In the state of Arkansas, a convicted felon loses certain civil rights: owning and using a firearm, voting, serving on a jury, running for public office and holding a government job. A person with a felony conviction can seek the governor’s pardon to restore some or all of these rights. A pardon can be partial to restore some rights, or full to restore all rights.
Restoration of Voting Rights
A convicted felon will be allowed to register to vote after they complete their sentence, which includes the term of probation or parole and payment of court costs, fines and restitution. The individual will need to register again as a voter with the city registrar because a city registrar can cancel the registration of a voter who has been convicted of a felony and not discharged from their sentence.
In order to re-register and regain their voting rights, the felon must provide proof that they have paid all applicable court costs, fines and restitution. The rule regarding voting rights and felonies applies to felony convictions from any jurisdiction, including out-of-state and federal felonies.
Serving on a Jury
Arkansas law disqualifies a convicted felon from jury service if the offender has not been pardoned. In addition, the Arkansas Constitution does not allow an individual convicted of certain offenses to be elected to the General Assembly or hold an office of trust or profit in the state. These offenses include embezzlement of public money, bribery and forgery, as well as felonies and misdemeanors involving fraud or dishonesty. A pardon of a felony does not allow an individual to hold office.
Right to Own Firearms
An individual does not possess the right to own or use a firearm if they have been convicted of a felony. A sealed record of a conviction may serve the basis for a conviction if the offense was committed after March 12, 1995. The governor may restore the right of a convicted felon or a juvenile adjudicated delinquent to own and possess a firearm with a pardon. Arkansas law does not prohibit an individual convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to own a firearm.
Felons Lose Other Rights
Certain types of offenders also lose other rights. The state may collect a DNA sample from any person arrested for any felony offense. Arkansas law requires a sex offender to register with the state, and all sex offenders must submit to an assessment by the Sex Offender Screening & Risk Assessment program coordinated by the Arkansas Department of Correction. The state assigns an offender a community notification level with a number, like 3, based on the results of the assessment.
Sealing a Criminal Conviction Record
Typically, a convicted felon can request that the court seal their criminal records. Sealing involves restricting access to the records and treating them as confidential. Act 1460 in 2013 established a criminal record sealing law that repealed earlier Arkansas Code provisions dealing with expungement.
The change meant that the word “expungement,” which usually involves the destruction of records, was largely eliminated from state statutes. In order to request that a record be sealed, an individual must complete all conditions of their probation.
They must have paid all fines and costs related to the offense, including restitution.
Disqualification From Sealed Criminal Records
Certain people cannot request to have their records sealed. These include: sexual offenders whose victim was under the age of 18; felons who served any of their sentence in the Arkansas Department of Corrections; those convicted of a Class Y felony or with a Class A or B felony that is not a drug offense; those who were sentenced for manslaughter; those who were sentenced for an unclassified felony with a maximum sentence over 10 years; and those who were convicted of a violent felony.
A Class Y felony is a felony, such as drug trafficking, that carries a prison term of 10 to 40 years or life. A Class A felony carries a prison term between six and 30 years, and a $15,000 fine. A Class B felony carries a prison term between five and 20 years, and a $15,000 fine. A person who has had their criminal records sealed and then interviews for a job or seeks housing may legally state that they have not been convicted or arrested for a crime.
Rights That Are Not Restored by Record Sealing
Sealing criminal records does not restore gun rights, prevent a criminal record from being used against a person in a trial, or block access to the records by employers in certain fields, such as law enforcement, day care and nursing homes.
Correcting Background Checks
If an applicant for a job or housing sees their criminal records turn up in a background check after sealing, the former offender has the right to ask for the background check company’s information and provide them with the order to seal. The company is required to correct their records.
Juveniles and Expungement
Most minors will see their records automatically expunged, meaning “destroyed,” when they turn 21. The court has discretion to expunge them earlier. A record of a delinquency adjudication where the person could have been tried as an adult and a record of an “extended juvenile jurisdiction offender” must be retained for 10 years.
An extended juvenile jurisdiction offender is a juvenile of any age who has been charged with capital murder or first-degree murder. The court has discretion to expunge these categories of records of delinquency adjudications.
Occupational Licenses and Felony Convictions
Occupational licensing boards are not allowed to consider nonconviction records, pardoned or sealed convictions, or misdemeanor convictions when reviewing applicants. The exception is that boards may consider misdemeanor sex offenses and misdemeanors involving violence, including domestic violence. Act 990, which became law in Arkansas in 2019, provides that certain types of offenses, such as theft of property, may subject an applicant to a mandatory disqualification for a license.
Act 990 eliminated “good character” and “moral turpitude” as licensing criteria. A disqualification typically lasts for five years after the completion of a sentence with no new intervening convictions. An applicant can get a waiver for even some of the most serious offenses. If a board denies an applicant a license because of the applicant’s criminal record, the board must provide written reasons for the denial.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.