What Rights Do Felons Lose?

Updated January 5, 2024
15 min read
What Rights Do Felons Lose?

A felony conviction carries more than just legal penalties; it can strip individuals of public and societal rights many take for granted, including understanding what a felon is and what can felon not do. By looking more in-depth at the rights they lose upon conviction, we can grasp the full scope of the consequences faced by those who have been found guilty of serious crimes.

What Is the Loss of Rights?

A loss of rights represents the legal consequences for individuals convicted of a felony. When a defendant fulfills his or her imprisonment term and parole obligations after facing a charge for, let’s say, murder, drug possession, or domestic violence, one might think that his or her debt to society has been repaid.

Unfortunately, every state imposes an additional penalty for those who have faced incarceration. This means that the individual may also lose legal rights about civil liberties, such as the right to vote, eligibility for specific jobs, or a gun license.

What Rights Do Convicted Felons Lose?

So, what specific rights do felons lose? What rights do you lose when convicted of a felony? Felons can lose rights relating to their children, their ability to travel, and much more. While this is not an exhaustive list of things felons can't do, it gives an idea of the repercussions that can arise from a felony conviction.


Again, every state has different rules. States such as Florida and Texas have stricter rules on felons' rights than states such as California. Where someone was convicted or served time can thus have a direct influence on what rights they may lose and for how long.

Voting rights

Despite serving their sentences, many felons are deprived of their voting rights, a practice known as felon disenfranchisement. States across the U.S. differ in their voting rights policies for individuals with felony convictions:

  • A few states, like Maine and Vermont, never revoke the right to vote, even for incarcerated individuals.

  • Some states, such as Florida and Iowa, restore voting rights upon sentence completion, including parole and probation.

  • Other states like Kentucky and Virginia only restore voting rights through a governor's pardon or a court action.

This controversial policy has sparked profound debates on a national scale, mainly revolving around what can't felons do upon their release. Critics argue it contradicts democratic ideals, effectively silencing a portion of the citizenry. They point to the importance of fair representation, rehabilitation, and the principle of serving one's time.

Supporters, conversely, argue that committing a felony represents a breach of societal trust, meriting the loss of certain privileges, including the right to participate in the electoral process. 

Gun ownership

A felony conviction typically revokes an individual's Second Amendment right to bear arms. Federal law under the Gun Control Act of 1968 directly addresses this, disallowing firearm possession for anyone convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year's imprisonment. However, this blanket prohibition experiences further variations depending on state laws:

  • States like California and New York almost entirely align with federal law, imposing lifetime bans with few exceptions.

  • Other states, such as Minnesota and Texas, allow felons to regain firearm rights after a set period (typically five years), often contingent on the nature of their convictions and their behavior post-sentence.

  • States like Vermont and New Hampshire offer more lenient laws, generally only banning firearm possession during imprisonment.

This band is crucial in broader gun control and criminal justice reform discussions. On the one hand, proponents argue the restrictions protect the community by preventing potentially dangerous individuals from accessing firearms.

Conversely, critics contend these laws impinge on constitutional rights and may inadvertently affect non-violent felons or those who have served their sentences and integrated back into society despite facing convicted felon restrictions. This dichotomy highlights the complex intersection of public safety, personal freedom, and justice in America's ongoing discourse on firearms — understand more about these laws at Lawrina.

Employment opportunities

Job hunting poses significant challenges for felons due to societal prejudices and certain legal restrictions. Many employers hesitate to hire felons because of trust issues, potential liability, and, in some cases, statutes barring felons from specific occupations such as law enforcement or education. Moreover, an employee may recall or reconsider their offer of employment if they find out a potential employee was convicted of a felony. 

However, several initiatives are addressing this:

  • Ban the Box: This initiative advocates eliminating the criminal history question from job applications.

  • Federal Bonding Program: Provides employers with insurance against potential losses caused by employee dishonesty.

  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit: A federal program offering tax credits to employers who hire ex-felons.

These efforts provide a stepping stone for felons to reincorporate into society by gaining employment and leaving their past behind.

Access to public benefits and housing

Felons often face significant difficulties securing public housing due to strict eligibility criteria, which commonly disqualify individuals with certain convictions. Similarly, access to social benefits such as food stamps or welfare payments can be limited or even denied based on a felony record.

These challenges can create a vicious cycle where former felons, unable to secure necessities, may be forced back into criminal activity, perpetuating a cycle of crime and poverty that hinders societal reintegration. For assistance with these issues, you could find a lawyer.

Parental rights

In many jurisdictions, a felony conviction, particularly for violent or drug-related offenses, can negatively impact a person's ability to gain or retain child custody. Similarly, adoption agencies often conduct thorough background checks, where felony records, especially involving child harm or domestic violence, could block the path to adoption.

This underpins the complexities of ensuring child safety while respecting an individual's ability to reform and maintain familial relationships post-conviction.

Travel restrictions

Navigating travel restrictions often represents a daunting task for felons, impacting the things felons can't do. Domestic travel may be limited by probation or parole conditions. At the same time, internationally, strict border controls may reject entry based on criminal records, hindering personal and professional growth opportunities that arise from travel.

Education opportunities

Specific felony convictions, particularly drug-related offenses, can limit one's eligibility for federal student aid, obstructing paths to higher education. However, initiatives such as the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program provide hope, aiming to extend educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals, thus paving the way toward effective reintegration post-conviction.

The Preserved Rights: What Rights Do Felons Retain?

Although felons lose several rights depending on their location and the nature of their crimes, they do retain specific fundamental rights. Some of these can include:

  • Freedom of speech and expression: Convicted felons maintain their First Amendment rights to free speech and expression.

  • Right to legal representation: Even incarcerated felons have the right to legal counsel, particularly vital during appeals or when challenging the conditions of their imprisonment.

  • Protection from cruel and unusual punishments: The Eighth Amendment's protection extends to those convicted of felonies, guaranteeing humane prison conditions.

  • Right to due process: Felons stand eligible for fair trials and appeals and challenge unlawful imprisonment or parole conditions.

  • Religious freedom: Imprisoned felons maintain their right to practice religion and access religious services.

These preserved freedoms form the cornerstone of their civil rights, providing a beacon of hope amidst the many challenges they face.

Restoration of Rights

In certain jurisdictions, legal pathways exist through which felons can restore their rights, often involving a thorough process of demonstrating rehabilitation and good character despite the restrictions for felons. Meanwhile, numerous advocacy groups engage in relentless efforts to reform restrictive laws and assist felons in navigating complex bureaucracies, playing an essential role in driving societal change and helping individuals carve out a promising future after their conviction.


While it's true that felons lose many rights, the overall societal implications of these restrictions continue to be a topic of heated debate. By fostering understanding and contemplating potential reforms, we can pave the path to a more balanced and inclusive justice system.

Nonetheless, understanding the legal nuances and rights can be daunting, and how to create some documents, our templates can provide invaluable assistance. Whether you need to interpret complex legal text or utilize professional services, Lawrina has you covered.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at y.savchenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.