The coming 2020 election has news outlets abuzz with voters’ rights, perhaps more than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has made absentee voting and mail-in ballots a hotly debated topic, and the Trump administration’s immigration policies have brought immigrants’ voting rights into the spotlight.
However, one topic is ignored every election term, and this one is no exception: The right of individuals with felony convictions to vote. When this right is taken away after being convicted of a felony, it is considered one of many collateral consequences associated with having a felony record.
Two States Never Took Voting Rights, Two Never Give Them Back
Only two states, Vermont and Maine, have never taken away voting rights from those with felony convictions, even while serving time in jail or prison. Today 48 states, Colorado included, place some restrictions on felons’ voting rights.
Two states ban felons from voting for a lifetime. Some states make reinstatement of voting rights so difficult that few succeed in ever regaining these rights. And in all states — including Colorado — many persons with felony convictions assume that they do not have the right to vote, so never make it to the ballot box on election day.
Colorado Law Says Rights May Be Restored
If you have a felony conviction in Colorado, you do in fact have the right to vote, unless you are currently serving time in jail or prison. In fact, Colorado House Bill 19-1266, which was passed in 2019, restored voting rights to persons on parole or probation for felony convictions.
So what about other collateral consequences of a Colorado felony conviction?
While a felony conviction on your record does often result in a number of restrictions on your freedom, there are also many misconceptions as to your rights as a former felon.
Let’s take a closer look…
Firearm Possession Is Not Permitted After a Felony Conviction in CO
If you have been convicted of a felony in any state, both Colorado’s state and federal laws bar you from buying or holding in your possession any firearm or ammunition. This also applies to domestic violence convictions — even misdemeanor-level offenses in some cases.
Should you be caught in illegal possession of a firearm, you will be charged with the crime of possession of a weapon by a previous offender. This is a Class 5 felony for a first conviction and a Class 4 felony for a second or subsequent conviction.
In most cases, this conviction is punishable by at least some jail time, in addition to substantial fines and legal fees. A first conviction carries a possible prison sentence of 1-3 years, while a second conviction carries a sentence of 2-6 years.
A Felony Record Takes a Number of Occupations Off the Table
Most former felons have substantial difficulty maintaining gainful employment, even long after their prison sentence is served and parole or probation complete. This often leads former felons to turn to a life of crime simply to feed their families.
Although a former conviction can keep you from getting hired for many occupations, you are legally forbidden to hold the following occupations:
- Peace officer
- Office of trust
If you have certain convictions, a sex crime conviction, for example, you could face additional employment restrictions, for example from healthcare occupations or jobs that involve working with children.
A Host of Collateral Consequences from Criminal Background Checks
A felony conviction can and will show up on criminal background checks. This can have several collateral consequences:
- Employment: Many employers require you to disclose a felony conviction on your job application, and unless your conviction is sealed or expunged, it will show up on a background check, compromising your employment opportunities.
- Housing: Most landlords run a criminal background check on all prospective tenants. If you have a felony conviction, your rental application could be denied.
- Section 8 Housing: For certain crimes — sex crimes or methamphetamine manufacturing in public housing are two examples — you will be barred for applying for affordable housing (Section 8) benefits. For other felonies, could face restrictions for a certain amount of time, or be required to complete drug or alcohol treatment programs before you’re eligible.
There Are Different Rules for Drug Convictions and SNAP Benefits
Individuals with felony convictions often face poverty after their release from prison and struggle to feed their families. Unfortunately, your conviction can, in some cases, affect your eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, commonly referred to as food stamps.
If you were convicted of a drug felony, you will be required to complete a drug or alcohol treatment program prior to applying for SNAP benefits.
Otherwise, you are absolutely eligible and should exercise the right to apply for these important benefits and feed your family. Unfortunately, many individuals with former felony convictions incorrectly believe that they’re ineligible when this just isn’t the case.
If you have a felony conviction sitting on your record, the collateral consequences are real. Still, many who have been convicted believe they’re under certain restrictions when they aren’t.
If you have questions about an unfair collateral consequence you are personally facing or whether your rights are being violated, there are legal steps you can take to learn more, and then protect and restore them.
About the Author:
Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.