What Does Having a Felony Prevent You from Doing?
A single mistake shouldn’t define your future. But in our justice system, one felony conviction can bring a lifetime of barriers. Your dreams of landing a good job, buying a home, or traveling abroad may suddenly seem out of reach.
Rights and privileges you’ve always known can be restricted or lost entirely. Simply being labeled as “a felon” is enough to slam doors before you even have a chance.
Our felony lawyers believe redemption is possible. We’ve seen firsthand how motivated individuals move past a felony record to rebuild happy, successful lives. This blog offers insight into the rights and opportunities you may lose with a felony conviction and what we can do to help restore them.
Voting and Other Civic Participation
One of the most fundamental American rights is the ability to have a voice in our democracy through voting. However, in many states, including California, convicted felons lose their right to vote during incarceration in state or federal prison (or county jail awaiting transfer to state or federal prison).
Some states impose even harsher restrictions, banning voting for a certain number of years after release or requiring a petition before restoring voting rights. In California, it is important to note that you can still be eligible to vote even if you are on probation or parole.
Convicted felons who are currently on parole, required to register as a sex offender, or currently incarcerated are prohibited from serving on a jury, and certain felony crimes can restrict an individual’s opportunity to run for public office. Being excluded from these civic duties can increase feelings of isolation when trying to rebuild your life after prison.
Owning or Possessing Firearms
Federal and state laws prohibit anyone convicted of a felony from purchasing or possessing a firearm. This restriction applies regardless of the type of felony and lasts a lifetime. Only through a governor’s pardon or having a wobbler felony reduced to a misdemeanor can your rights potentially be regained in California. The inability to own a gun for self-defense or sport can be frustrating, especially for those convicted of nonviolent felonies.
Finding Good Employment
One of the biggest hurdles felons face is finding stable employment after their release. Many employers now conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates after an offer has been extended and may disqualify applicants with a felony record, especially if their crime has a nexus to the role being sought
High recidivism and unemployment rates among ex-felons point to the obstacles created by a criminal record. However, opportunities exist, especially when being open about your past. We’ve seen former felons go on to successful careers by seeking out companies willing to give them a chance.
Housing restrictions present another challenge for those with a felony history. Applicants for public housing can be denied if they or anyone in their household has been convicted of certain offenses. Private landlords also commonly screen for criminal records and may turn down anyone with a felony.
Even getting a mortgage can be tough – most lenders will reject applications from those convicted of certain financial and fraud-related crimes. Due to these limitations, some felons have no choice but to seek less desirable housing options.
If your career requires a professional license, a felony conviction may stand in your way. Many licensing boards and agencies can deny licenses or revoke existing ones if they feel a criminal record undermines an applicant’s integrity.
Even some skilled trades require licenses that felons may be barred from obtaining. Similarly, a driver’s license can be suspended or revoked following convictions for offenses like vehicular manslaughter or driving under the influence. Losing driving privileges only makes the job hunt more challenging.
Receiving Federal Benefits
Government benefits provide a crucial financial safety net for many Americans struggling to get by. However, having a felony drug conviction can restrict your access to student loans and other aid for higher education.
Felony drug offenses – even marijuana possession – may also result in a bar from receiving food stamps or cash assistance. Losing these benefits at a time when finding work is already difficult only adds more adversity.
One consequence many don’t realize is the potential loss of the ability to travel internationally. Felons may find it much harder, if not impossible, to obtain a passport, depending on the nature and timing of their conviction. Certain crimes like human trafficking and financial fraud can result in a denial of a passport application.
Even with a valid passport, certain countries may deny entry to foreign visitors with a criminal record. If overseas travel is your dream, these limitations could seriously curb your plans and aspirations.
Will a Felony Conviction Stay on My Record Forever in California?
A felony conviction remains permanently on your criminal record under California law; however, there are ways to reduce the felony, get it dismissed, or get certified as rehabilitated and even pardoned.
The California version of an “expungement” is an application for dismissal under Section 1203.4 of the California Penal Code which states that once probation is completed, defendants may petition the court to withdraw their guilty or no contest plea and enter a not guilty plea. If granted, the court dismisses the felony charges (and may even reduce it to a misdemeanor under Penal Code 17(b).) The conviction is dismissed and effectively erased for most purposes under state law, with some exceptions. The information showing that it was dismissed will still appear on your record of arrests and prosecutions (“RAP Sheet”) so the record of the actions taken do not completely disappear.
Also, expunged felonies still must be disclosed when applying for public office or professional licenses. Expungement does not restore firearm rights or allow a felon to hold public office if barred due to their conviction; however, sometimes firearm rights may be restored if the felony is reduced to a misdemeanor prior to the dismissal. Some offenses like domestic violence, even if reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed, require a lifetime ban on firearm ownership.
Certain felony offenses, like those that require a state prison sentence or sex crimes against children, are not eligible for expungement. In those cases, the conviction remains permanent unless a rare pardon is granted. It is also possible to seek a certificate of rehabilitation for crimes as an alternative for those crimes where state prison was imposed. Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney is the best way to understand your options for record cleanup.
Moving Forward from a Felony With The Nieves Law Firm
As you can see, the effects of having a felony conviction go far beyond completing your court-ordered sentence. The repercussions of a criminal record can shut doors for years or even a lifetime.
However, we want to assure you that a felony does not have to define your future. With an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side, helping seal, expunge, or mitigate your record where possible, many obstacles can be overcome.
There are always opportunities to rebuild your life. Don’t let a mistake permanently derail your hopes and dreams. Please reach out to The Nieves Law Firm today to discuss your options. Our team is here to support you through this difficult time and make sure your rights are protected.
Contact us now for a free consultation.