A felony is generically defined as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment for more than 1 year, though some states’ definitions differ. A convicted felon remains a convicted felon for the rest of his/her life unless and until his/her state permits otherwise. The direct consequence of a felony conviction is obviously death or imprisonment; however, there are also collateral consequences of felony convictions that affect the convicted felon’s life long after his/her imprisonment, sometimes even until death. These collateral consequences can vary widely from state to state and depending on the felony of which a person is convicted. These collateral consequences, imposed to varying degrees by different states and by the federal government as civil penalties for a felony conviction, include but are certainly not limited to: disenfranchisement; prohibition from obtaining certain licenses; prohibition from buying and possessing firearms, ammunition and body armor; exclusion from jury service; exclusion from several key types of government assistance; and deportation.
Disenfranchisement, which is the loss of the right to vote in public elections, is imposed by most states while the felon is in prison, by some states for a time after imprisonment and by a few states for life. Certain types of licenses, including but not limited to professional licenses, liquor licenses, visas and professional drivers’ licenses, are also forbidden to convicted felons to varying degrees and for varying amounts of time by states and the federal government. The inability to obtain a number of licenses due to felony conviction effectively limits a convicted felon’s employment opportunities by barring him/her from performing certain jobs and having certain careers. Convicted felons are also deemed “prohibited persons” who may not possess firearms, ammunition and/or body armor, according to the federal government and many state governments. Convicted felons are also prohibited from jury service in federal courts and more than half of the states because the right to serve on a jury is not deemed a fundamental constitutional right. Government assistance such as welfare payments, student loans and federally funded housing are also denied to convicted felons, who are deemed ineligible to receive them. Finally, people who are not U.S. citizens can be deported due to a felony conviction. Clearly, the collateral consequences attached to a felony conviction are substantial, debilitating and painful.
Beyond the basic collateral consequences discussed above, there are more civil consequences related to particular felony convictions. For just a few examples of the many creative civil penalties tied to specific felony convictions: if you are a convicted sex offender, many states require you to register as a sex offender, to provide DNA and blood samples for testing, and to leave at least a certain distance from schools; some states will prohibit you from holding public office if you have been convicted of a felony involving bribery, perjury, forgery, embezzlement of public funds, etc.; conviction of a felony involving a public service job can result in loss of your public pension rights and benefits. In sum, the convicted felon suffers a type of “civil death” in addition to his/her criminal penalties and fashioned by the federal government and/or individual states.
In addition to the collateral/civil consequences devised by the federal government and/or individual states, the convicted felon endures other types of social and employment consequences. Applications for employment and dwelling rental often ask whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. Admitting the felony conviction can immediately bar you from certain jobs requiring the employee to be bonded and from other jobs for which an employer is entitled to discriminate against you as a convicted felon. Admitting the felony conviction can immediately exclude you from renting from certain landlords. Furthermore, lying about the felony conviction can result in eviction from the rented premises and employment termination for dishonesty, and can also exclude you from unemployment benefits for being terminated for dishonesty. While these examples can be debilitating to a convicted felon, they encompass only a small percentage of the social penalties endured by convicted felons.
Are there solutions to or at least some relief from these collateral/civil and social consequences for convicted felons? As usual, that depends. Some states will allow the expunge of some felony convictions, removing the felony convictions entirely. Still other states allow clemency and/or pardons of some felony convictions without expunging the convictions. Still other states allow restoration of some rights after a certain period of time and/or after payment of certain fees, restitution and fines. The only way a convicted felon can be sure of the way(s) in which collateral/social consequences might be lessened or eliminated is by checking the laws of his/her state or the federal government, depending on whether the conviction was in state or federal court, certainly with the assistance of a Criminal Law attorney.
DO’S AND DON’TS
Hmmmm…well, DON’T get a felony conviction. If you’re charged with a felony, try your best to plead down to a misdemeanor.
If you are a convicted felon, DO check the laws of the jurisdiction in which you were convicted (state or federal) regarding expunge, pardon, clemency and the restoration of rights after felony conviction and DO obtain the services of a qualified Criminal Law attorney to assist you.
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]