A felony conviction can have consequences that cascade throughout a person’s life. The best way to avoid these consequences is to avoid being convicted of a felony. This isn’t always possible. If you’ve already been convicted of a felony, here’s what you need to know about the status of your rights and how they can be restored.
What Rights do Felons Lose in Arizona?
Upon conviction of a felony, people lose certain civil liberties. Some of these civil liberties are unconditional and will impact everyone equally. Other civil liberties are specific to professions and needs where felons cannot apply for certain services or work in specific industries.
- The right to vote
- The right to serve as a juror
- The right to hold public office
- The right to own a firearm
- The right to obtain a business license in certain industries
- The right to obtain a professional license in certain industries
- The right to apply for some government benefits, including loans and housing
The suspension of these rights can dramatically impact a person’s quality of life. It limits career choices, housing choices, and the ability to participate in society. When these rights are restored, people can carry on as they did prior to their felony conviction.
Restoring Civil Rights After a First Felony Conviction
After a first felony conviction, civil rights with the exception of the right to own a firearm can be restored automatically. After all sentencing requirements (including applicable fines and restitution) have been met, rights are automatically restored.
In these cases, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons or the Arizona Department of Corrections will grant first time felons an absolute discharge. This discharge signifies a restoration of civil rights only if all payments and requirements have been satisfied. If payments towards fines or restitution have not yet been completely satisfied, first time felons will have to apply for the restoration of their civil rights through the same process as everyone else with a felony conviction.
Who is Eligible to Restore Their Rights?
First time felons are eligible to restore their civil rights as soon as all sentencing requirements have been met. Those with two or more felony convictions must first complete probation or parole associated with their felony convictions or wait two years after receiving their absolute discharge. All associated fines must be paid.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re eligible to restore your rights, the best way to find out would be to contact an attorney experienced in rights restoration. They’ll be able to help you review your dates, status, and paperwork. If you are eligible, you can begin the process of restoring your civil rights with the help of that attorney.
How Can Civil Rights Be Restored?
For people with two or more felony convictions, the only way to restore civil rights is to submit an application to the court. This application will show that you’ve completed all the stipulations of your sentence, met your requirements, and waited the appropriate amount of time.
A lawyer will prove useful throughout the application process. Your attorney will help you prepare your documents and submit your application to restore your civil rights. If you encounter any snags throughout the process, your attorney can help you act in your best interest to resolve these issues.
Restoration of civil rights doesn’t include the right to possess a firearm. This is a separate application with a different process. It’s best to restore your civil rights first and apply for restoration of firearm rights after your other civil rights have been reinstated.
Restoring Civil Rights After Felony Conviction in Another State
If your felony conviction was in a state other than Arizona, you’ll need to contact the court in that state to learn more information and restore your civil rights. If it was a first time felony conviction and you completed all of your requirements, most states will automatically reinstate your civil rights. You may not need to take any additional action.
Restoring the Right to Vote in Arizona
Arizona places more barriers between convicted felons and the ballot box than most states. Some states automatically restore a felon’s right to vote upon their release from prison or completion of probation. Arizona is different.
The State of Arizona is one of 7 states that uses something called a hybrid model for rights restoration following a felony conviction. Some people convicted of felonies are able to automatically restore rights, some are eligible to apply for the restoration of their rights after 2 years, and some may never regain certain rights.
Before you register to vote or cast a vote, don’t assume that your right to vote was automatically restored. You need to double check with the state and file any appropriate paperwork. The response and approval of that paperwork can take between 3 and 6 months, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Applying the moment you become eligible will allow you to become a registered voter sooner.
If you vote without formal restoration of your voting rights, you can be charged with a class 5 felony. This is not an area where it’s safe to assume you understand what’s going on and everything will work out the way you’d like it to. Before you vote, you should always double check to assure you won’t face any unexpected consequences as a result of voting.
How Can Gun Rights Be Restored?
Most people with simple felony convictions can apply to restore their gun rights 2 years after they’ve received an absolute discharge. A lawyer can help with this application process.
