Arrest Records and Traffic Violations

Sometimes an arrest record is simply a matter of an isolated error -- one night's drunk driving, or not knowing that transporting fireworks from your house to the beach might be illegal in the town through which you're driving.In these cases, a simple statement is all that's required:

  • During the summer of 2008, I installed a loud car stereo in my vehicle. I received three citations for violation of a local noise ordinance law (non-criminal), on September 4th, September 29th, and October 9th of 2008. I pled guilty to each violation and paid a small fine. After that, I learned to keep the volume lower.
  • In March of 2001, I received a ticket because I rear-ended someone. The ticket was dropped because the victim signed a consent form after my insurance company paid him. And on January 16th, 2002, I got a ticket for failing to yield from a driveway. The charge was dismissed after I went to defensive driving school.
  • I have three speeding tickets, one on February 9th, 1999 for going 45mph on a local street (25 mph limit) and one on August 23rd 1999; it doesn't say the speed, but it was about the same. The first time I paid a fine, and the second time I went to defensive driving school.  My last ticket ever was for speeding in March of 2002 while driving home from Dallas, Texas. I received a speeding ticket while in Texas, for which I paid a fine, as I was driving home in a new car I had purchased.

At other times, an arrest record is part of a larger pattern in your life.  In those cases, you must show the circumstances surrounding the arrest.  It's always better to put that explanation into a diversity or personal statement, but word or page limitations may not allow that luxury.  The following pair of essays show a diversity statement and a related arrest statement. [Because these are someone's actual essays, I have not corrected the writing.]

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First we have the Diversity Statement

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Being born to a mother of Mexican-American descent and an Anglo father had a great impact on my life. My high school was known to locals as one of the worst in town. Of my freshman class, nearly half did not reach graduation. Unlike them, I loved to study, and at times was derided for doing so. I can recall thinking to myself how 'cool' my gangster Mexican friends were for the way they dressed, the slang they used, and even how they would get into trouble with the law. My friends had our own gang for those of us who grew up in our neighborhood; we even had a name for it and gave nicknames to each other (Please please don't make me say the name or my nickname, it's soo embarrassing!). I remember feeling this amazing sense of belonging when I felt I was finally being accepted after all these years of feeling like an outcast for being half Mexican and half Anglo. At the time it was the best feeling in my life.

Although they are very nice people and I love them very much, it seemed my parents believed that as long as they put a roof over my head, provided food, and bought clothes and school supplies, that was enough to ensure they were raising us sufficiently. I sometimes felt like I really didn't have a father, as I cannot recall ever having a real conversation with him about anything. Some days I wish I could trade all the stuff they bought me growing up just to have parents who interacted with me and taught me things about life. For middle school, my parents decided to bus me 45 minutes to a more affluent side of town in hopes of my achieving a better education. My father did not care either way, but at the time I was only 10 so my mother did care for me somewhat. I can distinctly remember being beset with derogatory comments for the clothes I wore and the fact that I was living on the 'wrong' side of town.

As a senior in high school, I applied to college and was admitted, but I had self-doubts about performing well in college, which contributed to my making a rash decision to sign a 4 year contract with the Army. When I got there, however, I immediately felt out of place. My assigned occupation specialty was very low-skill, and I felt I was in a place for people for whom college was not an option. When my friends in the Army heard that I opted for the military over an opportunity to attend college, many were shocked and surprised. This brought me to realize the enormous opportunity I had given up. Coincidentally, I began to have trouble with my physical training, stemming from medical issues with my feet. After seeing an Army physician, I was informed that I could get a medical (honorable) discharge from the Army, if I so desired. After some reflection, I decided this was the best option for me.

Immediately upon returning, I forged ahead with my college plans. As my parents could not afford to send me out of state and I could not afford to live on my own, I pursued an undergraduate degree at the State University. I lived at home with my parents for the first two years, but my parents did not want my brother and myself living there because they wanted privacy as they grew older. They felt that as soon as I was 18, I was no longer their responsibility, and they would constantly remind me of that. Eventually, they would be upset whenever I would be there. It was actually disconcerting that I felt like I was no longer wanted in their home, but I was over 18, so I realize it was their right to do so. My brother moved out at the same time as me as he had a sense that his time there was running out as well.

I began work for New York Corporation in June of 2001, right after I graduated college. When the World Trade Center collapsed in September, New York Corporation was one of the companies to suffer the most. In the next year, they laid off 10,000 people. Knowing that there was nothing to lose by going away, I decided to apply for a job in Japan. I have always been fascinated by aspects of the Japanese language; after I graduated college, I continued to take courses in Japanese just for fun and sought out Japanese exchange students outside of class, so I could practice more. Although I enjoyed my experience in Japan, I found that teaching wasn't for me. In addition, the cost of living in Japan was so great that saving money was nearly impossible. I returned home after being offered a position as a web developer and began planning to apply to law school. I took the LSAT and got a 143, so I had to postpone applying until I could retake it. Now that I have a better score (156), I hope to begin law school this fall.

