Being convicted of a felony is a serious event with lifelong consequences. Becoming a convicted felon will have a long lasting impact on a person’s life and results in the loss of basic civil rights such as the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, and the right to own, possess, or use a firearm. Convicted felons are also prohibited from certain employment such as law enforcement, the school system, and hospitals. Often times employers will automatically reject applicants due to a felony conviction or will state on the job offer that the applicant must have a clean criminal background in order to apply. If a felon is convicted of a drug charge, he or she may also lose their driving privilege for up to two (2) years. Furthermore, a felony conviction will become a significant barrier if the offender decides to pursue education and to pursue a professional discipline such as nursing, medicine, teaching, real estate, insurance, transportation, financial services, or the practice of law. Not only can a felony become a barrier to receiving financial aid, the felony will become a barrier to entering a professional discipline. If a person that is already in a professional career and becomes a convicted felon, he or she may lose their professional license or jeopardize the ability to work in that field.
Consequences of a Federal Felony Conviction
Upon becoming a convicted felon, the offender will lose his or her rights to vote, partake in jury duty, hold public office, or be a candidate for office. Committing a felony in the state of Florida means losing your right to vote for life unless the clemency board and governor give the right to vote back to you. The offender must apply to restore voting rights in Florida. Through clemency, a felon may regain his or her civil rights back. The clemency process provides convicted felons the ability to request relief from punishment and wish to restore his or her civil rights. The function of clemency acts as a mercy to exonerate the ex-offender from punishment either partly or fully of the punishment the law imposed thus restoring the individual’s civil rights.
In Florida, it is a criminal offense to use or possess a firearm by a convicted felon. Under Florida Statue 790.001(6), the definition of a firearm is any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; any destructive device; or any machine gun. The term “firearm” does not include an antique firearm unless the antique firearm is used in the commission of a crime. Florida Statutes 790.001(1) defines an Antique Firearm as any firearm manufactured in or before 1918 (including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar early type of ignition system) or replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before or after the year 1918, and also any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before 1918, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade. Any individual convicted of a felony is not eligible for a permit to carry or eligibility certificate. If the offender is currently in possession of a permit or certificate, it will automatically be revoked for a felony conviction. Additionally, the offender must transfer his or her firearms to an individual who is able to legally possess firearms.
Being a convicted felon can prove difficult to find employment. According to the United States Equal Employee Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal law does not prohibit employers from asking applicants about their criminal history. The EEOC federal laws do prohibit employers from discriminating against applicants that are convicted felons when using criminal history information. If an employer utilizes an applicant’s criminal history or felony conviction against employment decisions, that employer is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act prohibits employers from treating applicants differently or with discrimination based on national origin, sex, race disability. The Civil Rights Act also prohibits employers from using policies or practices that screen individuals based on criminal history information if: they significantly disadvantage Title VII-protected individuals such as African Americans and Hispanics; and the policies and screen practice do not help the employer accurately decide if the person is likely to be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has created special guidelines that employers must follow when hiring third party agencies to perform background checks. These background checks may include consumer reports, criminal history, and credit history. The Fair Credit Reporting Act imposes obligations towards employer’s who will request criminal background check as well as the agencies that provide those services.
Employers must do all of the following:
- Obtain a written and signed consent from the applicant
- Advise the applicant if the employer intends to disqualify him or her from the offered position based on the contents of the report. The employer must present the applicant with a full copy of the background check
- Notify the applicant whether or not he or she has been hired or not based on the information within the background check.
The EEOC also states that employers should give applicant’s with a felony the opportunity to explain circumstances and provide mitigating information that will show the applicant should not be excluded solely on the offense or criminal history. In Florida, the Department of Labor offers employers tax breaks for hiring ex-convicts and felons through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program. WOTC is a Federal tax credit available to employers who hire and retain veterans and individuals from other target groups with significant barriers to employment such as convicted felons. The tax credit applies to employers who hire a convicted felon or “an individual who was convicted of a felony and who is hired not more than one year after the conviction or release from prison.”
Student Loans and Financial Aid
An individual who is a convicted felon under federal or state law looking to further his or her education at a college or university will not be eligible for student loans or financial aid if he or she has a felony involving the sale or possession of a controlled substance. Federal assistance includes any loans, grants, or work assistance. By completing the FAFSA Drug Conviction Worksheet, this will help determine if the individual is eligible for federal financial aid or students loans. For a conviction of possession, a person is ineligible for one year for a first offense, two years for a second offense, and indefinitely for a third offense from the date of the conviction. For a sale conviction, a person is ineligible for two years for a first offense and indefinitely for a second offense from the date of the conviction. A student can regain eligibility before the end of the specified period if (1) he satisfactorily completes a drug rehabilitation program with certain criteria or (2) the conviction is reversed, set aside, or rendered inconsequential. (20 USC 1091(r)).
Expunging/Sealing a Felony Conviction
A felony will stay on the offenders’ record to the rest of his or her life. This can become a problem for many people and restrict the convicted felons from receiving higher education, decent housing, or better employment. With this being said, a good step to take is to contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and request an Expunge/Seal Package or contact and retain an experienced criminal attorney that can guide you through the process. An expungement occurs when the offender’s criminal record is destroyed as if the offense never happened. Agencies that have the ability to view sealed records will now be able to see there was an expungement on the record and would be allowed access to the record through a court order. Sealing records will just obscure the record from the scope of the viewers such as government databases. This means most employers will not have the ability to access the records. However, county, city, state and federal government and agencies including the military and law enforcement will have the legal right to access any records that have been sealed. The state of Florida law permits both sealing and expunging criminal records. In Florida, expunging or sealing a criminal record will have no impact on federal or private company databases’. Criminal history information may still be available through private companies that purchase information from the counties and state. Therefore, the general public and employers may still have the ability to access the criminal record. Furthermore, criminal history information is commonly submitted to the national criminal history database by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Florida judges also have the ability to view sealed records online. An offender is not eligible for record sealing or expunction if he or she has ever been adjudicated guilty of any offense including traffic offenses, misdemeanors, and criminal ordinance violations. An offender is also unable to seek relief if he or she has already had a case sealed or expunged. Generally, an offender can only seal or expunge one case.
An offender whose record has been sealed or expunged can lawfully deny the existence of a felony conviction unless the person is:
- A defendant applying for a job position with Florida Law Enforcement.
- A defendant is applying for admission to the Florida Bar.
- A defendant within a criminal case.
- A defendant seeking to licensed or employed by government departments such as healthcare, education, or child care.
- A defendant seeking employment by a state contractor having direct contact with children, elderly, or the disabled.
- A defendant seeking to become a court appointed guardian.
Disqualifying Charges for Expungement/Sealing
Offenses listed in S.907.041.F.S
- Aggravated Assault/Aggravated Battery
- Illegal use of explosives
- Child Abuse/Aggravated child abuse
- Abuse of an elderly or disabled person/Aggravated abuse of an elderly or disabled person
- Aircraft piracy
- Sexual Battery
- Lewd and lascivious acts/Indecent assault
- Sexual activity with a child
- Burglary of a dwelling
- Stalking/Aggravated stalking
- Domestic Violence
- Home invasion robbery
- Manufacturing substances
- The attempt or conspiring to commit any of the above crimes