Restore Civil Rights Following a Criminal Conviction

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Restore Civil Rights Following a Criminal Conviction

After being convicted of a felony offense in Arizona, individuals often face many challenges as they work to rebuild their lives. One significant hurdle that many convicted individuals face is the loss of certain civil rights, which can have long-lasting implications on their ability to fully reintegrate into society. However, there is hope for those looking to regain their rights and full citizenship status.

Arja Shah, a criminal defense attorney at the Arja Shah Law Firm, specializes in helping individuals with the complex process of restoring their civil rights post-conviction. With her expertise and dedication to advocating for justice, Arja Shah has successfully assisted numerous clients in regaining their voting rights, firearms rights, and various other civil liberties that were stripped away following their criminal conviction.

In this article, we will explain the process of restoring civil rights following a criminal conviction and explore the importance of this legal remedy in promoting rehabilitation and reintegration for individuals who have paid their debt to society.

What Rights Do You Lose After a Criminal Conviction

In Arizona, a criminal conviction affects several key civil liberties, each with its own criteria for restoration:

  1. Gun Rights: Lost upon felony conviction; restoration requires meeting specific criteria and a waiting period of five years post-sentence (A.R.S. § 13-3101 et seq., A.R.S. § 13-905).
  2. Right to Vote: Temporarily revoked for felons; automatically restored for first-time offenders after completing their sentence, but those with multiple convictions need court approval (A.R.S. § 13-912).
  3. Jury Service: Eligibility affected by felony conviction; restoration requires a court petition after fulfilling certain conditions.
  4. Holding Public Office: Conviction may prevent holding certain offices; restoration involves a separate process.

Restoring Civil Right to Vote - Voting Rights After a Conviction

What Rights are Automatically Restored?

In Arizona, certain rights are automatically restored to individuals with criminal convictions once specific conditions are met, primarily focusing on the right to vote and the ability to serve on a jury.

  • Voting Rights: For individuals convicted of a first felony, voting rights are automatically restored upon the completion of their sentence, including any time spent in prison, on probation, or parole, and after all fines have been paid. There is no additional waiting period for the restoration of voting rights for first-time felony offenders once these conditions are met.
  • Jury Service: The right to serve on a jury is automatically restored to those who have successfully completed their sentence and, in some cases, if the conviction has been set aside. This restoration typically happens simultaneously with the completion of the sentence or the setting aside of the conviction, without a specific additional waiting period.

For other rights, such as holding public office and possessing firearms, the restoration process is not automatic and requires a separate application and court approval, often with specific waiting periods post-sentence completion.

What Offenses are not Eligible for Restoration of Civil Rights 

Certain serious offenses, particularly those that involve harm to others or societal trust, are typically not eligible for full rights restoration, including:

Sexual Offenses

Convictions for serious sexual offenses often result in permanent disenfranchisement from certain rights, such as the ability to hold public office or possess firearms. This exclusion is due to the nature of the crimes and their long-term impact on victims and communities.

Harm to Minors

Offenses involving harm or endangerment to minors are generally excluded from eligibility for rights restoration. These include convictions for child abuse, exploitation, or other crimes that directly impact the safety and welfare of children.

Treason and/or Terrorism

Convictions for offenses that undermine the security and governance of the state, such as treason and acts of terrorism, typically result in a permanent loss of certain civil rights. These crimes are viewed as betrayals of societal trust and are thus treated with the utmost severity.

Arizona Gun Rights Restored

Who is Eligible to Restore Gun Rights and Holding Public Office 

In Arizona, the eligibility for the restoration of gun rights and the ability to hold public office post-conviction involves distinct criteria that reflect the seriousness of these rights within the context of public safety and trust. For individuals seeking to restore their gun rights,

Arizona law mandates a waiting period—typically five years—after the completion of their sentence,

This period allows the state to assess an individual’s rehabilitation and ensure that restoring such rights does not pose a risk to public safety. The process requires a petition to the court, and eligibility may vary based on the nature of the conviction and other factors such as compliance with sentence conditions and demonstrated rehabilitation.

Similarly, the ability to hold public office after a conviction is subject to review and approval through a legal process that considers the impact of the individual’s past actions on their capacity to serve in a position of public trust. This process often involves more stringent scrutiny compared to other rights restoration, given the importance of integrity and trustworthiness in public service roles.