If you were convicted of a crime that the state of Arizona labels a “serious offense”, you must wait ten years to apply to restore your gun rights. The state of Arizona considers most crimes against children, murder, sex crimes, and arson to be serious offenses. People who were convicted of these offenses in another state are regarded in the same manner as people who committed these offenses in Arizona. There are no loopholes or exceptions.
If your felony was considered a “dangerous offense” in the state of Arizona, or would be considered as such in Arizona if it was committed in another state, you can never restore your gun rights. Dangerous offenses are offenses that involve weapons or causing serious physical injury to another person. For example, a conviction for assaulting someone with an object that could be considered a weapon and causing substantial injuries is a dangerous offense.
There are also gun restrictions put in place under federal law. Some convictions like domestic violence convictions may prevent people from owning firearms even if the offense was classified as a misdemeanor. This applies even if the conviction was not a federal conviction. Restoring gun rights in these situations is slightly more complicated, and it usually involves requesting a set aside if the individual is eligible to do so.
The Difference Between Restoring Civil Rights, Expungement, and a Set Aside
Restoring civil rights is the process of officially being granted back the rights you lost following a felony conviction. Expungements and set asides are completely different processes with different implications. Each process has to be utilized separately.
An expungement seals a prior conviction, effectively taking it off of the publicly accessible record. It’s a valuable option for people who want to wipe their slate clean and begin anew after they’ve paid their debt to society. Instead, Arizona will make a note on a person’s record after their civil rights have been restored.
Arizona does allow for a “set aside”, which is a special annotation on a criminal record that denotes that the individual has successfully completed their sentence and had their rights restored. Not all felonies are eligible for a set aside.
Dangerous offenses, offenses that require an individual to register as a sex offender, felonies with victims under the age of 15, and driving on a suspended license are not eligible for set asides.
Navigating the Forms for Restoration of Civil Rights
A single form is used to request a set aside, to restore civil rights, and to restore gun rights. All three processes are regarded as separate. The forms are very basic and require applicants to fill in blanks and check boxes. Requesting the right to possess a firearm requires a written statement. It’s best to have a lawyer work with you to review your written statement before you submit your application.
It helps to have all documents and proof of completion of your requirements in order before you submit your form. If anything should come into question, you’ll be able to readily prove that the information you’ve presented is correct.
The court will receive your application and have a hearing regarding your candidacy for civil right or gun right restoration. You do not have a right to be present at this hearing. If your felony involves a victim, the victim is allowed to attend this hearing and present their opinion.
If the court approves your request, an annotation will be added to your criminal record denoting the restoration of applicable civil rights. You’ll be made aware of the court’s decision and can follow through with the next steps you’d like to take to re-establish your life, like registering to vote or applying for professional licenses.
If your application is denied upon submission, you can submit a request for reconsideration. The court will send a formal letter with the denial to explain the reasons for which you were denied.
If you applied independently and had your requests denied, apply again with the assistance of a lawyer. A lawyer will be able to review your circumstances and help you prepare a better request for reconsideration. Your lawyer can examine your reasons for denial and help you submit a new request that responds to these reasons.
Where Are Restoration Requests Submitted
If the conviction happened in state court, the Arizona Superior Court will accept requests for restoration of civil rights and gun rights. If the conviction occurred in federal court, the Superior Court in the area where you now reside will accept your submission.
While there is no filing fee for these requests, it’s important that all other fees relating to the felony are paid in full before this request is submitted.
Getting Help from an Attorney
The restoration of civil rights, including voting rights and gun rights, isn’t always simple. If you believe you meet the requirements and are seeking to submit an application, or if your application was denied, it helps to seek the advice of a competent attorney.
Elias Damianakos is a former felony and misdemeanor prosecutor for the state of Arizona with a proven track record of success. Now, he works as a criminal defense attorney. His unique insights allow him to determine the best way to satisfy the court’s requirements. If you need assistance with the process of restoring your civil rights, give our office a call.