A felony conviction can land you in prison, slap you with a hefty fine, and even keep you on probation after your prison sentence is over. However, once your debt to society is paid and you are out of prison, your fine is paid off, and your probation is over you could still find yourself paying for your crime.

There are certain rights that you can lose that will severely impact your life – probably the rest of your life. When people say that being convicted of a felony changes your life, they aren’t kidding. It fundamentally changes you and not just because of your experience behind bars.

While prison life is like living in a completely different world, you usually know that at some point you will walk out of there and leave it behind you. But while you can leave your prison time behind you the lasting effects of your crime can stick with you forever. A good attorney can help you take the steps to get your life back and restore those rights that you lost. 

What Rights does a Felon Lose?

There are certain civil rights that felons lose once they are convicted. At a state level, these rights will vary depending on each state’s laws while under federal law they are more consistent.

Civil rights that may be stripped from federal felons include:

  • Voting – A person’s right to vote in federal, state, and local elections when they are a convicted felon is determined by the laws of the state. Some states bar the person from voting in just federal elections, but other states do not allow voting at all.
  • Right to bear arms (gun ownership) – Under federal law, a federal or state felony conviction bars the individual from purchasing, receiving, obtaining, possessing, or transporting any firearm or ammunition.
  • Certain professional state licenses – There are many state-issued professional or occupational licenses that a person can be prevented from obtaining if the crime is substantially related to the activity or work that is licensed or to the fitness or suitability of the licensee. This often involves crimes of deceit. Licenses that may be affected include accountants, doctors, lawyers, and engineers.
  • Occupational restrictions – Certain types of felonies can bar a person from working in certain occupations. The crime must substantially relate to the type of occupation, such as working with children after a felony child-related assault conviction, or a federal embezzlement conviction and the person wants to work in finance.
  • Disbarment – This typically depends on the type of crime which may include felonies involving forgery, consistent lack of attention to clients, moral turpitude, fraud, drug abuse or alcoholism that affected the lawyer’s ability to practice, history of dishonesty, theft of funds, or pattern of consistent violation of the professional code of ethics.
  • Traveling to other countries – Travel restrictions are common after many felony convictions. In some cases, the travel restriction may prohibit travel outside of the Federal District for a specific period of time, such as 30, 60, or 90 days. Also, many foreign governments, such as Canada, have laws barring a person with a felony conviction from entering their country without special permission.
  • Ability to be employed by the federal government – Not all felony convictions result in preclusion of federal employment. However, certain felony convictions do bar a person from being employed by the federal government either for a specified period of time or permanently. Often these are related to banking and insurance positions and related crimes that would affect a person’s credibility or trustworthiness, but they can also be in the labor arena as well.
  • Ability to do business with the government – This typically is related to the type of crime that was involved. Any felony that is related to a contract with the Department of Defense, including fraud, carries a five-year ban that prohibits the person from holding various positions with a federal sub-contractor or contractor. A tax charge conviction typically does not carry a disqualification from government contracts.
  • Jury service – A felony convict is not allowed to participate as a juror in state court. They are also prohibited from sitting on a federal jury. 
  • Ability to obtain federal licenses – When a convicted felon submits an application for a license for import-export, S.E.C., custom broker, N.A.S.D., merchant marine, or C.F.T.C. the agency may find the felony to be a determent for issuing the license.
  • Ability to qualify for public social benefits – Most crimes do not pose a threat to federal benefits, but many benefits are lost when there is a drug conviction. Annuities and pensions may also be affected if the person is convicted of some crimes involving national security. Disability benefits and old age survivors’ benefits are by law suspended each month that the person is actually imprisoned for any felony conviction.
  • Parental rights or benefits – Some convicted felons may lose some or even all of their parental rights, but it depends on the crime and the crime must be very serious. However, in cases where the person who was convicted of the felony was the only parent who was involved in the child’s life and their incarceration would mean the child would go into foster care for an excessive period of time, then the court may strip the felon of their parental rights. Even if the felon doesn’t lose their parental rights while in prison, their rights may be affected later, particularly in custody or even visitation.
  • Ability to enlist in the Armed Forces – Under 10 U.S.C. Section504 a person who has a felony conviction is not eligible to enlist in the armed forces.
  • Ability to qualify for public housing – Convicted felons are prohibited from living in public housing when they have committed certain crimes.
  • Ability to fly – A person who has a felony conviction may find that they are not able to maintain or obtain a private pilot’s license or aircraft registration if they committed certain crimes such as a felony that involves a controlled substance.
  • Employment in certain fields– There are some fields where a convicted felon may be unable to work. For instance, if the crime involved a child or was particularly bad, they will likely be prohibited from working with children. Even if the details of the crime are not made known to the prospective employer, the felony conviction itself may be a red flag for working in that particular area or line of work.
  • Ability to have a private radio license – If the conviction involved controlled substances, a person’s private radio operator’s license may be revoked.
  • Ability to live in certain areas – Certain types of felonies, particularly those involving sexual assault or minors, may result in the person being unable to live in certain areas, such as near a school.
  • Ability to hold federal office – While the United States Constitution does not bar felons from holding elected federal offices, it also provides an impeachment clause that provides for the removal of any U.S. civil officer who is or has been convicted of bribery, treason, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. A federal conviction may disqualify a person from holding a federal office.

