September 18, 2018

breakin’ the law

Can Convicted Felons Become CPAs?

As many of you are already aware, any sort of criminal record can negatively impact your career options if you’re considering public accounting. For one Going Concern reader, his sketchy past could mean the difference between becoming a CPA and spending his life as a payroll clerk.

Here’s the question:

Suppose I am an educated, convicted felon (possession of marijuana w/ intent to distribute when I was 19, currently 22) who is taking the CPA exam in the fall after graduation from college. I expect to pass (I’ve studied long and hard) and I have a few questions for you. Do you think accounting firms would be open to hiring a convicted felon, despite qualifications and a non-fiduciary felony? Also, would a state board (NH specifically) certify me as a CPA, provided I was able to get a job and fulfill the experience requirements? Do you have any precedents or similar situations you could inform me of?

Well, let’s start with the New Hampshire application for licensure, which contains the following simple question:

Have you ever been convicted of a felony that has not been annulled or committed any dishonest act?

If yes, please attach a separate sheet, which contains a complete description of the circumstances.

What this says to me is that you should start working on what you’re going to put on that separate sheet. You won’t get points for oversharing but you may get credit for honesty and clarity.

As you pointed out, it’s worth noting a few things. First, you were 19. We all do stupid things when we are 19. Granted, your stupid things got you a felony when it gets most 19 year olds regretful tattoos or embarrassing stories but still, you were a kid. That said, you’re still a kid to some employers/authority figures, so don’t get your hopes up expecting people to automatically assume you’ve reformed yourself in 3 years.

Second, it’s not like you robbed a gas station, stole credit card numbers or ripped off your Boy Scout troop – the fact that you were once in possession of a large quantity of marijuana isn’t much of a reflection on your character as it pertains to your ability to stick to the professional code. But (and this is the part that sucks), marijuana is still illegal and therefore the Board of Accountancy will consider that fact independent of what you were actually charged for. To some, the fact that you committed any crime at all means you are not of the ethical fortitude required to be a CPA. Let’s ignore the fact that many of the people who feel this way break the law all the time; talking on their cell phones behind the wheel, speeding, and driving while mildly intoxicated after happy hour.

The general rule here is that you should be fine as long as your conviction isn’t a fiduciary one but it’s up to the state to decide. Whatever you do, don’t try to hide it, as the important thing here is proving you are trustworthy. And you may want to talk to a lawyer about having your conviction expunged or knocked down to a misdemeanor. It probably doesn’t change much for you as far as jobs go (hope you aren’t planning on going Big 4, they won’t touch you with a conviction like that) but hey, you’ll be able to carry a gun (you know, for those dangerous engagements).

Good luck!