The average criminal defense attorney understands that even very good people can make big mistakes. Few people ever get involved in any kind of criminal activity in a vacuum. Addiction, financial worries, marital concerns, a history of abuse, mental illness and other factors can all create situations that lead someone down a dark road.

It’s hard to pull yourself out of a difficult place, however, if you aren’t given a fair chance. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system isn’t really designed to give people second chances. Once you’ve been convicted of a crime, the ongoing collateral damage can last a lifetime. Your record follows you everywhere, limiting your opportunities for stability and advancement.

Waterloo is the first city in Iowa to “ban the box” that employers often use to ask job applicants about their criminal histories. It’s no secret that admitting that you have a criminal record on your job application usually means that application will be promptly discarded — and advocates for criminal justice reform (rightly) say that’s unfair. Once someone has suffered through their punishment, they should be allowed to rebuild and move on.

The city’s ban was promptly challenged by the Iowa Association of Business & Industry, saying that the ban illegally blocked business owners from hiring and operating as they see fit. A judge disagreed, saying that the “fair chance initiative” is within the city’s power to protect civil rights.

The Association is filing an appeal on the ruling, but this is still a significant victory for anybody who has been negatively affected by an old criminal conviction.

No matter what charges you may face, the most important thing you can do is keep your eye on the future and try to minimize the consequences to your life. An experienced advocate can help.