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Then we have the Arrest Statement

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As discussed in my personal statement, growing up as a person of mixed ethnicity in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood, I spent many years trying to fit into a group of friends whom I thought represented the ideal "Mexicano". During my long and arduous journey of trying to conform to this ideal, I put myself in many dangerous places and situations, ignoring the potential consequences and maintaining a "do whatever it takes" approach to being accepted. Becoming ensconced in the "lowrider" lifestyle of lavishly customizing cars, as was common to many in my neighborhood, I found myself cruising late at night in dangerous areas of town picking up dubious characters, who I believed were my friends. I continued this lifestyle, however, due to the attention I was receiving, which made me feel like I was finally as equally "Mexican" as the group I was running around with. It was during this period in my life where I received several traffic violations. Police on the Poor Side of Town, where I would often find myself, maintain a "zero-tolerance" policy towards any law violations, no matter how minor, due to the high crime rate. I especially brought attention to myself due to my flashy car and appearance and was subsequently pulled over numerous times. My first citation occurred on August 2nd, 1996, late at night in this area of town. I had borrowed a friend's car that was equipped with "hydraulics", illegal to use while driving. However, due to my own lack of judgment and childish desire to show off to my buddies, I used them while driving and was given tickets for both having no proof of insurance and operating an illegally equipped vehicle. The first ticket was dropped and I paid a fine for the latter.

When I finally had my own vehicle, I began to customize it, causing me to garner much attention. I installed auxiliary lights on my Jeep, which I later found out were illegal to have uncovered while on a city street. I had received a prior citation for my lights not being covered in July of 1997, which was dismissed by the courts the next day as I showed I was not the legal owner of the vehicle. However, as it was common practice on the South Side of Tucson to be pulled over for even the most minor violation, I was pulled over again less than a week later on July 28th, 1997, as I was returning home from a night out with my friends. I received citations for failing to obey a police officer (due to failing to cover my lights from the previous citation), failure to yield to an emergency vehicle (as I pulled over to the left hand side of the road instead of the right when he pulled me over), failure to have red tail lamps, and a citation for auxiliary light; afterwards my vehicle was towed away. However, in this case I had all counts completely dismissed by the court on August 7th, 1997 as I proved that the new citations were based on a previous citation that was already dismissed.

I ignored these consequences, however, and continued my double life of going to my university during the day and visiting friends at night in the South Side of town. When out one night on August 28th, 1998, I received a ticket for not wearing my seat belt and I paid a fine. I was again pulled over a series of times on September 4th, September 29th, and October 9th, 1998, this time in violation of a local noise ordinance (non-criminal) for playing my stereo too loud. In the eyes of my friends these violations were viewed as a "badge of honor". Having a "story to tell" to my friends made me feel like I was more like them rather than having the outsider image I would trying to shed in their eyes. This caused me to ignore my better judgment and continue to frequent these dangerous areas late at night where it was an almost certainty of getting stopped by the police. Perhaps because I viewed these violations as minor, I believed that the ends justified the means and continued to emulate this lifestyle by trying to become something I was not.   I realize the high police presence in this area is there for a reason and I should not have been frequenting these areas simply out of an effort to garner acceptance among my group of friends.

On February 9, 1999, after a long night of studying, I proceeded to drive to a local Wal-Mart at three in the morning in order to make copies of study notes for a test the next day. I was extremely exhausted and while driving home on a back road in my local neighborhood, I was given a citation for exceeding the speed limit by 20 miles per hour. I thoroughly regret this incident as I could have been a danger to others; normally, I do not drive that fast. I pled guilty and performed community service in lieu of a fine.  

On August 23rd, 1999, I received a speeding ticket for exceeding the speed limit by ten miles while driving home from a car show in  a town over 100 miles away. Once again, my hurry to get home outweighed my judgment. I had this ticket dismissed as I completed a defensive driving course and it does not appear on my driving record

I understand fully that the actions of my past should not represent the integrity of a potential law student. I have learned from these mistakes and I have not received any further traffic citations in almost four years, something I can attribute to my maturity, increased attentiveness while driving, and the discarding entirely of my past lifestyle, causing me to no longer frequent these dangerous areas of town for no reason. After learning to be proud of myself for who I am, I have shed the lifestyle of my past of and am now practicing standards becoming of a future lawyer.

When an arrest record fits into a larger pattern of your life, make sure the admissions committee knows it. A change in a larger life pattern is always a better story than repeated unexplained misdeeds.


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