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Civil Rights

There is no doubt that a conviction for a federal crime can have severe repercussions. Any time spent in federal prison can dramatically impact your life, and the fines that come with a conviction could haunt you for years. Unfortunately, there are other complications that could await a person after their prison sentence is complete.

These consequences are not directly tied to their criminal conviction. These consequences could occur entirely independently of the criminal case. That does not mean these consequences are not serious, however. In some circumstances, you could permanently lose some of the civil rights you have come to rely on.

There are ways to restore your civil rights after a criminal conviction, but the steps to achieve this goal are difficult. Furthermore, there is never a guarantee your efforts will be successful. Your best option to avoid the loss of your civil rights is to avoid a criminal conviction completely. Houston Board Certified criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy could help you craft a successful defense to federal charges you are facing.

What Civil Rights Can You Lose After a Federal Crimes Conviction?

Many people are aware of the two most visible civil rights that are curtailed by a criminal conviction. These two include the right to vote or own firearms. There are other examples that are not as immediately obvious, however. We discuss all of the civil rights impacted by a federal conviction below.

The Right to Vote

If you are convicted of a felony at the federal level, you could permanently lose your right to vote in state and federal elections. What you might not know is that this right is actually limited by the laws of your state. While federal law will not directly result in the loss of your right to vote, each state has the right to limit your right to vote based on a federal conviction.

In some states, the right to vote returns automatically once a defendant enters into probation or parole. In other states, including Texas, a person convicted of a federal felony will be unable to vote for at least two years after their release. 10 States bar felons from voting for life. In these states, obtaining the right to vote again is difficult.

The Right to Own Firearms

In addition to the right to vote, another civil right that is curtailed after a federal felony conviction is the right to own firearms. Unlike the right to vote, the loss of the right to own firearms corresponds directly with a federal statute. Anyone convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison is barred from owning firearms pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). There is an additional limitation under the statute that bars a person convicted of domestic battery for owning or possessing a firearm as well. Most states also have similar prohibitions.

Serving on a Federal Jury

Federal law also curbs your right to serve on a federal jury following a conviction in state or local court. The conviction must be for a crime carrying a potential penalty longer than a year. No requirement to serve at least one year behind bars exists—the possibility alone is enough to trigger this prohibition. Like with gun rights, state law can also impact your ability to serve on a jury in state court following a state or federal conviction.

Testifying at a Federal Trial

Evidence of felony conviction could also be used against you at subsequent criminal proceedings. The jury can use your criminal history to determine if it finds you credible or not. However, evidence of a federal conviction that occurred more than 10 years prior is not admissible under certain circumstances. According to the statute:

Evidence of a conviction is not admissible if (1) the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding that the person has been rehabilitated, and the person has not been convicted of a later crime punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year, or (2) the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of innocence.

Holding Certain Public Offices

A federal conviction can impact your ability to hold some offices in the federal government, but not all. First and foremost, it should be noted that the United States Constitution does not prevent a person convicted of a felony from running for or holding elected office in the federal government. This includes serving as a member of Congress or even as President.

There are also no statutes that bar a person convicted of a federal crime from employment through the federal government. That said, agencies are allowed to consider your criminal history when making hiring decisions. Suffice it to say that a federal conviction could have a devastating impact on your ability to pursue federal employment.

The rules for employment in state government are ultimately up to the states themselves. In some jurisdictions, felons may not be employed by the state government at any level. In other states, there is no formal bar for government employment upon a conviction of a state or federal crime.

That being said, there are some federal statutes that apply to someone convicted of a crime while employed by the federal government. For example, 18 U.S. Code § 201(b) allows a person convicted of bribery to be forced from their position and disqualified from holding federal employment.

Can Civil Rights Be Restored?

If you have been convicted of a federal crime that impacts your civil rights, relief might be possible. In some situations, your rights will be returned after a set amount of time. In many cases, you must actively take steps to recover your constitutional rights. This process is rarely easy.

Presidential Pardons

The most sweeping option for the return of your civil rights is also the most difficult to obtain. The President of the United States is empowered to issue pardons to anyone convicted of a federal crime. This power stems directly from Article II of the United States Constitution, but it has been sparingly used by presidents for decades.

While the President is not restrained by any regulations when exercising this power, they generally follow the guidelines for pardoning set out by the Department of Justice. The DOJ will only recommend a pardon after five years from a person's adjudication or sentence completion. The President has the power to waive this five-year period, however. Further, the DOJ will not recommend a pardon for anyone currently facing pending criminal charges.

A pardon does not reverse or eliminate a criminal conviction, and it does not delete the court's finding of guilt. A pardon is a remedy that eliminates the punishment stemming from a conviction, not the conviction itself. Upon being pardoned, a person could see their right to own a firearm or vote restored. This is true for both state and federal restrictions as long as they are based on the federal conviction.

Expungement and Sealing

Under state law, there are often a variety of options to seal a criminal record or expunge a conviction. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the federal system. While some trial courts have some inherent power to diminish a conviction's impact on your civil rights, only narrow exceptions under federal statute exist.

The circumstances where a federal court can expunge a criminal record are almost non-existent. The only circumstances where the courts have allowed this to occur are where an arrest or conviction is later found to have been invalid. Courts are also allowed to correct the record when clerical errors are made.

The only federal statute dedicated to expunging convictions is 21 U.S.C. § 844. This statute, known as the Federal First Offender Act, allows for a form of probation before the entry of judgment in a federal misdemeanor federal drug charge. This option is only available to someone with no prior drug convictions. Expungement of any records relating to the arrest is available only to someone under the age of 21.

This expungement only impacts public records, meaning law enforcement will still have access to them. A successful expungement does block public access to any documents related to:

  • The arrest,
  • Institution of criminal proceedings against the defendant, and
  • The result of that criminal case.

A person who sees their conviction expunged can claim to have no criminal record without fear of perjury and will see the return of any civil rights lost during the course of their prosecution.

Contact a Houston Federal Crimes Defense Attorney

As you can see by now, undoing the damage of a federal conviction is difficult. Your best option for avoiding the loss of your civil rights is by avoiding a conviction entirely.

Attorney Doug Murphy is Board Certified in criminal defense law. An aggressive litigator, he is never afraid to take on the federal government at trial. To learn how his aggressive approach could help in your case, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away at 713-229-8333.

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