A felony conviction has a serious impact on a defendant’s life, even beyond the obvious immediate consequences of sentencing. A person who has a felony conviction on their record forfeits certain rights that other members of the community enjoy. In some jurisdictions there exists a process by which an individual can seek to have a felony conviction expunged from their record, but even this process may not fully restore every right and privilege that the person held prior to their conviction.
The right to participate in the civic process is one of the most fundamental rights of citizenship, but that right may be temporarily or permanently lost as the result of a felony conviction. Persons with such a conviction on their record may not vote, sit on a jury, or serve as a notary public. The terms of this disenfranchisement vary by state; some states permanently revoke these civil rights, and a person seeking to regain them must submit a petition for pardon or clemency. In other states, felons retain their right to vote even while serving their prison sentence (albeit by absentee ballot). Most states fall somewhere in between. New York and New Jersey restore an ex-offender’s voting rights after their sentence has been completely served, including incarceration and parole. In New Jersey, any probation must also be completed before civil rights are restored.
Another significant restriction on the rights of former felony offenders involves possession of firearms. Any person convicted of a felony offense may not legally possess a firearm – even a hunting rifle – unless they have had their rights restored by the appropriate government agency. This is a much more significant hurdle than getting one’s voting rights restored, and the process involved depends on whether the person was convicted under state or federal law. The nature of the felony is irrelevant; even non-violent offenses result in the forfeiture of the offender’s gun rights.
There are many forms of government aid directed toward people experiencing financial need that become unavailable to an individual if they are convicted of a felony. This includes student loans, housing aid, and several other financial assistance programs. This can be a problem for many former offenders, who may find their opportunities for legitimate employment limited as a result of their criminal record.
A felony conviction can have even more serious consequences for individuals who are not United States citizens. There are large categories of felony crimes for which conviction may result in a non-citizen resident of the US being deported to their country of origin – even if they are residing in the country legally and with all proper documentation. The kinds of crime that may trigger deportation proceedings include aggravated felonies and “crimes of moral turpitude.” The latter category is poorly defined, but generally includes crimes involving fraud or deception, theft, or the intent to cause harm to others. Crimes of moral turpitude can result in deportation if the crime is committed within five years of the offender’s legal entry into the United States, or if the offender commits two or more such crimes (on separate occasions) regardless of the length of time since entering the country.
An aggravated felony includes any of a wide variety of serious offenses, including murder, sexual assault or abuse, treason or espionage, drug or weapons trafficking, and financial crimes such as fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. Conviction of any of these crimes is almost certain to result in deportation unless the offender can prove that they are likely to be tortured upon return to their country of origin.
A felony conviction is likely to make an individual’s professional future more challenging, not because of any direct government action, but because employers may hesitate to hire applicants who have committed felony offenses. The outlook for ex-offenders does improve with time, however, assuming they avoid any additional charges going forward. It’s critical to remember that while an applicant may have a harder time finding an employer willing to hire them with a felony on their record, lying to an employer about a criminal past is almost certain to result in firing when the employer finds out.
A felony conviction for licensed professionals in the fields of medicine, accounting, law, real estate and the like face an additional burden of losing their licenses to practice in their chosen fields. These individuals will have an especially hard time returning to work after a felony conviction.
A felony conviction is likely to change an individual’s life in many ways, some of which they may not initially expect, which makes the help of experienced legal representation critical for anyone facing felony charges.
Stahl Criminal Defense Lawyers aggressively defend individuals charged with complex federal and state crimes. To contact us to discuss your case, call 908.301.9001 for our NJ office and 212.755.3300 for our NYC office, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.