Constitutional Rights & Felony Convictions in Virginia
Feb. 4, 2021
When a person is convicted of a felony, he or she must complete the sentencing successfully. This is often referred to as paying a debt back to society for the crime committed. But society often has other plans. It places a stigma on ex-felons, making it hard to find jobs, good housing, secure loans, among many other things. The government has also placed certain restrictions of ex-felons—the denial of two fundamental rights afforded to us by the U.S. Constitution:
the right to vote, and
the right to own and use a firearm.
At Bryan J. Jones, LLC, we know just how important these rights are to many of our clients. It is why – when our client faces a felony conviction – we optimize our resources and skills to secure a reduced charge, dismissal of the charge altogether, or an acquittal at trial. Contact us today so we can review your case and outline what your best options are.
In the meantime, here's an overview of the loss of these rights after a felony conviction.
Understanding the Right to Vote & Felony Convictions in Virginia
The U.S. Constitution mentions the right of citizens to vote many times, including in Amendment 15 where:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The U.S. Constitution, however, does not grant an absolute right to vote. And in fact, Virginia is one of three states (Kentucky and Iowa are the other two) that bans a person for life from voting after a felony conviction. The Virginia Constitution, Article II, says:
No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.
To get your voting rights restored in Virginia, you must:
no longer be incarcerated;
no longer be under active supervision (e.g., probation or parole);
not have an active warrant;
not be in a pre-trial hold;
must not otherwise be flagged by law enforcement; and
meet the governor's standards for restoration.
Actual standards are not set out but the Secretary of the Commonwealth will review your request, follow up with all law enforcement agencies and other agencies, and then recommend (or not) to restore your voting rights to the Governor. It is at the Governor's discretion to restore your right to vote. In the past, governors have also used executive power to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of ex-felons automatically but who have met the above criteria.
This process is long, tedious, and with no guarantees. And yet, the right to vote is important to ex-felons because it is the policies of our elected officials who often have a huge impact on the quality of our lives.
Types of Crimes that Can Result in Felony Convictions in Virginia
Just about any crime has the potential to result in felony convictions. Likewise, some misdemeanors can also be enhanced to a felony charge depending on the circumstances. The following crimes (and more) can result in felony convictions:
Understanding the Right to Possess a Firearm & Felony Convictions in Virginia
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
In Virginia, however, there are two ways a person convicted of a crime can lose the right to possess and use a firearm:
you are convicted of a crime that can result in prison time for more than one year (in other words, a felony); or
you are convicted of a misdemeanor (a crime that can result in jail for less than one year) if the conviction was a domestic violence charge.
Federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), and not just state law, requires a ban on firearms for felons and persons who have committed and been convicted of any act of domestic violence.
Penalties for Violating Ban on Firearm Possession
Unlike the loss of voting rights, if you violate the ban on possessing and using a firearm, it's a criminal offense in Virginia resulting in a Class 6 felony or higher – depending on the circumstances.
A Class 6 felony conviction can result in:
a prison sentence between one and five years, and/or
a fine of up to $2,500.
If the felony charged is higher than a Class 6, you can expect more time in prison. Also, if you have been convicted of a violent felony within the last ten years, the sentence could be enhanced resulting in a minimum prison sentence of five years on top of the penalties for a conviction of unlawfully possessing a firearm.
Restoration of Right to Possess & Use a Firearm in Virginia
Under Va. Code § 18.2-308.2(C), to restore your gun rights, you must first:
petition the circuit court of the jurisdiction in which he resides . . . for a permit to possess or carry a firearm.
After you file a petition, the Commonwealth's Attorney will likely file an Answer. A hearing may be requested by either party. To note, restoration of your right to own a firearm is a tougher challenge than the restoration of your voting rights. It is critical to success to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to review your case and help draft the petition.
Contact an Experienced DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney in Charlottesville Today
The right to vote and the right to own a firearm are important to the quality of your life. Violating a ban on firearm possession can lead to serious penalties. Speak to Bryan J. Jones about the restoration of rights and how best to move forward. Contact his office today to schedule a consultation.