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School worker mounts criminal defense for alleged violent crime

The arrest of a school paraprofessional and coach in connection with the abduction and murder of a child has prompted school administrators to rethink their hiring process. The man, age 45, has been suspended from his job because of the alleged crimes. Now, he must mount a criminal defense against the accusations, even as administrators attempt to improve background checks for school employees to prevent a recurrence of this type of incident.

Authorities report that the man who lived in Kansas' neighboring state of Missouri worked with kids for 16 years. His criminal past apparently did not follow him into that career, however. A guilty plea for possession of a controlled substance in 1990 never appeared on any background check. The man was first screened in 2006, and then again in 2012. Neither evaluation indicated that the man had been arrested or convicted.

Kansas politicians say that an arrest and conviction for a misdemeanor crime might not cost a potential employee their job. The information could help administrators make responsible hiring decisions, however, which could protect children from being victimized by violent crimes. Those politicians say that convicts have the right to lead productive lives after being punished for their mistakes, but additional precautions could be necessary.

New mandates could impose additional burdens on teachers, requiring fingerprinting and drug screens. Those requirements could even extend to coaches and janitors. However, it is not clear whether that kind of testing would weed out individuals who are intent on committing violent crimes.

Defendants who have a single misdemeanor in their past should not automatically be considered guilty when they enter a courtroom because of other charges. Criminal law provides certain protections for defendants, even those accused of violent crimes. A Kansas attorney may be able to provide defendants with additional information about their legal options.

Source: KMBC, "Hailey Owens case raises issue of background checks for teachers" Haley Harrison, Feb. 21, 2014

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