Rights of Convicted Felons in Texas

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An individual who has been convicted of a felony in the state of Texas is prohibited from exercising certain civil rights. These rights include: the right to vote, the right to bear arms, the right to serve on a federal petit or grand jury, and the right to hold public office or federal employment. Texas law bars individuals with felony convictions from serving on state juries.

A felony is defined as a conviction in federal or state court of a crime punishable by jail time of more than one year. There are different methods to restore lost civil rights, from a governor’s pardon to a set aside.

Right to Hold Public Office

Federal law does not bar a convicted felon from holding elected federal office. Yet various federal laws state that a conviction may result in the loss of, or ineligibility for, an office. Texas state law prohibits a person convicted of a felony from being a candidate for public office or from holding any position that involves a public office.

Right to Own a Firearm

A federal law, the Gun Control Act of 1968, provides that a convicted felon cannot receive, transport, own or possess any type of firearm, ammunition or explosive material. A federal felon is subject to these restrictions until their civil rights are restored through a federal procedure. When a person is placed on deferred adjudication for a felony, they are typically placed on probation for a set number of years, subject to the conditions of probation.

Since there is no felony conviction, there is no interruption of a defendant’s rights, except that they may not purchase or receive any firearms. An individual in violation of the Gun Control Act could be charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, a third-degree felony. The offense is punishable by 10 years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Voting Rights in Texas

An individual convicted of a felony in Texas loses the right to vote until they complete their sentence, parole or probation. Texas automatically restores the person’s right to vote once their prison sentence, parole or probation is completed. The individual must have paid all fines, costs and restitution, or compensation for damages, to the victim.

In order to be eligible to vote after completing a sentence, the individual must register to vote again. They will have to provide evidence that they completed their sentence, parole or probation before voting. A person who is in jail, but otherwise eligible to vote, may vote. An example of such a situation would be a person who is arrested and in jail awaiting trial on a felony charge, but who has not yet been convicted.

At times there is confusion about what constitutes a final felony conviction. A conviction on appeal is not a final felony conviction. Deferred prosecution is not a final felony conviction. Prosecution, indictment or other criminal procedures leading up to, but not yet resulting in, the final conviction are not final felony convictions.

Misdemeanors and Loss of Rights

An individual who is convicted of a misdemeanor for theft or assault family violence will suffer a loss of civil rights. The loss of rights is linked to the court’s placement of the individual on community supervision. For example, a person convicted of assault family violence cannot own a firearm for five years after their discharge from probation.

Other Consequences of Felony Conviction

An individual with a felony conviction who wants to enter a licensed profession, such as a doctor or a lawyer, might be ineligible to be admitted to practice in Texas. Certain professions have licensing boards that review applications for fitness. A felony conviction can raise concerns about whether the individual will practice the profession honestly and abide by the regulations for licensed professionals. A felony conviction can also reduce a person’s chance of finding employment, securing housing, or entering a college or university of their choice.

Expunction of a Felony Crime

A person can seek an expunction, or expungement, of a felony from their criminal history if they were arrested and the case did not result in a conviction. They can also move for an expunction if charges were not filed after an arrest, were dismissed or if they were acquitted after a trial.

In addition, a person can move to have the record expunged if there was no felony conviction on their criminal record, although arrest and other court records might exist. If an individual’s conviction was overturned following an appeal, that person would qualify for expunction; a person who is pardoned after a conviction is also eligible for expunction.

Eligibility for Order of Nondisclosure

An individual who completes deferred adjudication for a Class B misdemeanor or a higher offense may be eligible for an order of nondisclosure. This order prevents law enforcement agencies, jails, courts and other public information agencies from releasing the individual’s arrest information to private third parties, such as employers. The order does not prevent law enforcement agencies from sharing information with one another or certain authorized agencies, such as school districts.

Shock Community Supervision

Shock community supervision is a type of supervision that a judge retains after they sentence an offender to jail or prison. The judge retains jurisdiction over the defendant for 180 days from the date that the defendant’s sentence begins. A judge retains jurisdiction over a state jail felon for the entire time that the felon is incarcerated. During the 180-day period or the period of incarceration for a state jail felon, the judge can suspend the sentence and put the defendant on community supervision, or supervised probation.

If a misdemeanor offender is eligible for regular community supervision, they are eligible for shock supervision. A felony offender qualifies for shock supervision if they were eligible for regular supervision, their original sentence was no longer than 10 years, they have not been previously incarcerated for a felony offense, and they have not committed an offense that prevents placement under supervision.

A person who is on shock felony supervision is not eligible to exercise civil rights such as the right to vote until they have been discharged from their sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole supervision or a period of community supervision.

Set Aside of a Conviction

An individual who has successfully completed probation within the past 30 days may be eligible to have their conviction set aside. The act of setting aside a conviction is called judicial clemency. The former offender must request a set aside because the action is not automatic.

When the court sets aside the conviction, the former offender is considered not to have been convicted of the offense. The judge who sentenced the defendant has discretion as to whether to set the conviction aside. After the court sets aside a conviction, the individual is no longer considered convicted of a crime, so their right to own a firearm can be restored.