He has been in contact with the court and has obtained a complete copy of the court file on this matter, and will take the documents with him when he visits the embassies.

Posted by Tom
Chicago
2876 posts

Not a lawyer, etc, but I think the OP will find that his friend's old conviction might be an issue if he were applying for a longer-stay visa, but not for a short-term, passport-only visit.

Posted by barry
new york
43 posts

I think it's a good idea to do the research, I've been crossing borders for a number of years and have never been asked about a criminal background.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

'...... and have never been asked about a criminal background.' They only ask if it shows up in the 'puter. What level gets shared and with what nation varies. Actually, there's not much asking, it's mostly a one-way telling.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

What Ed said. They don't have to ask, it is in the computer when they run your passport.

Posted by Morris
Loudoun County, Va., USA
157 posts

Pat.... You're absolutely right. And there are 5 people who should be taken to task for this travesty: 1. The arresting officer. The most that these boys should have been charged with was disorderly conduct. 2. The arresting officer's supervisor. For the same reason. 3. The Commonwealth's Attorney. For agreeing to prosecute this case. 4. The Public Defender. Who did a really lousy job of representing these boys.
5. And finally, the judge. Who should not have accepted the boys' guilty plea, and should have either reduced the charges or thrown the entire case out. It's too late now, however. We'll have to wait and see how things go with the boys' application for restoration of rights.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

What if there's a bit more to it than we know?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8756 posts

Pat, its not a joke. Morris, I can't see how blaming "the System" will help now.

Posted by Robin Z
Troy, Oh, USA
1634 posts

If he has been in any kind of trouble (not including traffic fines) since then, then he could have his felony conviction expunged. He needs to contact a lawyer, it cost a friend of our $200 to do this.

Posted by Morris
Loudoun County, Va., USA
157 posts

Ed...
As I mentioned in a previous post, the young man has gotten a copy of the complete case file from the court. This includes the original arrest report. When he let me review it, I found the facts as stated in the police report to be exactly what the young man told me had happened. Nigel... Not blaming "the system" or anybody else. Blaming anyone or anything at this point is useless. What's done is done. Now's the time to see if the mistakes made in these young mens' prosecution can be corrected.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Given the increasingly effective computer systems used by law enforcement these days, it's difficult to hide "youthful mistakes". IMHO, it's great that Morris' friend is dealing with this now, prior to travelling anywhere. An example of problems which occur can be seen in THIS Photo, which is from the new show Border Security on the National Geographic channel. There's a similar show called Border Wars which shows US Border agents. In the case shown in the photo, an Australian national arrived at YVR to visit his girlfriend in Vancouver, but for some reason was selekted for secondary screening. It became apparent within a short time (from the computer?) that he had some "history", and could therefore have been denied entry and placed on the next plane back to Oz. At one point, the traveller was in tears. Fortunately in this case, the CBSA officer decided to allow a limited duration visit, so it all worked out. Watching both shows has been a real "eye opener"!

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1520 posts

Let the record show that I make many awkward, unhelpful attempts at sarcastic humor. This is not one of those attempts. By all means, if the young man shows up at immigration and is questioned, he should be honest and forthcoming. BUT-if he is making preliminary inquiries by calling consulates to ask what is allowed, he should lay low and "inquire for a friend." Just by asking, he may get himself flagged in one of the all powerful computers, and get himself banned. I am not a paranoid conspiracy monger. I just think you should watch your step. Would you call the IRS to ask them if your tax return will get you audited?

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1176 posts

So calling it a "travesty" and listing everyone who should be "taken to task" is not blaming? In the end, it was still a couple of drunken, underage (old enough to be prosecuted as adults, but not old enough to be drinking alcohol) guys who got into a fight that caused serious physical and monetary damage (by fire, no less) to a rental property. I'm willing to bet if you owned a rental property and some tenants got drunk, started fighting and set fire to your property, you'd probably be running to the phone to dial 911 looking for the police to step in and intervene. The only people who should have been "taken to task" are the parents who let their poor angels show up at court 7 years ago with a public defender instead of hiring a competent criminal defense attorney.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

I can't say for France, but for UK whilst there is no harm in contacting the embassy, I expect they will simply refer him to the UK Border Agency since it handles visa issues. The Agency's advice is even though an advance visa would not normally be required for a US citizen to visit, where there is a criminal record it "strongly advises" you apply for one (although it slightly contradicts itself elsewhere by saying this only applies for an unspent conviction). Here is the guidance. You apply on-line. http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/visiting/general/visa/