Restoration of Federal Civil Rights

There is no federal law in place for restoring a federal felon’s civil rights. This means that in cases such as a person seeking to own a firearm after a federal conviction, they have no recourse but to attempt to regain the firearm privilege via presidential pardon. They may also go through a government administrative restoration process.

18 U.S. Code § 925 (c) – Exceptions: Relief from disabilities

A person who is prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting, or receiving firearms or ammunition may make application to the Attorney General for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws with respect to the acquisition, receipt, transfer, shipment, transportation, or possession of firearms, and the Attorney General may grant such relief if it is established to his satisfaction that the circumstances regarding the disability, and the applicant’s record and reputation, are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest. Any person whose application for relief from disabilities is denied by the Attorney General may file a petition with the United States district court for the district in which he resides for a judicial review of such denial. The court may in its discretion admit additional evidence where failure to do so would result in a miscarriage of justice. A licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector conducting operations under this chapter, who makes application for relief from the disabilities incurred under this chapter, shall not be barred by such disability from further operations under his license pending final action on an application for relief filed pursuant to this section. Whenever the Attorney General grants relief to any person pursuant to this section he shall promptly publish in the Federal Register notice of such action, together with the reasons therefor.

Other laws may also come into play that are integral in helping federal felons seek relief from disabilities imposed by federal laws. However, if the state bans convicted felons from ownership or possession of guns, then the only real option that federal felons have would be for the restoration of civil rights via a presidential pardon.

Restoration of Civil Rights in New York

Several laws provide for the restoration of a felon’s civil rights in New York. 

The right to vote is a major concern for most Americans. In New York, that right is stripped when a person is convicted of a felony. 

N.Y. Election Law § 5-106(2)

No person who has been convicted of a felony and sentenced to a period of imprisonment for such felony pursuant to the laws of this state shall have the right to register for or vote at any election while he or she is incarcerated for such felony.

Once the sentence is complete the voting rights are automatically restored.

The other major right that is lost by felons in New York is the right to bear arms. They are not allowed to legally possess and buy firearms of any kind. It is written into many of the criminal laws of the state as a part of the sentence. The only way to restore this and other civil rights is usually via a pardon from the governor of the state. A felon may also seek to have his or her rights restored via a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or Good Conduct. Otherwise, the ban prohibiting the purchase or possess a firearm remains indefinitely.

Certificate of Relief from Disabilities

A Certificate of Relief from Disabilities allows for some collateral consequences of felonies and other criminal convictions to be removed. This essentially restores the felon’s civil rights, making it easier (or in some cases possible) to apply for certain jobs, obtain certain licenses, get public housing, vote, and even own a gun. In essence, the person is able to do those things and more as if they had never been convicted of a felony.

However, applying for a Certificate of Relief does not guarantee the restoration of civil rights. The application has to be granted. Also, having the Certificate does not mean the felons don’t have to disclose their criminal conviction on job applications. Disclosure may still be required.

If the conviction is ten years old or older, the felon may ask the court to seal the records. Until that time, they may have a Certificate of Relief.

Eligibility for a Certificate of Relief from Disability is specific:

Convicted of any number of violations or misdemeanors but

  • No more than one felony (2 felony convictions at the same time in the same court count as 1 felony)

You cannot apply for a Certificate of Relief from Disability if – but you can apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct

  • You have 2 or more felony convictions (at different times), or
  • You want to or plan to apply for a public office job

Each conviction requires a separate Certificate of Relief from Disability.

You can apply for the Certificate of Relief at sentencing, and you ask the judge at that time. This is especially important if you know you are going to lose public housing or your employment license due to your conviction. If such cases you should request it at the earliest possible time, which is usually at sentencing. After sentencing, you can still apply but if you are in a state prison you may have to wait a substantial time for it to get approved.

If you served time in state prison and have been released, you can make your application for a Certificate of Relief to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

As you can see, restoration of your civil rights after a felony conviction can be complicated. You need an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who is willing to go to bat for you and help you get back your rights.

Call The Litvak Law Firm at (718) 989-2908 today and get the help you need. Mr. Litvak has years of experience inside and outside of the courtroom and, and can help you with your case and get your rights restored. Call today for a consultation and start the journey to getting back your life.