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 Who is Considered a Felon?

A person who is convicted of a crime that is a felony loses certain civil rights. With the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, sometimes all or part of those rights can be reinstated. Moreover, following conviction, cleaning up a criminal record can be very important. An individual is typically required to indicate whether they have been convicted of a felony when completing a job or housing application. Restoring rights and reputation can be crucial to the life of a former convict.

Under American law, there are two categories of crimes: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, such as stealing a small amount of money. Misdemeanors are punishable by time in a county jail, but the sentence cannot be longer than one year.

Felonies are more serious crimes, and by definition, they are punishable by at least one year in state prison, followed by probation or parole. Felonies tend to be crimes that involve an element of violence or are considered harmful or dangerous to society. Examples include sexual assault and grand theft – the theft of a large amount of money.

What Rights Do Felons Lose After Conviction?

Felony convictions usually result in the loss of certain civil rights and privileges. Depending on the state, a felon can expect to lose the following civil rights:

  • Right to vote in local, state, or federal elections
  • Right to serve on a civil or criminal jury either in state, county, or federal courts
  • Right to hold a public office in the state
  • Right to own or possess a firearm
  • In many states, the privilege to hold or obtain a state-issued driver’s license is lost, even if the felon had a driver’s license before the crime was committed

When is a Felon Eligible for Restoration of at Least Some of Their Rights?

This depends on the jurisdiction where the conviction occurs (state, county, or federal). Each state has its own process for deciding whether some or none of the listed rights and privileges are restored following a felony conviction. These are some of the circumstances that may result in the restoration of rights:

  • Some states allow rights such as voting and obtaining a driver’s license to be restored immediately after release from prison
  • Before any rights can be restored, some states require that the full sentence be fulfilled, including satisfactory completion of any supervised probation or parole
  • Rarely the felon can persuade the court to expunge the conviction. Expungement is a legal process where an individual’s criminal records are removed from public records and treated as if they no longer exist. This process may be helpful if an individual is applying for a job or looking for a place to live. This will restore most, if not all, of the person’s civil rights
  • Another possibility, though rarely granted, is to receive an official pardon from either the President (if it is a federal conviction) or the state governor (if it is a state conviction). A pardon will automatically restore all civil rights and privileges

Are Any of the Rights Lost Automatically Restored for a Felon?

The only way automatic restoration of rights can occur is with an expungement or a pardon. Even in those cases, however, the offender may still have to re-register to vote or apply for a new license after restoration. This depends on the state’s rules for restoration of rights.

What Do I Do if I Do Not Qualify for Expungement or Pardon?

If you do not qualify for an expungement or pardon, you may petition the court to restore your rights. You will have to submit documentation such as:

  • A certified court record showing completion of parole or probation
  • Documentation of completion of certain rehabilitation programs such as drug/alcohol or mental health treatment
  • Proof that the statutory time limit passed for having a clean record before applying for restoration

Can I Restore My Voting Rights After Being Convicted of a Felony?

That depends on your state, and the states vary widely. Examples of state voting rights policies include:

  • The felon never loses the right to vote and can even vote from prison. Maine and Vermont have this policy
  • Voting rights are returned to felons who are out of prison, whether or not they are on probation or parole. Several states follow this policy, including Illinois, Michigan, and the District of Columbia
  • Some states allow those who are on probation to vote but not people who are still serving time or are on parole. This includes California, Colorado, and New York
  • Many states do not allow anyone to vote until their prison sentence, probation, and parole are all completed. New Jersey and Texas are among several other states that have this policy.
  • Some states permanently revoke voting rights for those convicted of particular felonies. The list of felonies varies from state to state, but all states include violent felonies as deal-breakers. Alabama, Arizona, and Tennessee take this position.
  • Some states permanently revoke the right to vote for all felons. There is no way to win back the right to vote in those states. This includes Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia.

How Do I Restore My Gun Rights After Being Convicted of a Felony?

Restoring gun ownership rights to a convicted felon is a highly controversial issue. Firearm rights are strictly regulated by the federal government and each state, and the laws continue to change yearly. As a result, there can be many laws and sources that you must check to see if you qualify for firearm ownership or even simply possessing a firearm. Failing to comply with the regulations could result in a new criminal charge of unlawfully possessing or owning a firearm.

The following methods may allow you to be eligible again for gun ownership or possession:

  1. Full pardon of your crime by the President or Governor, depending on the jurisdiction that convicted you
  2. Expungement of the conviction that prohibited you from possessing or owning a gun

Some crimes, whether a felony or not, may prohibit you from owning or possessing a gun regardless of whether you successfully completed your sentence. These include violent crimes, sexual offenses, and domestic violence.

How Do I Restore My Voting Rights After Being Convicted of a Felony?

That depends on the state, but in general, you petition the court. Depending on the state’s law, You may be eligible to restore your voting rights by completing your sentence or even being released from jail. You may still be required to register, however. Some states prohibit felons from voting unless they receive a pardon or an expungement.

How Do I Restore My Jury Rights After Being Convicted of a Felony?

Restoring your right to sit on a jury is usually similar to the voting right restoration in most states. It’s important to check your local laws before you start the process, as you may already have your rights restored depending on your state’s circumstances and laws.

How Do I Restore My Driver’s License Privileges After Being Convicted of a Felony?

Obtaining a driver’s license is one of the easiest things to restore after you are released from jail. Depending on the state, you may be eligible either after release or after completion of your sentence and compliance with all driver’s license requirements.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me Restore My Rights?

If you are facing a felony charge, a criminal lawyer can help you understand what rights you are at risk of losing if convicted. If you have already been convicted, a lawyer can assist you in filing for a pardon and seeing if you are eligible to have your conviction expunged. An experienced lawyer will know or will know how to research what specific requirements are needed to restore your rights in your state.

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