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Civil Disabilities of Convicted Felon: A State-by-State Survey

By Jon Marc Taylor

Under federal and various state laws, conviction of a felony has consequences that may continue long after the sentence has been served. Convicted felons may lose essential rights of citizenship, such as the rights to vote and to hold public office, and may be restricted in their ability to obtain occupational or professional licenses. Restoration of one or more of these rights frequently can be achieved, either automatically by the passage of time or the occurence of an event, such as completion of a sentence, or through some affirmative executive or judicial act, which may be based on evidence of rehabilitation.

Civil Disabilities of Convicted Felons, first published by the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney in 1992, the October 1996 volume represents its first comprehensive update. The survey was initially undertaken in evaluating pardon applications from federal offenders seeking a pardon for the purpose of restoring civil rights and/or removing other legal disabilities. Research revealed that the laws governing the same rights and privileges vary greatly from state to state. The area of firearms disabilities presents special problems, involving for state felons a complex interplay of federal and state law. The survey is to be updated on a regular basis.

A number of significant disabilities that are imposed upon conviction are state, rather than federal, restrictions, even when it is a federal conviction. While the focus of the survey is the loss and restoration of political rights and firearm privileges, employment-related disabilities are also touched upon, as are registration requirements for sex offenders.

Despite considerable variation among states, their laws regarding the loss and restoration of rights generally reflect five patterns. These patterns range from the right to vote, hold office, and sit on a jury being lost only during incarceration, with restoration automatic upon release to one or more rights being permanently lost. State procedures for restoring civil rights are more predominantly administrative than judicial.

States generally impose numerous occupational licensing disabilities upon convicted felons. There is considerable variation among the states as to whether loss or denial of a license or permit based on a conviction is mandatory or discretionary. Nearly all states have enacted statutes requiring the registration of sex offenders.

The area of firearms disabilities is a specialized and complex one, in which regulation occurs on both the state and federal levels. Restoration of civil rights under state law, even through a governor's pardon does not necessarily result in restoration of state firearms priviliges. The federal firearms disability upon convicted felons raises particulary complex issues for state offenders. These complexities raise a question about the ability of the average felon to determine his legal rights and responsibilities, as well as the government's ability to effectively ensure compliance with and enforcement ot the law.

This report is the most extensive and well-organized jurisdiction -by- jurisdiction analysis ot felons' civil disabilities compiled so far. A copy of the survey can be obtained by writing: Office of the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, 500 First Street, NW, Fourth Floor, Washington, D.C. 20530.

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