Occupational Licensing

Minnesota Caretaker Gets Lifetime Ban for Crime She Didn't Commit

Even if background check applicants are guilty of wrongdoing, imposing lifetime bans on gainful employment is not a good policy.


People deserve a presumption of innocence, but they don't always get it in Minnesota. When Ifrah Yassin applied for government permission to work at a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities near Minneapolis, the state Department of Human Services told her no.

Not now. Not ever.

Despite persistent staffing shortages at facilities like these nationwide, a mandatory background check resulted in a lifetime ban for Yassin. No matter how long she lives or where she goes in Minnesota, her name will remain in a do-not-hire database that works like a no-fly list for health care professionals.

The reason? Regulators determined by their own "preponderance of the evidence" that Yassin had committed aggravated robbery in her youth. Fact-finders satisfy this burden of proof when they establish that someone is guilty with more than 50 percent likelihood—essentially a coin toss. Yet these determinations are normally made in courthouses, not administrative offices.

How the Department of Human Services reached its conclusion is unclear. Regulators have refused to give Yassin any original evidence. The police briefly arrested her and her friends on suspicion of robbery in 2013, but officers promptly released the young women after realizing their accuser had provided a false name. The case went nowhere.

No charges. No trial. No conviction.

Normally in the United States, this means innocence. The fact is not lost on Yassin, a refugee drawn to the constitutional promises of due process and equal protection. "I came to America from Somalia in search of a better life," she says. "I never thought that I'd end up being punished for the rest of my life for something I didn't do."

The injustice is not the first Yassin has endured. In 2011, when she was just 20 years old, she faced false allegations of witness tampering from a St. Paul police sergeant who led a yearslong investigation that has since been discredited. One federal appeals court accused the sergeant of "lies and manipulation," and another federal appeals court accused the sergeant of pushing a "fictitious story."

The 8th Circuit describes Yassin as "perhaps the most accidental of participants" in this bogus investigation. Her only involvement was getting assaulted during a chance encounter with the sergeant's star witness, which was spun as witness tampering.

A jury acquitted Yassin, but not until she spent two years in federal custody awaiting trial. Yassin tried to hold the sergeant responsible, but the courts have blocked her efforts to sue, citing immunity doctrines that shield government officials. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately refused to intervene, leaving Yassin with nothing.

No day in court. No police accountability. No remedy for the violation of her rights.

While the sergeant who framed Yassin has faced no consequences for what she did, Minnesota regulators are imposing consequences on Yassin for something she didn't do. And while that sergeant is still employed as a St. Paul officer, Minnesota is blocking Yassin's ability to earn an honest living.

The state's refusal to sign off on the background check highlights a nationwide problem with collateral consequences, which refers to any civil penalty not imposed by a judge or jury. Examples include restrictions on international travel, access to subsidized housing, and voting.

Many states also block ex-offenders from working in their chosen occupations. But few jurisdictions extend this type of collateral consequence to people never convicted. Minnesota takes this step, flipping the rules of justice upside down. Instead of requiring the state to prove guilt, Minnesota requires people like Yassin to prove innocence.

Besides the challenge of proving a negative, Yassin must refute information the state refuses to share, which means she must resort to mind reading. Our public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice, lays out the constitutional problems in a July 12 letter to regulators.

Federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, have repeatedly rejected procedural schemes that require ensnared individuals to prove their innocence. Yet this is what Minnesota does.

Even if background check applicants are guilty of wrongdoing, imposing lifetime bans on gainful employment is rarely a good policy. People deserve a fresh start.

Blackballing Yassin for a crime not even police or prosecutors believe she committed is doubly absurd. She deserves immediate approval to work.