When most people consider the question of what it means to be convicted of a crime, they think about the immediate effects: criminal fines and the possibility of incarceration in a county jail or state prison. These outcomes are serious in themselves, but if you step back and take in the longer-term ramifications, these may actually be the most serious ones that you could experience.
When It’s Over, It’s Not Really Over
“Paying your debt to society” can mean more than completing your sentence and paying your financial penalties. It can even mean more than completing any period of probation or parole. Even when all of these are finally done with, there is a second level of punishments that can haunt you for years into the future: these are the loss of rights and privileges to those who have convictions on their records.
What You Have To Lose
The list of things that you cannot do, or own, if you have a criminal record is lengthy; the list below is not all-inclusive, but represents a sampling of activities and items that you are barred from:
Voting rights: Those with felony convictions may not vote or even register to vote in this state during the duration of their sentences.
Government employment rights: Thinking about applying for a job with the Oklahoma state or a local government? A felony conviction ordinarily slams the door shut on this possibility (but read further to see a recent positive development in this area).
Holding state offices: If you were to run for elective office with a criminal conviction on your record, you might expect your opponent in the election to dig into your past and to try to hold it against you; but he or she would probably not bother, because the state government would beat him to it. If the crime involved a felony or an embezzlement-related misdemeanor, state law prohibits you from holding elective office for 15 years after after you complete your sentence (or until you receive a pardon); the preclusion from being elected to the state legislature is permanent.
Working in certain professions: Want to go to law school and become a lawyer? Thinking about a career as an architect, doctor, accountant, dentist, pharmacist, nurse, psychologist, veterinarian, physical or occupational therapist, real estate appraiser, or security guard? You should definitely consider another career path if there is a felony on your record, because these — and several other — specific professions are closed to you if that’s the case.
Jury service: Some may think of this more as a benefit than a penalty, but anyone with a felony conviction is ineligible to sit on a jury.
Firearms: If you have a felony conviction, you cannot own or have in your possession any concealable firearm (although the law’s definition of “concealable” is so broad that it includes just about any firearm imaginable). You cannot even ride in a car as a passenger if such a weapon is in the vehicle.
How Can You Avoid Losing Your Rights, Or Get Them Back?
There are two general ways to have some of your lost rights restored to you if you have been convicted. One path is to seek post-sentence relief in the form of a pardon or an expungement of your record. The other is to count on an enlightened attitude of Oklahoma political authorities to see how the long-term, post-sentence penalties are in many ways counter-productive to the goal of reintegrating those with criminal records into useful participation in society.
With regard to this second possibility, the preclusion from employment with the state may be less onerous now, thanks to an executive order that the state governor has issued. It used to be that state agencies could filter you out by asking questions about felony convictions, but under the new order they are no longer allowed to do this. The true benefit of this change may be somewhat muted, however, because it does not prevent a state agency that you are trying to find a job with from doing a background check on you.
The best option to counter the loss of rights and privileges based on a felony conviction, of course, is to either avoid the conviction or at least to explore the possibility of negotiating to a misdemeanor plea arrangement if the chances of acquittal are not good. The Hunsucker Legal Group will to lay out all of the available options for our clients, before and during trial, and afterward if necessary, to either avoid or at least to minimize the lasting consequences of being found guilty of a felony in this state.