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What Rights Do Felons Lose?

What Rights Do Felons Lose? Simple answer: When you’re convicted of a felony, you lose a lot.

At the point of conviction, the most serious loss could be your right to liberty if you receive a custodial sentence. You’ll no longer have the freedom to live your life as you please. The state has full control of your every move until your period of incarceration is over.

What then? Upon release what other rights have gone up in smoke? What rights do felons lose and can those rights ever be restored?

What Rights Do Felons Lose?

What Rights Do Felons Lose?

Felons lose some civil rights during a period of incarceration and that loss can continue after release depending on the state involved.

You will lose the right to vote in almost every state and you cannot serve on a jury in many states unless you receive a pardon.

You may lose the right to hold public office, and your right to own or use firearms will be removed temporarily or permanently.

Other rights aren’t civil rights as such but they are things that everyone takes for granted and are commonly regarded as rights.

The right to claim food stamps under the federal SNAP program for example. Employment rights, the right to drive a vehicle, parental rights, the right to public housing, and the right to travel abroad may all be affected.

Let’s get into some details.

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The Right To Freedom

This is the biggest and most life-changing loss you will encounter as a felon. While sentence lengths differ for different offenses, the majority of felony convictions require a period of incarceration.

As an incarcerated felon you lose:

  • Your freedom
  • The ability to have regular contact with your loved ones
  • The ability to earn an income to meet your financial obligations and provide for your dependents
  • Personal space
  • Safe space
  • Free choice over the food you eat
  • Quality medical care
  • Peace of mind

Everything you do is regulated and monitored, and even minor rule violations incur disproportionate punishment.

Upon completion of your period of incarceration, you may be required to complete a period of supervision with many conditions attached, and full freedom won’t be restored until this period is over.

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The Right To Vote

The Right To Vote

Maybe you vote, maybe you don’t, but either way, it’s another right you lose in most states at least while you are serving your sentence.

In Maine and Vermont, you will not lose the right to vote at all, and this applies to Washington, D.C. as well.

In some other states, your voting rights are restored once you’ve been released from custody. In others, you will also need to have completed your parole or other supervision and paid your court debt. And in a few states, you will need to obtain executive clemency (a pardon from the governor).

The Right To Serve On A Jury

As a convicted felon, in most states, you will lose the right to serve on a jury. The restoration of this right may be automatic in some states once you have served your sentence. In other states, this right will only be restored if you receive a pardon from the state governor or successfully apply to have your offense expunged or set aside.

The Right To Hold Public Office

As a felon, you may lose the right to hold public office. This right can be restored automatically upon completion of your sentence, but in some states, you may need to make an application to the court or apply to the governor for a pardon.

Most of us will never run for high public office. And as a felon with so many pressing issues to attend to, the idea of holding public office may never cross your mind. But one day when your life has settled down you could think about running for the school board, or you could decide to stand for election as a city councilor. You could even become involved with criminal reform and seek office hoping to make positive changes to the system.

The state you live in and their rules regarding the restoration of this right will determine if you can get on with running, or if you’ll have to jump through hoops first.

The Right To Use Firearms

The Right To Use Firearms

As a convicted felon you’ll lose the right to own and use firearms at the federal level and at the state level.

In some states, you can regain your firearms rights after a number of years have passed since your conviction or since the completion of your sentence.

It’s also possible in some cases to apply to have your felony offense reduced to a misdemeanor or to have it expunged from your record. Both approaches, if successful, would restore your gun rights. And in the case of expungement, the felony offense is wiped from your record entirely.

Some states also have a process where you can apply to the state board or to the governor for a pardon.

So it’s possible in some cases to regain your right to own and use firearms. However, there’s a problem.

Unless your state restores your gun rights in their entirety, you will still be prohibited from owning or using a gun at the federal level, and by exercising your state gun rights you would leave yourself vulnerable to federal prosecution.

What does it mean to have full gun rights restored?

If any restrictions are placed on your gun use, then full rights have not been restored. For example, you may be denied open carry, you may only be permitted to keep a gun at home and not transport it or use it outside of your home, or you may only be allowed to use a handgun.

The Right To Benefits

If you were convicted of a drug-related felony, you may lose the right to SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits are more commonly known as food stamps. The federal government issued a ban on food stamps for felons with drug convictions. However, many states have restored this important benefit.

