In today’s age, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has never had a run-in with the law before, and you may even know someone who is a convicted felon. Felons have been convicted of crimes that are classified as a felony-level, as opposed to misdemeanors. Felony crimes can include drunk driving for repeat offenders, murder, assault, theft, and even robbery. These classifications of how serious crime often just depends on the jurisdiction they occurred in and whether the person had a prior criminal record.
What Are Criminal Records?
Criminal records are a collection of all the arrests, criminal charges, court proceedings, convictions and even current disposition of any open cases against a person. These can include nationwide inmate records from local jails or state prisons, federal penitentiaries, and even juvenile detention. Some details are protected from public view, especially those concerning minors, as well as anything that the local government has determined should be held private.
Having a criminal record means you have an arrest or conviction in your searchable history. Just because someone has been arrested doesn’t mean they were ever convicted, however. Many employers will ask about your criminal past and whether you have one, and may even request a release for a formal background check. The best policy is to maintain honesty about these questions, as many won’t refuse to hire due to a criminal past, except in cases of certain crimes.
Can a Criminal Record Prevent You from Voting?
Being a convicted felon means you’ll lose some of your basic rights guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution. However, these can vary by state, and some of them are only imposed for a certain amount of time.
Voting is one right that felons lose at least as long as they are serving their sentence in jail or prison. However, once the sentence is over the felon may typically resume voting in elections, such as individuals with West Virginia inmate records, New York, Oklahoma, and other states.
Much like voting rights, traveling out of the country is prohibited while serving a prison or probation sentence. After the probationary period is over, travel may resume. However, some countries have access to U.S. criminal background histories and can require a background check before allowing a convicted felon into their country.
Depending on the state, restoring your gun rights may be easier in some places than others. In order to reinstate a felon’s gun rights, it may be necessary to apply for a felony expungement, a governor’s pardon, a federal pardon or even petition the state for the restoration of your firearm rights.
Federal employers must not hold a prior felony conviction against an applicant unless the crime relates to the job duties they would be performing. State employers, conversely, can consider the criminal history in determining whether to hire a person. Most private employers will conduct a background check and choose not to hire convicted felons. Private businesses are allowed to discriminate against felons when hiring new employees.
Public Social Benefits and Housing
Convicted felons aren’t typically able to apply for federal or state aid in the form of grants, public housing, cash assistance, food stamps, and Social Security benefits.
Felons run the risk of losing their parental rights if they are the only custodial parent in a child’s life and their conviction resulted in the child being placed into state or foster care. Felony convictions in your past can also lead to loss of custody in the event of a future dispute or divorce in court.
State-Specific Felon Voting Laws
In both Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote – and may do so even while incarcerated.
The following states allow felons to vote after release from prison:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
These states allow felons to vote after they complete their sentences, including parole or probation time:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Finally, these states will only restore a felon’s voting rights after a certain waiting period has passed after completion of their sentence, or require further action from the felon: