As of 2011, the U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world. As the most populous state in the union, California holds many of those prisoners. In many states, including California, paying one's debt to society as a result of a criminal conviction involves the loss of civil rights in addition to incarceration. However, felons in California are entitled, under certain circumstances, to get those rights back.
It is often misunderstood that felons in California are not permitted to vote. The reality is a little more nuanced. While felons serving a sentence or on parole are not allowed to vote, felons who are off parole or on probation are allowed to vote. An important exemption to the bar on voting while incarcerated applies to felons serving time in a county facility. These individuals do, in fact, also enjoy the right to vote, as a result of the court case League of Women Voters v. McPherson.
Under normal circumstances, felons are banned for life from owning a gun in California. However, you can petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation that will restore your gun ownership rights. You must wait seven years after you are released from custody, or after your conviction, in the event you did not serve time.
Felons in California retain those rights granted by the U.S. and state constitution. For example, felons maintain the right to freely practice religion, to engage in free speech, the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure, and due process rights. One civil right, however, that is denied felons is the right to sit on a jury.
Expungement refers to the process of eliminating a felony conviction from an individual's record. An expunged conviction purges all records of the felony and effectively means that it never occurred. Expungement can only restore lost civil rights but also prevent the interference of a felony record in finding employment, for example. In some cases, the felony can be expunged by being officially reduced to a misdemeanor. Not all felonies, however, are expungable.
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