For a long time, felons have faced difficulties when trying to access publicly funded housing and rental vouchers. But on this front at least there is some good news. One positive piece of action from the Biden Administration in 2022 has been an order for agencies to review their policies and remove discriminatory vetting practices that unfairly exclude offenders from securing accommodation.

Another benefit you lose is your right to apply for federal or state grants.

You’ll also lose any social security, disability, or survivors’ benefits during the period of your incarceration. While these benefits will be restored upon your release, no backdated payments are available.

The Right To Employment

Once you’ve served your sentence, there’s no explicit law saying that you can’t hold a job, but finding a job will be difficult.

While there are some jobs that the law does bar a felon from holding, for the most part, you’ll be denied access to jobs because employers have the right to carry out background checks, and many employers disqualify applicants if a criminal record is revealed.

Legal barriers exist for felons in the following occupations:

  • Joining the military.
  • Becoming a police officer or other law enforcement officer.
  • Working as a schoolteacher and in other child care roles.
  • Working in a field that requires a professional credential such as a health care professional, real estate agent, or insurance agent.

You may find other employment barriers in place depending on your state.

Where the law doesn’t prevent a felon from holding a certain position, employers can still legally deny you employment because of your prior felony conviction.

Most large employers carry out background checks on prospective employees, and part of the background check is a criminal record check.

Some employers will only check the last 7 years of your history, and some states actually impose this time limit, while others will look at your history going back 10 years or longer.

Sensible employers will look at the nature of your offense and make a judgment call on whether to hire you, while other employers will simply disqualify you because of any offense.

If you live in a state that allows the question about a criminal record to be asked on a job application, you may not even get to the point where they look at your background because answering yes to the question means your application will hit the ‘no pile’ right away.

Thankfully, some employers don’t unfairly discriminate against felons and it is possible to find gainful employment as long as you persevere in your job search.

Parental Rights

You may lose parental rights if your felony offense is very serious. Murder and manslaughter, crimes of a sexual nature, and kidnapping are offenses that could result in the loss of parental rights.

There is also the danger that you could lose your parental rights if your child is placed in foster care because you were the sole caregiver. If your child is placed in the care of the state for 15 months in a 22-month period, the state can ask the court to remove your parental rights.

Parental rights can be restored when the court is satisfied that you do not pose a danger to your child, and when you have proven that you have the resources to properly care for your child.

The Right To Travel Abroad

During any period of probation or parole, your passport may be revoked. As a felon, you may also face a problem at immigration.

The most notable example is Canada because they share a database with the United States and your record will be flagged when your passport is checked. You will be refused entry unless you have gone through the process of obtaining entry permission from the Canadian government.

With traveling to other countries, if you need a visa for entry, your visa application could be denied because of your felony.

In countries that don’t require a visa, you could be deported if your offense is discovered because you come to the attention of the authorities while you are there.

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Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why Do Felons Lose Constitutional Rights?

Why Do Felons Lose Constitutional Rights?

By committing a serious crime, society deems that a felon is not a responsible citizen and has broken the social contract. Losing some of the rights enjoyed by responsible citizens is seen as part of just punishment.

However, in many cases, lost rights can be restored through various mechanisms. These vary state by state and some rights may be restored once a sentence has been completed or when evidence of full rehabilitation is furnished to the pardoning authority.

What Civil Rights Can Convicted Felons Lose In Some Jurisdictions?

In most states, a felon will lose the right to vote while incarcerated. In all but 4 states, voting rights will be restored upon completion of all sentencing requirements. Felons may also lose the right to sit on a jury, and the right to hold public office. These rights are most commonly restored either upon completion of sentencing requirements or via application to the court or governor.

The right to own or use firearms is also lost upon conviction of a felony, and states vary in their approaches to restoration of this right. If full gun rights are not restored at the state level, the federal prohibition will remain in effect and felons are liable to prosecution if they use a gun.


As a convicted felon you will lose some of your civil rights, namely the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, the right to own and use firearms, and the right to hold public office.

Depending on the state you live in, some rights may be restored upon the completion of your sentence or after a number of years have passed since your conviction or release. Other rights may need to be restored through a governor’s pardon, or by having your offense expunged from your record.

You may be barred from certain professions and many employers will choose to deny you employment because of your conviction.

While you’re incarcerated, you will lose social security, disability, and survivors’ benefits, and you may be denied public housing assistance and food stamps upon your release.

You may also lose your parental rights if your felony is of a very serious nature and a judge believes that you’re a danger to your child.

You’ll also face some difficulty when it comes to overseas travel.

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