How to Restore Civil Rights
When you were convicted of a crime, you may have lost your “civil rights.” These include your right to vote, to serve on a jury, or to run for public office. Most states have procedures for restoring those rights once you have completed your sentence. You will need to apply to the appropriate state board and possibly attend a hearing.
Preparing to Apply
Read your state law.You need to locate and read your state law in order to see whether or not restoration of civil rights is available. You can find your state laws by typing your state and “civil rights restoration” into your favorite web browser. Furthermore, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has created a 50-state survey which you can view at their website.
- Some states restore your civil rights automatically. For example, Alaska will restore your civil rights automatically upon completion of your sentence.
- Other states will automatically restore only some rights, but not others. For example, Georgia automatically restores the right to vote upon completion of your sentence. However, you must apply to get back the right to serve on a jury or to run for public office.
Confirm that you qualify.You must meet the qualifications before you can apply for restoration of your civil rights. Each state has different qualifications:
- The length of time that has passed. You cannot apply too soon for the restoration of your civil rights. In Florida, for example, you must wait at least seven years after a serious offense.
- The nature or number of your offenses. This influences how long you have to wait before applying for restoration of your rights.
- Whether you have pending criminal charges. The state might prohibit you from applying for restoration of your civil rights where you have additional criminal charges pending.
- Outstanding penalties or liabilities. You may have been ordered to pay restitution or fines. In order to qualify, the state may require that you not owe more than a certain amount.
Understand the factors considered.When deciding whether to restore your civil rights, the state will consider a variety of factors. These factors may vary by state, but generally they will include:
- the nature and circumstances surrounding the criminal offense
- any prior or subsequent criminal record
- your work history
- issues with drugs, alcohol, or mental health
- experience with domestic violence
- letters of support or opposition
Gather required documentation.You might have to provide certified court documents of all felony convictions. You can get these from the clerk at the courthouse where you were convicted. A certified copy will have the clerk’s original signature and seal.
- The court documents needed include the charging instrument (usually the indictment), judgment, and sentence/probation order.
- You will probably have to pay a fee to get certified copies of these documents. Call ahead and ask the clerk how much they cost.
Get a letter from your parole officer.Some states might require that you get a letter of support from your most recent parole or probation officer. If the officer has retired or is no longer employed in the office, then you should call the probation/parole office and tell them that you are applying to have your civil rights restored. They should then provide you with the appropriate letter.
Meet with a lawyer.Because of the complexity of this area of law, you should probably meet with a post-conviction attorney. Only a qualified lawyer can offer advice tailored to your individual circumstances.
- You can find a lawyer by asking your criminal defense lawyer. He or she may also be able to handle your petition for restoration of civil rights.
- If you need to find a new attorney, then you can visit your state’s bar association website, which should host a referral program. Call any attorney you are referred to and ask if you can set up a consultation.
Applying for Restoration of Civil Rights
Get an application.You should call the state Clemency Board or search online for an application. Some states have uploaded their applications. Florida’s application, for example, is available at . Virginia’s form is available for download at .
- There may be a phone number for you to call to request an application.
- Some states might automatically mail you a form. In Virginia, for example, non-violent offenders will be sent a letter once they have completed their sentence.
Complete the application.Once you receive your application, you should look it over and see what information is required. Complete the application by either using a typewriter or printing neatly in black ink. Provide all necessary information, otherwise it might be sent back.Each state’s application is different, but you will probably be required to provide the following:
- your name when convicted and any aliases
- your date of birth, driver’s license number, and Social Security Number
- your contact information (address, phone number, and email address)
- a list of your convictions, including the court, the date convicted, and the date sentenced
- the date you completed your sentence
- your attorney’s name, if you have one
Submit the application.You should mail the application to the address provided. Be sure to send it certified mail, return receipt requested so that you will have proof that it was received.
- There may or may not be a fee. In Nevada and Georgia, for example, there is no fee.If your state charges fees, then the fee should be listed on the application.
- Keep a complete copy of the application and any supporting documentation for your files. In the event your application is lost, you can refer to your copy.
Include supporting letters.You may have the option of including letters in support of your application. The letters can be from family members, employers, church leaders, or representatives of any organization you belong to.
- You might also be able to submit a letter. In your letter, you should explain that you feel remorse for the crime you committed, taking full responsibility. Also express your desire to become a full member of society by participating in voting, jury service, and other activities.
Attend a hearing.In some situations, you may be required to attend a hearing. Each state will have different criteria that determine whether you need to attend a hearing. Florida, for example, requires hearings for felons who committed more serious offenses.
- To prepare for a hearing, you should review your application and all supporting materials.
- You should also be prepared to explain why you think you deserve to have your civil rights restored. Think about why voting, jury service, or running for office is important to you. For example, you may not feel like a full citizen without the right to vote.
- Be sure to dress appropriately for the hearing. The Clemency Board will want to see a conservative style of dress. Try to wear the most formal clothes that you own. For men, this means a suit with a dress shirt or tie. If you do not own a suit, then at a minimum wear dress pants or khakis with a dress shirt and tie.
- Women should wear a suit as well, if they have one. Otherwise, wear dress pants or a skirt with a blouse. Women may also wear a conservative dress.
Receive your certificate of restoration.If the state board agrees to restore your civil rights, then you should receive a certificate from the state to that effect.You should hold onto the certificate, because you may need it if you choose to seek restoration of your gun rights.
- If you were denied, then you may have to wait a certain amount of time before applying again. Check with the state board for more information.
- The process for getting gun rights restored is much more complicated than the restoration of other civil rights. You should consult with an attorney if you are attempting to get firearm rights restored.
Video: Get out and Vote: Restoring your civil, political, and firearm rights after a conviction
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