Defending the Accused in Criminal and Traffic Courts Across Virginia Since 2012




What is the status of felons and their civil rights?


What is the status of felons and their civil rights?  I wish it were as clear as ex-felons seem to think.  We’ll have a better idea later this summer or early in the fall.

I don’t often follow politics and I haven’t watched the news on a regular basis for over 20 years.  Political discussions are often reduced to people who look like adults releasing their inner spoiled brat.  Likewise, most news shows are little more than gossip on a good day and professional psychological bullying of people who get in legal trouble on a normal day.  When was the last time you heard a reporter imply that an accused shouldn’t have the right to plead not guilty or that people who once committed a crime should not be allowed to have a home or work or find help meeting their basic needs even after their debt to society has been paid in full?  Thanks for trying to convince me to hate democrats, republicans, other politicians, convicted felons, sex offenders, and specific people who have not been convicted of a particular crime, but no thanks.

That doesn’t stop me from being aware of what I need to know to do my job to the best of my ability.  Last April, Governor McAuliffe signed an Executive Order that restored many convicted felons of some civil rights.  This order says that anyone who as of April 22, 2016 has served the full sentence (including probation or parole) automatically gets to have the rights to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury, and act as a notary public restored.  The right to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms still needs to be approved by a circuit court after filing a Petition and explaining to a judge why it is appropriate.  There has always been a process in place for people to ask the governor to restore those rights, but people had to ask for it and they were never guaranteed the request would be granted.

Needless to say, many people with a past are excited about this.  They are hoping that being allowed to exercise these basic civil rights will help to remove the stigma of being labeled a “felon” for something that in some cases happened many years ago and has been haunting them ever since.

Unfortunately, Virginia legislators and Commonwealth Attorneys are not people who stand to benefit from this development.  Some legislators and prosecutors are arguing the governor never had the authority to restore the rights of a large group of people instead of reviewing individual applications and considering the merits of each.  After all, why should a person’s punishment end just because they’ve served their sentence and repaid their debt to society?  They’ve even asked the Virginia Supreme Court to undo it before the election this fall.  The Supreme Court has agreed to hold a special session to consider this issue on July 19, 2016.

There’s no telling for sure what the Court will decide to do.  It may undo the Executive Order or it may say the governor can do whatever he wants about restoring rights to felons.  One thing is for sure, the people in power who don’t want it to be true will fight hard in court.  I just hope the powerless people with a past whose lives will be directly affected by the Executive Order will be allowed to have the same right to overcome their past that people without a criminal record have.