What Rights Do Felons Lose?

If you have ever wondered, “what rights do felons lose?” you are not alone. Whether you are asking due to a personal situation, a family member’s situation, or just out of curiosity, understanding answers to questions like “what rights do you lose as a felon?” can help you make the necessary decisions for the circumstances you are faced with. 

It’s also helpful to know what rights one loses when convicted of a felony as opposed to being on probation and re-registering or appealing to a judge to have certain regulations apply.

What Is the Loss of Rights?

A loss of rights represents the legal consequences for individuals who have been convicted of a felony. When a defendant fulfills his or her imprisonment term and parole obligations after facing a charge for, let’s say, murder, drug possession, or domestic violence, one might think that his or her debt to society has been repaid.

Unfortunately, every state imposes an additional penalty for those who have faced incarceration. This means that the individual may also face a loss of legal rights pertaining to civil liberties such as the right to vote, eligibility for certain jobs, or a gun license.

What Rights Do Convicted Felons Lose?

So, what specific rights do felons lose? What rights do you lose when convicted of a felony? Felons can lose rights relating to their children, their ability to travel, and much more.

Again, every state has different rules. States such as Florida and Texas have stricter rules on the rights of felons compared to states such as California. Where someone was convicted or served time can thus have a direct influence on what rights he or she may lose and for how long.

Right to vote

Perhaps the most significant is the right to vote. This is a key representation of discrimination throughout many states with direct ties to racial disparities within the prison system. Certain states have rules that prevent felons from ever voting again in an election. In these states, a particular minority race or ethnicity coincidentally makes up a high percentage of the felon population. This results in fewer minorities being allowed to vote in any future elections.

  • California is one example where this draconian law doesn’t apply. Individuals who have completed probation or served their prison sentence can have their right to vote reinstated as soon as they are released;
  • In Vermont and the District of Columbia, felons never lose their right to vote, and they can cast a ballot while they are incarcerated;
  • In some states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, the right to vote is only lost while incarcerated, but it is automatically restored upon release;
  • In states like New Mexico, felons are not allowed to vote until they have completed their parole and any other probation obligation; and
  • There is a post-sentencing waiting time in states like Florida, which requires additional action. There remains certain crimes in Florida in which felons never get the right to vote reinstated.

If a felon can legally move after serving time for criminal charges, his or her rights will usually have to adhere to the new state’s laws. For example, if a felon moves from California to Florida, the right to vote that he or she had in California can be indefinitely taken away as long as he or she continues to live in Florida. The ACLU and the National Conference of State legislatures offer information on how one can restore voting rights based on the location of residence.

Gun ownership

The Second Amendment might be a controversial discussion except when felons are concerned.

  • States like Colorado, Oklahoma, California, and Washington, among many others, prevent felons from ever possessing firearms again. The caveat is that some states, including California and Georgia, may allow gun ownership as long as a pardon is issued;
  • Florida and Idaho prevent felons from gun ownership until they have their rights restored;
  • In Alaska, felons are simply prohibited from carrying concealed firearms, but they may own a gun immediately after serving their time;
  • Oregon and New York have similar restrictions to Florida, except they have certain offenses for which gun ownership cannot be restored. This usually relates to convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, domestic abuse, drug abuse, and so on;
  • States like Minnesota and Ohio automatically reinstate gun ownership for non-violent offenders as soon as they have completed their imprisonment; and
  • North Dakota reinstates the ability for felons to own a gun ten years after they have completed their sentence, even if their original criminal activity involved violence or weapons.

International travel 

An individual who has completed his or her sentence cannot be prohibited from moving to another state. One might find it difficult, however, to move to a new state if he or she is a convicted sex offender. Additionally, felons are not restricted from traveling out of the country, but other countries might not allow them entry.

The U.S. state department has a special passport for sex offenders, required for people who have been convicted of sex offenses against children. This special passport can present an additional barrier to international travel as the other countries can deny entry based on this passport.

