By: Mark Diaz
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What Rights Can I Lose If Convicted Of A Felony?
When it comes to a felony charge, most defendants are only thinking about the potential fine or jail time they face if convicted. But a felony conviction carries a wide range of secondary consequences. Indeed, there are many legal rights you can lose as a convicted felon, and you may find they are not immediately restored even after you complete any required prison sentence or term of community supervision (i.e., probation).
Can Convicted Felons Legally Vote?
Perhaps the most common question we get with respect to post-felony conviction rights is, “Am I still allowed to vote?” There is a significant amount of confusion on this issue, especially given that the rules governing voting rights can vary wildly between states. The U.S. Constitution itself does not automatically give anyone a right to vote. Rather, the Constitution leaves that matter up to each individual state with certain caveats–e.g., a state cannot deny the right to vote based on sex, race, or age if a person is at least 18 years old.
Here in Texas, the state Election Code prohibits anyone from voting if they have been “finally convicted of a felony” and are currently serving their sentence. This includes both a jail or prison term and any period of community supervision or probation. Once a person’s sentence is completed–or they receive a pardon–they are no longer considered ineligible to vote in Texas based solely on their prior felony conviction.
This is a critical point. Some states permanently bar felons from voting, even after completing their sentence, unless they go through a separate process to have their rights restored. Texas does not follow this rule. Once you have completed your sentence, you are allowed to vote again.
Now, you will likely have to re-register to get back onto the voter rolls, assuming you were registered prior to your initial conviction. But aside from that, you do not need to jump through any additional legal hoops to vote.
One more thing: The Election Code states that only a person who has been “finally convicted” of a felony is ineligible to vote. A final conviction means you have been tried, convicted, and any appeals are completed. So if you are simply arrested or indicted on a felony charge, you can still vote pending the resolution of your case. Similarly, if a jury has found you guilty but you are currently pursuing an appeal, you retain voting rights at least until that appellate court has issued its decision.
Can Convicted Felons Hold Public Office?
We know that a convicted felon is allowed to vote in an election once their sentence is complete. But what if a convicted felon wants to be a candidate in that election? Texas law is somewhat ambiguous on this subject. The Election Code states that nobody can be a candidate for a “public elective office” in this state if they have been “finally convicted from a felony” and they have not been “pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”
So a person who is convicted of a felony but later pardoned can clearly run for elective office. But what does the alternate condition of “released from the resulting disabilities” mean? According to a May 2019 opinion letter issued by the Texas Attorney General, the restoration of a felon’s right to vote does not automatically restore their “eligibility to hold public office.” The Attorney General suggested that the only way that a felon could have their right to run for public office restored, aside from a pardon, was to seek a “judicial release.” This refers to a scenario where a judge places a criminal defendant on community supervision–probation–but later sets aside the guilty verdict and dismisses the case.
The Attorney General’s opinion letter was just that–an opinion. It is not binding on any court. But it does point to the uncertainty of the law on this subject. There is, as of February 2021, a bill pending in the Texas legislature that would clarify the law by effectively stating a convicted felon who completes their sentence may both vote and run for office.
Can Convicted Felons Own a Firearm in Texas?
Here in Texas, the right to keep and bear arms is taken seriously. But even this right has its limits. It should not come as a surprise that a felony conviction affects your right to own a firearm. And what complicates this particular right is that there are overlapping federal and state laws to consider.
Let’s start with state law. Under the Texas Penal Code, it is a felony for someone to possess a firearm if they have been convicted of a felony (or certain misdemeanors involving domestic violence) within the past 5 years. Even after 5 years, it is only legal for a convicted felon to possess a firearm in their own home; they still cannot legally carry a gun out in public.
So a person convicted of a Texas felony more than 5 years ago can keep a gun in their own home for self-defense? Not exactly. This is where federal law comes into play. Under Title 18 of the United States Code, it is unlawful for any person convicted of a felony (or domestic violence misdemeanor) to possess a firearm. There is no 5-year rule and no exception for keeping a gun in your own home. This means that it is possible for a convicted felon to legally own a gun in Texas yet still face possible federal criminal charges.
What Other Civil Rights Are Impacted by a Felony Conviction in Texas?
Aside from voting, holding public office, and owning guns, there are a number of other civil rights that may be lost or substantially curtailed due to a felony conviction. Here are just a few:
- Jury Duty – This may not be a big deal to some people, but in Texas, a convicted felon cannot serve on a jury. This goes for both civil and criminal cases. And unlike the right to vote or run for elected office, there is no legal mechanism to restore this particular right once it is lost.
- Professional Licenses – This one often comes as a surprise to people. There are hundreds of jobs and professions that require occupational licenses from the state. Under Texas law, a licensing authority may suspend, revoke, or disqualify a person from holding a license if they have a felony conviction on their record. This does not mean that every convicted felon will be unable to hold any type of occupational license. But it may be much more difficult to get certain types of employment following a conviction.
- International Travel – A prior felony conviction does not automatically disqualify you from obtaining a United States passport. But that does not mean you will be allowed to travel to every country. Individual foreign nations may have a policy of denying entry visas to convicted felons.
Does a Pardon Restore All of a Convicted Felon’s Civil Rights?
The Texas Constitution permits the governor to grant clemency based on the recommendation of a majority of the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles. There are several different types of clemency, including a full pardon, a conditional pardon, and a commutation of sentence.
A full pardon is an unconditional grant of clemency issued after a convicted felon has completed their sentence. The pardon effectively restores all of the convicted felon’s civil rights, such as the right to run for elective office. A pardon does not, however, eliminate all potential barriers to professional licensing. Individual licensing authorities may still take a prior conviction into account when exercising their individual discretion.
One additional consequence of a full pardon is that the recipient is entitled to request expunction of their criminal record related to their original conviction. Expunction is a court order that effectively wipes out all records related to the arrest and conviction. After receiving a pardon and expunction, a person can legally answer “no” when asked if they have been convicted of a felony, assuming they have no other felony convictions on their criminal record.
How Do Misdemeanors Impact Civil Rights?
A misdemeanor, is an offense where the maximum penalty is no more than one year in jail. And in practice, many misdemeanor convictions carry no jail time at all. For example, under Texas law, a Class C misdemeanor only carries a small fine.
Misdemeanors also typically do not carry the same collateral consequences as felony convictions. You will not lose your right to vote or run for public office based on a misdemeanor conviction. But as noted above, misdemeanors involving domestic violence can lead to a loss of your right to own a firearm under state and federal law. And some professional licensing authorities may cite a misdemeanor conviction as grounds for denying a license or otherwise taking disciplinary action.
Speak with a Galveston Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Given the potentially wide-ranging impact of a felony conviction in Texas, it is crucial you make every effort to defend yourself against such charges in the first place. An experienced Galveston criminal defense lawyer can help. Contact Mark Diaz today to schedule a consultation.