What Rights Are Denied to Convicted Felons?

••• Cindy Hill

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Felony convictions carry lasting collateral consequences. The precise rights denied to persons with felony convictions vary state to state, and include loss of rights to vote, to serve on juriesor to hold public office. Federal consequences of felony convictions include loss of the right to possess a firearm as well as denial of access to government grants, loans, contracts, public housing and educational funding.


A convicted felon is a person convicted of a crime in state or federal court, which that jurisdiction designates as a felony. However, many statutes apply different, complex definitions regarding to whom the consequence attaches. Some consequences attach only to persons with certain types of convictions, like sex crimes or violent crimes, while other consequences also attach to persons with misdemeanor convictions.


According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, a felony under ancient British common law was a crime serious enough to warrant forfeiture of the defendant's lands and title, long imprisonment, and often death. As British and American legal systems developed, the term felony came to mean a crime more serious than a misdemeanor. Miriam-Webster's Legal Dictionary refers to a felony as a federal crime bearing a punishment of more than one year in prison. The legal consequences of a felony have long been more onerous than those attached to a misdemeanor conviction.


The duration of the impact of a felony conviction depends on the jurisdiction of conviction as well as the specific collateral consequence at issue. Many states have processes by which at least some of the rights lost through felony conviction are reinstated, automatically after some set period of time, or by going through an expungement process. Gubernatorial or presidential pardons usually, but not always, reinstate rights lost to a convicted felon.

State Rights Denied

Rights denied convicted felons vary in each state. Common denials include the right to vote, sit on juries, and run for or hold public office. Persons convicted of felonies may also be denied access to state employment or contracts, though this depends on the exact nature of the felony conviction. For example most persons with sex offense convictions are barred from employment in teaching or child care. Many states limit felon's access to state professional licenses, such as attorney, beautician or private investigator licenses.

Federal Rights Denied

Felony conviction results in loss of federal rights to vote, sit on juries, run for or hold office, as well a numerous other serious impacts. A 2009 American Bar Association report lists dozens of federal law and regulatory consequences of felony convictions in 11 categories ranging from inability to enlist in the military to ineligibility for federal public housing, from disqualification for receiving numerous federal contracts to inability to obtain federal student assistance. Felony convictions present substantial bars to that person being able to lawfully obtain education, employment, housing and other necessities.


Federal law prohibits firearms possession by anyone convicted of a crime with a potential imprisonment of one year or more. This includes many state misdemeanor convictions. The same law exempts certain white-collar, business-related felonies. State laws may be more restrictive than federal laws, for example by prohibiting convicted felons from possessing muzzleloading guns which are permissible to convicted felons under federal laws.

Travel and Immigration

Persons with felony convictions can usually not obtain a passport, and many countries will not allow entry to persons with certain classes of criminal convictions. Immigration law is complex and changes frequently, but generally speaking a conviction for a felony as well as numerous classes of misdemeanors is likely to result in the deportation of persons in the United States who are not American citizens, even if that person is in the United States under wholly lawful immigration circumstances.



About the Author

A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.

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  • Cindy Hill