Life After A Felony & The Consequences of Your Conviction
Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few months, you’re probably aware there is an important election coming up in November. We have been constantly told how important it is to use our right to vote. Unfortunately, there is over 6.1 million Americans who cannot vote because of a past felony conviction. Most of these citizens have not been convicted of violent crimes, but instead had made a mistake years–or even decades–prior. Felony convictions can also have significant effects on employment and housing opportunities. The unfortunate truth is that felony convictions can negatively affect citizens for long after their sentence is completed.
Depending on what state you live in, people with felony convictions may lose their right to vote in elections. At first glance, it is easy to say that these citizens deserved this outcome for committing a crime. However, it is important to understand that felonies do not necessarily mean violent crimes. These can include drug-related offenses, fraud, copyright infringement, tax evasion, and countless other nonviolent offenses. Often times, these people have made mistakes years prior and are still suffering consequences despite serving their sentence.
This is also a problem for larger reasons. For starters, these citizens are still expected to pay taxes. So without the ability to vote, they are suffering from taxation without representation. This has historically been a sore spot for the United States – taxation without representation is why we separated from Great Britain! It is unfair that we are now imposing this on our citizens. To make things worse, these rules have disproportionately affected African Americans. In fact, 1 in 13 African Americans has lost their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws, compared to 1 in 56 non-black voters. With numbers like these, you could go as far as to conclude that felony disenfranchisement policies could seriously affect our election outcome.
Luckily, these laws are fairly relaxed in Colorado. While you cannot vote while incarcerated for a felony conviction, you may vote when your sentence is complete and when you are on probation or parole.
Possession of a Weapon
Another right that is taken away after a felony conviction is the right to own a firearm. Felons are prohibited from possessing a deadly weapon including guns, explosives, and knives over three and a half inches. If you are caught possessing or using one of these times, you can be charged with possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO). This could potentially be another felony charge, with possible incarceration and fines.
This is even the case with a deferred judgement. A deferred judgement is a form of a plea deal, where you make a plea of “guilty” to criminal charges but then the guilty plea and conviction are suspended (i.e., hanging over your head) until you meet certain requirements. Once you have met the conditions of your deferred judgment (probation, treatment, community service, etc.) your case will be dismissed and the guilty plea withdrawn. For more information on deferred judgement, see our blog post here. Surprisingly, even a deferred judgement can restrict gun ownership forever, even though a conviction never entered and you were never sentenced as a felon.
Many felons have difficulty finding employment after serving their sentence. Some careers and industries can ban felons completely. Other employers still may be hesitant to hire felons despite how long ago the crime occurred. Even with understanding employers, it still might be difficult for felons to compete with other candidates if they have missed out on work experience due to their sentence. This often prevents those with felony convictions from finding stable employment. In the worst-case scenario, this can push felons back into committing crimes just to survive.
Colorado has laws in place to minimize this struggle. For started, employers are not allowed to advertise that those with a criminal history may not apply for a position. Additionally, employers are not allowed to ask if the candidate has been convicted of a crime on the initial application. While this doesn’t completely solve the problem, it is a large improvement from other states. To learn more about this legislation and its effects, read our blog post on Legislative Changes in 2019: A Fresh Start For the New Year.
Housing & Other
Felons may also face difficulties finding stable housing. In Colorado and many other states, it is completely legal for landlords to inquire about your criminal history. They may also deny your housing application simply because of past convictions, no matter how long ago the crime was committed. With the combination of unstable employment and unstable housing, many felons are pushed back in to crime or otherwise set up for failure after their release.
While these are the largest consequences, felony convictions can affect many other aspects of your life. You could even lose the right to travel abroad. There are also many social consequences as well, based on the stigma a conviction holds.
Need More Help?
With all the difficulties a felony conviction brings, it is easy to feel like a felony will follow you forever. However, there are some actions you can take. The first is looking in to criminal record sealing. Colorado recently passed a law that increases eligibility for record sealing -for more information you can check out our blog post here. If you need additional help or have questions, consider reaching out to Nicol Gersch Petterson for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://NicolGerschLaw.Com or call 970.670.0378.
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