Also read:Can You Leave the State on Probation?

If you are convicted of a crime, instead of sentencing you to jail, or to serving the remainder of your jail time, a judge can opt to...

No matter what the conviction is, it is always best to check ahead of time with the consulate of the visiting country to ensure that the conviction will not bar entry.

Right to certain jobs

The law limits felons from working in certain professions. Employment can be difficult in fields that require a firearm, including:

  1. The military;
  2. Police force;
  3. Armed security guards; and
  4. Gun shops.

Certain facilities might apply individual discretion for disqualification, like schools. To join the armed forces, a special waiver is required, but it’s still difficult to do so if one can’t legally possess a firearm. The FBI, for example, will never consider the resume of a felon. A conviction for embezzlement can preclude many white-collar jobs, as the conviction can prohibit one from acquiring a license as an accountant. A felon must also meet certain requirements before engaging in the business of insurance. If an individual is convicted of child abuse, he or she certainly won’t get licensed to work as a daycare operator or in any school setting.

Right to serve on a jury

Not everyone views this particular loss of right as negatively as the other examples. If one is convicted of a felony and wishes to serve on a jury again, he or she should seek the guidance of a skilled attorney to have this civil right restored, if possible under the relevant state law.

Loans

Certain felonies can disqualify an individual from receiving loans, particularly student aid or federal student loans. Any felon with a history of selling controlled substances must complete a separate drug conviction worksheet when applying for aid like FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). 

Generally, eligibility for loans may be possible a few years after the sentence has been served, but in some cases, completion of a drug rehabilitation program may be required.

Parental rights

If an individual separates from the partner or spouse before or after a prison term, a felony conviction will not help in his or her case for custody of the children. Most judges will consider any felony conviction, no matter how long ago it was or what it was for, as a sign that the individual is unfit to be a parent. If you have a felony conviction and are looking to gain custody of your children, it is best to speak with an attorney about how to successfully present your case for custody despite your conviction.

What Rights Do Felons Have?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain individual freedoms, rights, and obligations. Every state also has its own constitution, but any conflicting state law must defer to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. This means that no matter what rights are taken away at the state level, they cannot include one’s federal constitutional rights.

Can Felons Hold Public Office?

Felons need to have their civil rights restored in order to hold public office. If you are seeking a public office position and have completed your sentence, including any probation or parole, find an attorney who can help you in restoring your civil rights. 

Every state has different rules relating to felons holding public office. Generally, southern states have what is called a crime of moral turpitude, which means the crime at issue was considered immoral. As antiquated as this idea might be, crimes involving moral turpitude usually involve fraud, deceit, or any form of dishonesty, and one might need to wait a specific length of time before being allowed to hold public office. A conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude can also bar an individual from receiving citizenship or block eligibility for naturalization.

Does a Pardon Restore All of a Felon’s Civil Rights?

An individual can submit a claim to reinstate his or her civil rights, especially if there is a good defense and justice has been served. In some cases, this may require the help ofan attorney. 

Generally speaking, a full pardon restores all of a felon’s civil rights, including the right to run for office. A pardon, however, doesn’t eliminate all the potential barriers to professional restrictions, especially professional licensing. As with an accounting license, individual licensing authorities can exercise discretion as to whether to allow a felon to obtain a license, regardless of whether he or she has a pardon.

Final Words

Life doesn’t end after a conviction, but certain civil rights are lost that can disrupt an individual’s pursuit to lead a normal life afterward. The key is understanding what these rights are and how to get them reinstated. Talking to an attorney is always the best course of action to take, as states have different laws related to the reinstatement of rights for felons.  With help from a reliable legal practitioner or a welfare program specializing in assimilating felons back into society, one can achieve a normal, enriching life even after a conviction.

Article by James Finsweet

James Finsweet is a Head of legal department in LawBrother Ltd. At Lawrina, James contributes his experience in law practice and shares opinions on law regulations and news.

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