The ramifications of a felony conviction with regard to a person’s civil rights (including the right to vote and/or own a firearm) vary dramatically by state. For example, in Florida, Kentucky and Iowa, individuals with a felony conviction permanently lose their right to vote, even after they serve their sentence and complete parole. Texas law regarding convicted felon rights is not as harsh, but still effectively disenfranchises a good portion of the population and in effect continues to punish a person even after he or she has paid the debt to society.
What Is a Felony Conviction?
There is no question a felony conviction is a serious offense. It covers homicide, rape, arson and other crimes where a victim suffers serious physical harm and mental trauma. Felonies can also include “white collar” crimes and fraud schemes, among other things. Punishment for a felony includes imprisonment and potentially several thousand dollars in fines.
An important thing to understand is that misdemeanors can be ramped up to felonies if the accused is a second-time offender. For instance, a third felony DWI means the accused already has two DWIs and can plead innocent, even though he or she has admitted guilt twice before. Now imagine being convicted of a felony DWI, being incarcerated in jail for two to 10 years, paying a hefty fine and getting sober in the process. Upon your release, shouldn’t you be able to enjoy the same rights as any other free member of society?
Consequences of a Felony Conviction
In Texas, a convicted felon’s voting rights are restored once he or she completes a felony sentence, including incarceration and parole. However, convicted felons are not permitted to:
- Hold or be a candidate for a public office
- Own any type of firearm
- Serve on a jury
That last one is a rule that applies in 31 states, effectively excluding 6 percent of the U.S. adult population, including approximately 30 percent of black men.
Although it is illegal for a potential employer to discriminate against job applicants who are convicted felons, employers have the right to obtain arrest and conviction records and can refuse to hire an applicant with a criminal record as long as the decision is “job related and consistent with business necessity.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made small progress with the Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (yep, that’s the full name of the act), which has helped prevent unlawful discrimination against job applicants with criminal records. However, it’s still relatively easy for any business to exclude convicted felons from serious consideration for a job. When you consider the number of companies that will happily obtain and sell a person’s criminal records to other companies doing background checks, the prospects for a convicted felon of finding gainful employment can be slim.
Here’s something else to think about: After serving jail time for a felony conviction and paying your debt to society, suppose you decide you want to do some good and become a lawyer. That is an admirable goal, but unfortunately, Texas state law forbids an applicant with a felony conviction from admission to the state bar and obtaining a license to practice law.
Once a person has paid their debt to society, he or she should be entitled to find a job, vote, serve on a jury and otherwise return to being a contributing member of society. Without providing a person with a second chance to do some good, how can society effectively rehabilitate a convicted felon?
Aggressive Houston Defense Lawyers
The award-winning attorneys at the Houston-based Thiessen Law Firm are ready to fight for you if you are facing a felony conviction. We believe every individual deserves a fair trial and we will make sure you do not accept a deal that will end up hurting you in the long run. Our team does more than win cases; we give our clients back their lives.
If you or a loved one is facing a possible felony conviction, contact us today.