Restoring Your Rights After a Felony Conviction: A Reward for Staying on the Straight-and-Narrow

A felony conviction, to many people, means more than just a loss of physical freedom through incarceration; it is also a loss of many of the privileges that they have enjoyed, and perhaps taken for granted, since they turned 18 years old. A felony conviction results in the forfeiture of many rights including: the right to vote; hold political office; be a notary public; sit on a jury; and purchase, possess, and transport a firearm. However, these rights can be restored, if a convicted felon turns their life around and “stays on the straight and narrow.”

Virginia Code §53.1-231.2 recognizes that many convicted felons can turn their life around, and thus provides a means for a convicted felon to have their political rights restored. Political rights include the right to vote, hold political office, be a notary public, and sit on a jury. There are several pre-requisites that a person must meet before they may request to have their political rights restored. First, they must not be convicted of a violent felony as it is defined in §19.2-297.1 or §17.1-805(C). Second, they cannot have been convicted of a felony under the following Code sections 18.2-248, 18.2-248.01, 18.2-248.1, 18.2-255, 18.2-255.2 or § 18.2-258.02, or 24.2-1016. Third, five years must have passed since the person completed any sentence he/she had to serve pursuant to the conviction; including all probation parole, and suspended sentence. Fourth, the person must have remained free from any other criminal convictions during the five-year period. And finally, the person must demonstrate civic responsibility through community service.

If a person has met all the pre-requisites as laid out above, then the person can petition the Circuit Court in the jurisdiction where they reside, or the Circuit Court where they were convicted of a felony for restoration of their political rights. If the Petition is approved by the Circuit Court, then the Court transmits the Order to the Secretary of the Commonwealth for the Petition to be approved by the Governor of Virginia. If the Governor approves the Petition, then the political rights have been restored. However, if the Governor denies the Petition, then there is no way to appeal the decision and the political rights will not be restored. The person is permitted to re-file a Petition one year after any denial to try to obtain their political rights.

It is important to note that the restoration of political rights is not a pardon for a felony, nor is it an expungement. Those are both separate proceedings that require separate Petitions apart from Restoration of Political Rights. Having your political rights restored also does not restore your right to possess, carry, or transport a firearm. That also requires a separate Petition.

A person can Petition to have their Firearm Rights restored if their Political Rights have been restored by the Governor of Virginia (as discussed above). If the political rights have been restored, then a person can Petition the Circuit Court in the City or County in which they reside to have their firearm rights restored. The Judge in his/her discretion may then grant or deny the Petition to restore the person’s right to possess, carry, and transport a firearm.

An attorney can help you determine if you are eligible to have your rights restored, provide you with a comprehensive plan to get yourself eligible for restoration in the future, and when the time comes; advocate on your behalf to have your rights restored. Call our office to get the process started.

Ben Rathsam Esqure

Gun Rights Felony Criminal Defense Criminal Law