Forty years after a drug conviction, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq is in his second term serving on the local Plainfield school board. But he stands to lose this position because of a new law that bans people convicted of certain crimes from serving on any school boards in the state. Abdul-Haqq has contacted the ACLU and states he will not leave his post willingly.
The ban includes people convicted of serious violent crimes, but also those convicted of 1st and 2nd degree drug possessions. There are no exceptions written into the law and some believe this is the problem.
Abdul-Haqq spent 8 months in a state reformatory in 1968 for possession of heroin. He admits he was an addict but says his stay there helped change his life. Upon his release he became a Muslim leader within the community, a community activist, business owner, and was eventually voted to serve on the local school board.
He states most of the people who voted for him knew about his history and they elected him anyways. He, and many others, believe he has served his time for his error and shouldn’t continue to be punished today.
One of the law’s primary sponsors is Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union). Abdul-Haqq believes Green may have pushed the law for some personal political reasons to force Abdul-Haqq out. Green says that’s not true and that he merely wanted to make things fair. As it stood, employees of the school board (including janitors and the like) cannot have criminal records, so the elected members should not either.
The law does allow for people to serve if they’ve had their record expunged. But getting an expungement isn’t always easy. Abdul-Haqq tried and his request was denied. One lawmaker says it’s the expungement law that should be changed.
But what no one is suggesting is that perhaps a criminal conviction should not have any bearing on employment or service. No, that would be out of line. Interesting, considering how many people in the state have criminal records.
A criminal conviction can haunt you for decades, and Abdul-Haqq is living proof. You can serve your time, pay fines, and completely change your life but still be haunted by your past. It’s unfair. But, at least for now, it’s the reality we live in.
The key to avoiding this type of trouble down the road is to avoid the conviction in the first place. While this can sometimes be easier said than done, a criminal charge does not always mean a criminal conviction. Consulting with a local criminal defense lawyer could be the first step in avoiding such a situation.
If you are facing criminal charges in the state of New Jersey contact me today for a consultation on your case.