Restoration of a Felon's Civil Rights in Texas

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Convicted felons can get their gun rights back in Texas, but there are some requirements to fulfill to do so, and they can have a firearm only at their private residence. The only other way a felon can own a firearm is to seek a pardon from the governor—an extremely rare occurrence.

Misdemeanor offenders generally can get their gun rights back, unless they have a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence.

Felonies in Texas

In the state of Texas, as in any state, a person charged with a crime commits either a misdemeanor or a felony. Petty theft, first-offense DWIs, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct are examples of misdemeanors; felonies are more serious offenses.

Felonies are typically criminal offenses involving harm against a person, such as arson, child pornography possession, murder, rape and some drug charges.

Unlike misdemeanors, felonies usually carry a prison sentence and hefty fines. Convicted felons can also end up sentenced to the death penalty, depending on the circumstances of the crime. If a person commits a felony under federal law, they can stand trial in federal court.

Types of Texas Felonies

Texas recognizes these criminal charges as felonies:

  • Capital felony:‌ The most serious felony, which can carry a sentence of life in prison or death. This felony conviction is typically for those who commit murder.
  • First-degree felony:‌ Aggravated crime such as assault or kidnapping. Carries a sentence ranging from five to 99 years in prison and fine up to $10,000. Offenders with no criminal history can get lesser sentences.
  • Second-degree felony‌: Arson, aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping are some examples. This degree of felony carries a sentence of two to 20 years and fines of at least $10,000. Can become first-degree felony, depending on circumstances of the case.
  • Third-degree felony:‌ Possessing five to 50 pounds of marijuana, child abandonment and intoxication assault are some examples. Penalties range between two and 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Probation with strict rules may be an option.

The Texas legislature implemented ‌state jail felony‌ in 1993. It carries the most lenient penalties of all the felony charges, including criminally negligent homicide, marijuana possession (between 4 ounces and 5 pounds) and thefts of between $2,500 and $30,000. This felony carries penalties of up to two years in prison or probation.

Federal Laws on Loss of Gun Rights

Under federal law, an offender permanently loses gun rights once they are convicted of a felony. It is unlawful for convicted felons to possess or receive, ship or transport, firearms or ammunition. Fugitives from justice also cannot lawfully possess or receive, ship or transport, firearms or ammunition. Other groups affected by federal firearm laws include:

  • Those unlawfully using or addicted to controlled substances.
  • Mental defectives.
  • Illegal aliens.
  • Military service personnel who have been dishonorably discharged.
  • Individuals who have renounced their U.S citizenship.

Individuals under a court order restraining them from threatening, harassing or stalking an intimate partner, their child, their partner’s child, or otherwise engaging in conduct that places their partner in fear of bodily harm to themselves or their child, cannot possess a firearm under federal law.

Those with a misdemeanor offense for domestic violence are also prohibited from possessing firearms.

Texas State Law and the Loss of Rights to Own Firearms

According to Texas Penal Code, possession is the "actual care, custody, control or management." Possession is a voluntary act if the possessor knowingly obtains or receives the thing possessed or is aware of his control of the thing for a sufficient time to permit him to terminate his control. Those prohibited from possessing a firearm include:

  • Convicted felons.
  • Individuals convicted of family violence.
  • Individuals covered under a protective order for family violence.
  • Domestic violence offenders punishable as Class A misdemeanors.

Once five years have passed from the date the convicted felon’s sentence was discharged, they can possess a firearm, but only at their residence. While a convicted felon in Texas can keep a firearm in limited circumstances, they can still be charged and convicted under federal law if they leave their residence with a firearm.

Penalties for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in Texas

In Texas, unlawful possession of a firearm is a third-degree felony. This charge carries penalties ranging from two to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

For a felony offense of unlawful possession of a firearm, a Texas prosecutor must prove that a person with a felony conviction possessed a firearm after they were convicted and prior to the fifth anniversary of their release from prison or community supervision program.