How to Restore Civil Rights in Arizona

Restoring civil rights in Arizona involves a defined legal process, tailored to the nature of the conviction and the specific rights being sought for restoration. Here’s an overview:

  1. Determine Eligibility: First, identify which rights have been lost and confirm eligibility for restoration based on the type of conviction and the completion of all sentence requirements, including any probation, parole, and financial obligations.
  2. Automatic Restoration for First-Time Felony Offenders: Voting rights and the right to serve on a jury are automatically restored to first-time felony offenders upon completion of their sentence.
  3. Petition for Restoration: For individuals with multiple felony convictions or those seeking to restore rights not automatically reinstated, a petition must be filed with the court. This includes the restoration of the right to possess firearms, which typically requires a five-year waiting period after sentence completion.
  4. Prepare Documentation: Compile all relevant documentation, such as proof of sentence completion, rehabilitation efforts, and any other supporting materials that demonstrate a commitment to lawful behavior.
  5. File the Petition: Submit the petition to the court that issued the original sentence, including all necessary documentation and any required legal forms.
  6. Court Review and Decision: The court will review the petition, consider any objections from the prosecution, and may schedule a hearing. The decision to restore rights is at the court’s discretion, based on the evidence of rehabilitation and public safety considerations.
  7. Seek Legal Assistance: Given the complexities of the process and the variations based on individual circumstances, consulting with a legal professional experienced in Arizona’s rights restoration process is highly recommended.

Arizona Rights to Public Office

Federal Rights Restoration

Federal rights restoration specifically addresses the process of regaining rights lost due to convictions under federal law. This area of legal practice is governed by federal statutes and regulations, which set forth the criteria and procedures for individuals seeking to restore their rights after a federal conviction. 

The scope of federal rights restoration typically includes the ability to possess firearms, eligibility for certain types of employment, and other rights that may be affected by a federal criminal record.

Firearms Possession

One of the most sought-after aspects of federal rights restoration involves the ability to legally possess firearms. Under federal law, individuals convicted of felonies are generally prohibited from owning or possessing guns. The process for restoring this right at the federal level involves a petition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

However, it’s important to note that this process has been significantly limited due to congressional restrictions on funding, effectively suspending the ATF’s ability to process these petitions for many years.

Voting and Public Office

While the federal government does not directly impose restrictions on voting rights following a felony conviction, it recognizes state-level determinations regarding voting eligibility. Consequently, the restoration of voting rights for federal offenses typically follows state laws and procedures. However, eligibility to hold federal public office or employment may be affected by a federal conviction and requires specific criteria to be met for restoration.

Employment Eligibility

Federal convictions can impact an individual’s eligibility for certain types of employment, especially positions that require security clearances or are within the federal government. The restoration of eligibility for these positions often requires a thorough demonstration of rehabilitation and may involve obtaining a pardon or clemency from the President of the United States, a process managed through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The Pardon Process

For many individuals with federal convictions, obtaining a presidential pardon is a critical step towards rights restoration. A pardon can fully restore an individual’s civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, and possess firearms. The process of applying for a pardon is rigorous and requires applicants to demonstrate exemplary conduct post-conviction, among other criteria.

What is a Set Aside?

In Arizona, a set aside is a legal provision that allows individuals with a criminal conviction to have that conviction formally set aside by the court. This process is distinct from expungement, which with the exception of certain marijuana related crimes, is not offered in Arizona in the traditional sense.

Instead, a set aside represents the court’s acknowledgment that the individual has successfully completed the terms of their sentence and has shown rehabilitation.

When a conviction is set aside, the court orders that the judgment of guilt be vacated and dismisses the charges. The record of the conviction remains, but it will include a notation that the conviction has been set aside. This can significantly impact an individual’s ability to secure employment, housing, and educational opportunities, as it provides a tangible indicator of their rehabilitation and good standing.

To be eligible for a set aside, an individual must have completed all requirements of their sentence, including any prison time, probation, community service, and payment of fines or restitution.

There are certain convictions, however, that may not be eligible for a set aside under Arizona law, such as serious offenses involving harm to minors, sexual assault, and certain driving offenses.

The process for obtaining a set aside involves filing a petition with the court that issued the original sentence. This petition must detail the reasons why the individual believes they are deserving of having their conviction set aside, including evidence of rehabilitation and a positive contribution to society since their conviction.

What If I Have Criminal Charges From Another State? 

If you’re facing the challenge of restoring civil rights due to criminal charges from another state, understanding Arizona’s approach is vital. Arizona allows individuals with out-of-state felony convictions to petition for rights restoration, including gun rights and voting rights, after securing an absolute discharge from the convicting state. This means completing any sentences, probation, or parole, and settling financial obligations.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help with Right Restoration

Phoenix Criminal Defense Law Firm, Shah Law Firm, PLLC The process of restoring civil rights in Arizona, following a criminal conviction, demands detailed legal knowledge and a strategic plan. A criminal defense attorney plays a key role in this scenario, providing expert advice, managing the necessary paperwork and court procedures, and offering strong representation. 

Arja Shah, a distinguished criminal defense attorney with extensive experience, specializes in helping individuals regain their civil rights after a conviction. Her expertise includes assessing eligibility, tackling complex cases, and advocating in court to improve the chances of success. 

For further information or to seek help with rights restoration, contact Arja Shah through her firm’s website at Arja Shah Law or by calling (602) 560-7408.

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