ARLINGTON, Va. (WRIC) — Rudy Carey, a commercial truck driver from Stafford County, worked as a substance abuse counselor until 2018, when an old conviction barred him from counseling for life.

Now, he’s challenging Virginia’s so-called “Barrier Laws,” so he can return to helping those struggling with addiction. However, in July a federal judge ruled that Carey must first receive a decision on his application for a pardon, which would allow him to work again.

Carey has been waiting for a decision on his pardon application for over three years.

Carey’s Story

According to court documents filed by Rudy Carey, who’s represented by the Institute for Justice, a non-profit legal foundation, Carey became addicted to drugs in 1988 after the death of his father. Carey was convicted of theft several times, and eventually, in 2004, he was sent to jail for three years after assaulting a police officer and while attempting to flee a traffic stop.

Once he was released from prison, Carey said, he got clean — attending rehab, finding work and reconnecting with his children.

Carey eventually went back to school, studying substance abuse counseling and eventually finding work as a “supervised counselor” in 2013.

For five years, he worked as a counselor, even being named, he said, counselor of the year at one point.

“He was hired on with full knowledge of his criminal history,” said Andrew Ward, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice.

But when the substance abuse treatment facility was bought out in 2018, the new owners reviewed state law and realized that Carey was barred from working as a counselor under Virginia’s “Barrier Law” because he had been convicted of assaulting a police officer over a decade before.

Carey holds up the certification he received, which qualified him to serve as a substance abuse counselor. (Photo: Institute for Justice)

The Law

The barrier law lists a number of offenses that can lead to a lifetime ban from “direct care” professions like substance abuse counseling.

“The barrier law covers a hodgepodge of offenses that don’t even really make sense,” Ward said. “There are what you might think of as standard crimes like robbery. There are also crimes like misusing a laser pointer, hazing in a gang or recklessly driving a boat that have nothing to do with being a good substance abuse counselor.”

But Carey’s lawyers didn’t get a chance to argue the merits of the case before a federal judge in Arlington. That’s because under the barrier law, an exception can be made for individuals who obtain a pardon from the governor. The problem, Ward said, is that Carey has been waiting over three years for a pardon, and received few updates from the state government.

In his opinion dismissing the case, Judge Liam O’Grady wrote that Governor Glenn Youngkin is “directed to prioritize Reudolph Carey III’s pardon application” — but Ward said that when they reached out to state Clemency Staff, who oversee pardon applications, they got a disheartening response.

“As far as we know, he may never hear anything,” Ward said. “They’ve refused to accelerate the process in any way.”

Carey now works as a commercial truck driver, although he hopes to return to substance abuse counseling. (Photo: Institute for Justice)

The Argument

Carey’s lawyers argue that the reasoning behind the law is arbitrary, and that it only serves to prevent those uniquely qualified to give advice on substance abuse from helping those in need of guidance.

“Overcoming those struggles is why he decided to get into substance abuse counseling,” Ward said. “But because this law judges who he was fifteen years ago instead of who he is today, he’s banned for life.”

“That Mr. Carey struck a police officer eighteen years ago has no bearing on his ability to do that job – we know that, because he’s done that job successfully for five years,” Ward added.

The state has argued in response that it’s reasonable for them to bar Carey and others like from working in certain jobs in the interest of “public safety.”

“A person’s criminal history is undoubtedly relevant to an individual’s suitability and qualification for employment in a direct care position as a substance abuse counselor,” the commonwealth wrote in a motion to dismiss the case.

The commonwealth also argued that because Carey could possibly receive a pardon, it’s premature to allow him to challenge the law preventing him from working.

“Plaintiff is barred by the barrier crime statute from holding a direct care position at a licensed DBHDS provider,” the commonwealth wrote. “But he can hold such a position, if he is granted a simple pardon and meets other individualized screening requirements.”

Judge O’Grady ultimately agreed with the commonwealth that the pardon issue must be resolved before the case can proceed, throwing Carey back into limbo. Ward told 8News they plan to appeal the decision.

Governor Glenn Youngkin did not respond to a request for comment and inquiry on the status of Carey’s pardon application before publication.