According to Texas Penal Code Section 6.01(a), a prosecutor must also show that the individual voluntarily possessed the firearm.

Restoring a Felon’s Firearm Rights in Texas

Aside from the restoration of firearms rights at the five-year mark, the only other way for a convicted felon to regain their gun rights is by a full pardon from the governor’s office.

To be considered for a pardon in the Lone Star State, convicted felons must prove that they have been rehabilitated and are law-abiding citizens. They must be fully discharged from the sentence they received.

If the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denies the pardon, they must wait two years to reapply. Texas does not consider pardons for incarcerated individuals.

Types of Pardons in Texas

Before applying for a pardon in Texas, the individual must first determine the type of pardon they’ll apply for:

  • Full pardon:‌ Releases the offender from conditions of their sentence while also restoring their citizenship rights, including the right to possess a firearm, the right to vote, the right to be an estate executor or administrator, and the right to hold public office.
  • Conditional pardon:‌ Like a full pardon, except it doesn’t restore lost rights resulting from conviction. Used to release inmates to another country or in the instance of unusual, extreme and exceptional circumstances.
  • Pardon based on innocence:‌ Forgives individuals of their crime and releases them from additional punishment. Also declares them innocent or exonerates them, so the conviction is essentially erased. To apply, an individual must have a Texas state felony conviction.

A pardon in Texas is a rarity. In 2020, Governor Greg Abbott pardoned just seven people, the most he has ever pardoned in one year.

Applying for a Pardon in Texas

To apply for a pardon, individuals must get an application by contacting the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles at 512-406-5852. They can also request the application in writing and submit it to the agency’s General Counsel’s Office, 8610 Shoal Creek Blvd., Austin, TX 78757.

They’ll ask for an application that corresponds with the specific pardon they seek. Consulting with an attorney for legal advice and help with the pardon application process may lead to a more successful outcome.

Submitting a Pardon Application

An individual will typically submit these documents when applying for a pardon:

  • Certified court documents regarding their case.
  • List of bankruptcies, tax or other financial obligations, civil lawsuits they are a party to, violations incurred, including traffic offenses, that have resulted in arrest or conviction.
  • Criminal history record that can be retrieved from Texas Department of Public Safety at 512-424-2000 or online.
  • Personal statement showing how they’ve changed since committing the crime.
  • Three letters of recommendation based on applicant's character from indivicuals not members of their immediate family.

The completed application and supporting documents is submitted to the General Counsel’s Office of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole for review. The Board votes on whether to consider the pardon; if the applicant is denied, they must wait two years to reapply.

Civil Rights Impacted by Felony Convictions in Texas

Aside from gun possession, holding public office and voting, there are additional civil rights that an individual in Texas loses due to a felony conviction. They cannot, for example, serve on a jury for civil or criminal cases.

Also, under Texas law, a licensing authority can revoke, suspend or disqualify an individual from holding a professional or occupational license if they have a felony offense on their record. Not every convicted felon will be affected in this way, but it may harder for them to get employment after a conviction.

A previous felony conviction does not automatically disqualify someone from getting a U.S. passport, but some countries may not allow entry to an individual with a felony conviction due to their policies of denying felons entry visas.

Misdemeanors and Offender’s Civil Rights in Texas

A misdemeanor in Texas usually carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail. Depending on the circumstances of a crime, some misdemeanors carry no time behind bars at all. For example, a Class C misdemeanor carries only a penalty of a small fine. Class C misdemeanors include crimes like disorderly conduct, simple assault and theft of under $50.

Misdemeanor crimes usually do not have the same collateral consequences as felony convictions. Individuals who commit them will not lose their civil rights, such as the right to vote, running for public office or even possessing a firearm.

The exception under state and federal laws is a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, which can lead to the loss of the offender's right to own a firearm. Additionally, some professional licensing authorities can use a misdemeanor conviction as grounds to deny the offender a license or otherwise take disciplinary action.

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