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Ceileh I do own rental properties and a damaged deck is not the end of the world , IF its replacement is paid for I would not have proceeded to throw the book at the boys ( they were boys dear) and have them walk around with FELON records for LIFE ,that is a travesty.
As an owner I want the damage repaired thats it, fix it and get out. If YOU owned properties you would realize I have better things to do with my time then going to court over a freaking sundeck. Oh geesh, I forgot your drinking age was 21, so when it was said the boys were 19 I thought nothing of that( thats our legal age) , well there you go , they obviuosly were demon children then , drinking at that age, ( sigh and eyeroll) and should pay for that FOREVER.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Should clarify, I do think there should have been some consequences, I just think that a felon record is stupid in this instance. Misdemeanor charges, and restitution would have been appropriate. PS the boys were wrestling, not fighting as in assaulting each other I thought.. there is a difference.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

From cursory research, it appears that, tragically for this young man, it is extraordinarily difficult for a person to have a felony record expunged in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It's apparently less difficult to have some rights restored, but a huge mountain to climb to get the whole felony removed from the record. I wish him well in his quest and hope he beats the odds. I agree, it is unconscionable that a young man with a clean record could end up with a felony conviction out of the situation as described. Here out West, in our state it's not quite so nearly impossible for a long-ago felony conviction to be expunged or sealed (removed from the legal record). Also, when the charges are pending, there are diversion programs, and the opportunity for someone with a clean record to work out plea bargains involving supervised probation for a year or more, at the end of which time if the defendant has cooperated with all the conditions (including making restitution) and stayed out of trouble, the case is closed with either an outright dismissal of all charges or (IIRC) a misdemeanor conviction. (Here they're called "deferred prosecution," "deferred judgment," etc., for the various options.) I wasn't going to get into all this, but it's worth it if someone who reads it, remembers it later on. Please. If a young friend or relative with an otherwise clean legal record, is facing criminal charges over something stupid, especially if they are otherwise law-abiding, it is NOT the time to turn away. Save the "tough love" for another time or express it in another way. To keep form the kid's life being ruined: get 'em the best lawyer you can afford, and find out what alternative dispositions are available. Felony conviction is the worst possible outcome, as this poor guy is finding out.

Posted by Tom
Chicago
2876 posts

This whole discussion does raise one interesting question: exactly what personal information is electronically embedded into a U.S. passport? I have no idea, but I suspect it's little more than the information one supplied on his or her passport application.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

That criminal history information is not embedded in the passport. It pops up in the computer when they run the passport.

Posted by David
Sacramento, CA, USA
205 posts

1. DO NOT go anywhere near an Embassy at this point. 2. Contact a lawyer (with criminal experience). EVERY STATE is different. The "crimes" listed in many States can be expunged as dminor with no follow up legal troubles..depends upon the State. Spend a few hudnred bucks for the basic info-this is the rest of his life we are talking about.
3. As to #1--those are minor crimes...(not a political/criminal debate)...they will NOT pop up on the standard immigration computer. Of course DO NOT lie to Immigration but in over 15 trips throught London Heathrow since 1996 I have NEVER been asked about a criminal background. Now if applying for a longer term VISA then that might be a different matter. BUT if you call the Embassy and give your names, conviction information etc you can damn well guarantee your gonna show up in their computer. First step would be to spend vacation money to get the record cleared, if possible in Virginia.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7209 posts

The information shared is based on bilateral agreements between countries. We have agreements with most of our major travel/trade partners but each one has different specifics on what exact information is shared - we tend to give them only the information on our citizens that they are willing to give us on theirs. Don't be surprised if one country refuses him admission due to his record but 100 others don't mention it at all. I can't give you a rundown of every agreement. I'm not even sure it's public information. It's possible he'd be banned from some countries because of his record, it's equally possible he might be asked to explain the criminal record and then be either admitted or not - based on the immigration officer's judgment. If they ask, honesty is the ONLY policy. If they didn't know, they likely wouldn't ask, and will decide (to admit or not) based on how forthcoming he is with his explanation. He'd have more trouble if he had a drug conviction or if he were traveling (say to a bachelor party) with a group of friends.