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‘I love what I do:’ Virginia man continues to challenge barrier crimes law, waits for pardon

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – A criminal conviction from nearly 20 years ago continues to keep a Virginia man from working as a substance abuse counselor.

A Virginia man is looking for a chance to have a new start and an opportunity to help others after years of struggling with a drug addiction. Rudy Carey has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Barrier Crimes that exist in the Commonwealth.(Institute for Justice)

Even though Rudy Carey turned his life around, he says he’s still being held back by that conviction. I have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, but according to Carey’s attorneys, a judge ruled the suit cannot move forward.

“The department said Mr. Carey isn’t able to sue, because it is possible that he might be able to work one day if he is pardoned, unfortunately the judge accepted that argument,” said Attorney Andrew Ward with the Institute for Justice.

Carey was in and out of trouble from 1996 to 2007, struggling with drug addiction. I have faced petty theft and driving violations that led to a felony. In 2004, he was pulled over while trying to get drugs before a concert in Henrico. Police were going to arrest him for forging a public record.

“All I know is that in the back of my mind, I wanted more drugs – I was right there at the place I usually go score, so I gave them this fake name, ” he said. “I tried to resist the arrest, and in the process, I struck the officer, and that has been the black eye, the black cloud over my life since then.”

Carey was charged and convicted of assault on a law enforcement officer. He has served almost three years and got out in 2007. After a relapse, he has decided to change his life completely.

“When you begin to use drugs and where I was at in my life – everything is nonexistent. My children, nonexistent. My future, nonexistent, and I just didn’t want to die,” Carey explained.

Carey got into treatment, got married, started volunteering in the community, spoke to inmates, completed more than 200 college credit hours in counseling and rehabilitation. He eventually started working at a Virginia treatment facility with a caseload of clients.

“For that door to shut in my life, I didn’t know how to say goodbye to something I loved to do. My life had to change, and it is still changing, but I love what I do, and I want to do it again,” he said.

The facility Carey was working for had hired him as he was studying to become a certified substance abuse counselor. Just months before taking the exam, he was informed that the facility should not have hired him in the first place. His 2004 assault charge and conviction falls under 176 barrier crimes that prevent him from working in a direct care position as a counselor in Virginia.

“What you have just done is rob the community of the opportunity to see face to face, someone who has been where they have been and change their lives,” Carey explains.

In Virginia, the barrier crimes law prevents facilities, such as those licensed by the Department of Health, Department of Social Services and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, from hiring people with certain criminal histories. In Carey’s case, the assault charge is considered a barrier to future employment, even though he served the time more than a decade ago.

A Virginia man is looking for a chance to have a new start and an opportunity to help others...
A Virginia man is looking for a chance to have a new start and an opportunity to help others after years of struggling with a drug addiction. Rudy Carey has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Barrier Crimes that exist in the Commonwealth.(Institute for Justice)

For almost a year, Carey and his legal team have been challenging the law and the ban on his ability to work in the career he loves. Today he works as a tractor trailer driver. Carey says he is thankful for an opportunity to provide for his family. Even while he waits for a chance to work in substance abuse counseling, Carey says he does his best to volunteer in the community serving others.

“This is a field that is in need of substance abuse counselors and you have qualified counselors and here you have a barrier and you won’t change the law. To me it doesn’t make sense,” said Carey.

An August 1, 2022 ruling stating Carey cannot sue, because there is a possibility of him being pardoned, is the latest in a year of back of forth paperwork in court.

“It can’t be right that if he is unable to work today, when he is a forced out of a job, that he can’t have a day in court for years or maybe the rest of his life because a pardon application is hanging out there. I have applied for a pardon four years ago and nothing has happened,” said Ward,

In a June 2022 e-mail from the Attorney General’s office, Carey’s legal team was told Carey’s pardon is still under review but “there is no mechanism for expediting or prioritizing a particular petition.”

Ward says the next step will be appealing in federal court as they wait for a pardon. Carey says he is remaining hopeful. He says if the laws do not change in his lifetime, he hopes others will benefit.

“I am hoping more people stand up in the community and appeal themselves. I think things may change, but as long as things are hush hush and quiet and we are just going to keep fighting. I am okay with fighting. Sometimes a silent fight is the best fight,” said Carey.

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