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What Rights do Felons Lose?

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  • 0:03 The Loss of Rights
  • 4:29 The Right to Discriminate
  • 5:20 Regaining Rights
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

Did you know that in some states, a convicted felon will never be allowed to vote again? This lesson will explore which rights are taken from convicted felons and which ones can be regained.

The Loss of Rights

Let's pretend you just got charged with felony drug possession. What would be the first thing going through your mind? Prison time, right? What most people don't think about is that along with the prison time you will be serving, many of the rights given to you may soon be taken.

That teaching license you worked so hard for and gave you $100,000 worth of debt, will be revoked before you even know it. Have you always dreamed of a European vacation? Forget about it - you may be prohibited from traveling internationally. Or how about the second amendment that gives you the right to bear arms? Not anymore.

Each state has the ability to decide what rights people lose once convicted of a felony. They also have the ability to decide which rights can be regained once a person is released from incarceration and off probation. The rights of felons vary slightly from state to state; however, the most common are as follows:

  • Possessing and purchasing a firearm
  • Voting
  • Jury duty
  • Traveling outside the country
  • Employment in certain professions
  • Parental rights
  • Public assistance and housing

Let's cover these different rights that are taken away from those who have committed a crime one at a time.

Possessing or purchasing a firearm

The federal law states that any person convicted of a felony, that is punishable by at least 12 months in prison, is prohibited from purchasing or owning a firearm. A firearm is considered any weapon that discharges a bullet. It's important to note that whether or not the individual actually serves prison time is irrelevant. As long as the misdemeanor or felony offense can be punishable for more than 12 months in prison, the person convicted of that offense is banned from purchasing or owning a firearm.

At the time of conviction, the felon must transfer all firearms to someone who is permitted to possess them or turn them over to local law enforcement. Background checks are conducted at the time of sale and anyone who has a felony or violent crime on their record will be denied. As always, it's possible for felons to obtain a firearm on the street; however, if caught with it, they will be charged with another felony.

Voting

Voting rights vary by state. Some states allow felons to vote while incarcerated, while the majority of states prohibit this. Once released from prison, some states allow felons to vote, but only after completing probation. There are a few states that prohibit felons from ever voting again. In addition to losing the right to vote, felons will never be allowed to run for office or be elected into public office.

Jury duty

When making jury selections, people with felonies may not be permitted to serve at all, or may be prohibited from serving as a juror for a certain number of years subsequent to their conviction. Similar to voting, each state has its own regulations regarding felons and jury duty. The majority of states will prohibit felons from serving if they themselves are currently a defendant in a trial at that time.

Traveling abroad

Convicted felons are allowed to leave the country if they have an approved passport; however, the country they are traveling to has the right to deny entry into the country. If a felon is on probation, they must get permission from their probation officer before they leave.

Employment rights

Employers have the right to run background checksor look into the person's past and choose not to hire a candidate based on their felony conviction. However, there are certain professions that ban felons from ever obtaining employment in the field, including teachers, law enforcement agencies, the military, child care agencies, and other professions that require a license. If the felon possessed a license or held employment in one of these professions before their conviction, they will be terminated.

Parental rights

Convicted felons aren't banned from having parental rights, or the right to custody over offspring; however, it is very difficult to win custody battles with a felony. Parental rights could be limited or subject to supervised visitation.

Public social benefits

When convicted of a felony, the right to public social benefits changes. Those who receive Social Security Income will not be permitted to receive it while incarcerated. Once released, felons are permitted to begin receiving it again. Regarding other public benefits, such as food stamps, grants, and housing assistance, each state has its own set of regulations.

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