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When applying for government jobs, especially in the law enforcement sector, you're often asked questions that ask if you've ever committed crimes without being caught, etc.

Examples:

Have you ever illegally downloaded anything from the internet? Yes [ ] No [ ] If Yes, explain:

I'd be curious how many people actually say No on this question.

Have you ever patronized a prostitute or paid for illegal sexual contact? Yes [ ] No [ ] If Yes, explain (where, when, etc.)

Obviously with something like prostitution, they can't really prosecute you for just admitting to it.

In your lifetime,either as an adult or juvenile, have you ever committed a crime for which you were not caught? Yes [ ] No [ ] If yes, please describe:

Anyways, is it generally considered acceptable to tell the truth in these situations? I'm assuming they're just prying a little to see if you'll tell the truth for these types of questions, but can you actually be cited for these things if you admit them in an application? Does it depend on the severity of what you're admitting (obviously you wouldn't go admitting you murdered someone)?

Note: I'm just asking in general. I don't have a "big secret" in my past I'm afraid to admit, but I will admit I've done some minor things when I was younger.

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    I am not a lawyer I assume you're signing the application. That essentially says "I agree that all of this is true". Whether you can be prosecuted or not for crimes you "admit" to, you've volunteered information that you have committed crimes. At the very least, they could investigate those crimes. Or ignore them entirely. I feel that this question is better suited for a lawyer than this site. – yoozer8 Aug 15 '12 at 20:14
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    Lots of us don't steal music, movies, art, software etc. from the Internet. – HLGEM Aug 15 '12 at 20:34
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    @HLGEM - "Steal" is an inaccurate/loaded/biased term. When you steal something, you are by definition depriving someone else of its use. That is not physically possible with digital/intangible goods. "Pirate" would be a slightly better term, and "infringe upon" would be the most technically accurate description. And even our web browsers routinely infringe upon copyrighted content, even if we think that we ourselves do not. It's called a cache, and it's full of unauthorized copies of other people's IP. – aroth Aug 15 '12 at 23:50
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    @aroth - At the bottom of every page you will see "user contributions licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required", so you do not have the right to re-license your comment and still have it displayed on this site. *8') – Mark Booth Aug 16 '12 at 11:59
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    Guys...this is not the place for a debate around piracy vs. theft. That is off topic and you know it. Heck, an entire .se site could be formed around such a discussion. Regardless of how correct HLGEM is, this is simply not the right place for it. – acolyte Aug 16 '12 at 16:02
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Assuming you are in the United States, then no, as a general rule you cannot be prosecuted just on the basis of information you provide on the form. In the U.S. (and probably many other Western-style legal systems) there is a concept called corpus delicti. Basically it means that you cannot be (successfully) prosecuted for a crime unless it can be proven that the crime did in fact occur. A statement of "I committed a crime" is generally not considered sufficient proof/evidence that a crime has actually been committed, in and of itself.

Of course, there are caveats. If you provide enough specific evidence for your statements to be correlated to an actual, documented crime (i.e. "On May 6th 2006 I stole a red Corvette with VIN number ABN23562303871QX from in front of the residence at 123 Some Street, Portola Valley, CA") then you could be prosecuted if they felt like doing the research to match your statement up with their records.

Even in that case, however, they might have a difficult time prosecuting you unless they had their own independent evidence linking you to the crime. The only thing they really know from your statement is that you have knowledge of a crime, with nothing to prove that you actually committed it (perhaps you learned of the stolen car by way of a friend bragging about it, for instance).

So from a legal standpoint, you can "admit" pretty much whatever you feel like on the application without fear of being convicted of the crime you're admitting to (though of course an admission of a major crime is likely to invite a follow-up interrogation), so long as you keep your responses vague and do not provide enough information to link your statements back to a specific crime.

You could even go so far as to say "this one time, I like totally killed a whole bunch of people, it was so awesome!" and the worst you'd be on the hook for is making a false statement (which is taken fairly seriously in and of itself, in most jurisdictions; though if they come after you with that you could always just say something like "I was talking about playing Grand Theft Auto...video games count as real, right?").

Of course, I am just speaking generally about U.S. law, and to get the greatest possible accuracy you should consult a lawyer who is familiar with your local laws. I am not one.

But from the standpoint of "what's the best thing to do to get the job", the answer is obviously a bit different. You certainly won't be considered if you say, even in jest, "I killed a bunch of people". The safest bet is probably to either just put "No" for all of those, or to admit to only minor things. Like "Yes, I slept with a prostitute, but it was at a brothel in Nevada and therefore entirely legal" or "I stole a pack of gum when I was 12. I know better now". Admitting to a major crime in a vague/general kind of way won't/shouldn't get you thrown in jail, but it won't get you a job either.

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    +1 for info about corpus delecti. However, I don't think the Miranda ruling would apply to statements made on a job application. – Stuart Marks Aug 16 '12 at 3:48
  • @StuartMarks - Good point. I did some follow-up research, and you are correct. Miranda only applies to information gathered in an interrogation kind of setting. It does not apply to statements made willingly outside of police custody, whether on a job application or anywhere else. I've removed that section from my answer. – aroth Aug 16 '12 at 3:58
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I am not a lawyer. None of the following should be construed as legal advice. I am a layman, and while I think I'm reasonably well-informed, these comments are merely my opinions. Also, these comments are intended to apply only to the U.S.

Your question said immune and since you put quotation marks around the word it's hard to know exactly what you meant by it. However, I think it's pretty difficult to say that you would be immune, in any sense, from what you state on the application.

So, suppose (hypothetically) that you did commit some crime, and you answered one of these questions positively in regard to that crime.

Could you be prosecuted based on these statements? By themselves (see aroth's nice answer on corpus delecti) probably not.

Could these statements be held against you in court? Sure, I see no reason why not. The fifth amendment allows you to refuse to answer questions that might incriminate yourself, but by answering the questions on the application, you would be doing so voluntarily, so it would be like signing a confession.

Could these statements expose you to civil liability? Again, I see no reason why not. The information on the application is probably subject to some privacy policy, but note that policies can be changed.

Could these statements prevent you from getting the job? Sure. They might or might not expose you to any criminal or civil liability, but the hiring manager or committee might simply use this information as part of their evaluation and decide not to hire you on that basis. I suspect most hiring managers would immediately rule out an admitted criminal, if only to cover their own backsides.

In summary, answering "yes" to any of these sorts of questions can probably be used against you in some fashion.

Now, why are these questions here, and why on earth would anyone answer "yes" to any of them? I doubt that anyone actually answers any of these questions positively, and I don't think whoever wrote the application expected anyone to answer positively either. However, supposing you did commit a crime, and you answered "no" to these questions. You've just lied on the application. I would expect that by signing the application you would be making a statement such as "the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, etc." If it later came out that you had committed a crime, you could be fired on the basis of having lied on the application. In addition, if the application says "Under penalty of perjury, ..." you might also be prosecuted for having lied on the application.

This is similar to the reason the IRS has a line on the tax form where you are required to report income from illegal activities. This opens you to prosecution for tax evasion as well as for the illegal activity itself. For example, Al Capone was convicted for tax evasion, not for Prohibition violations or for various killings that occurred while he led his criminal organization.

(It seems like there ought to be a term for this kind of question, but I'm not aware of one. I'd love to be informed of one if there is.)

  • "Why on earth would anyone answer any of these questions with yes" seems a perfectly fine answer to any of these questions. – gnasher729 Sep 13 '17 at 20:41

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