In Virginia, any person convicted of a felony automatically loses certain civil rights, including the right to vote; to run for and hold public office; to serve on a jury and to serve as a notary public*. Luckily for those Virginians who have completed their sentences and are seeking a second chance in their communities, civil rights restoration is possible. Recent government policies have made the process easier than ever.
The Constitution of Virginia gives the Governor the sole authority and discretion to restore civil rights lost due to a felony conviction. On August 22, 2016, Governor McAuliffe enacted a new Restoration of Rights Policy to facilitate restoration of these rights to vote, run for and hold public office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public. Current Governor Ralph Northam has continued this effort, and recently announced that between January of 2018 to October of 2019 the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth restored rights to over 22,000 Virginians.
Anyone previously convicted of a felony is eligible for this civil rights restoration as long as he or she is no longer incarcerated and not under active supervision, including supervised probation or parole. As part of the Governor’s mission to provide equal access to all citizens, this process is free and hiring an attorney is unnecessary. In fact, because the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office works with other state agencies to proactively identify and restore rights to qualified individuals, many people have their civil rights restored without ever having to make the request. However, priority consideration is given to eligible individuals who reach out and initiate the process.
If you’ve previously been convicted of a felony and are either not sure of the status of your civil rights or are interested in having your rights restored, the best place to begin is the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Restoration of Rights website. From there, you can check the status of your civil rights, request restoration if necessary, and find additional helpful information such as further details about the restoration of rights process and answers to frequently asked questions.
For any questions not answered on their website, the office for the Secretary of the Commonwealth can be reached by phone at (804) 692-0104. The average review process takes 30-60 days, and once the process is complete, the Restoration of Rights office will issue and mail you a personalized order confirming your rights have been successfully restored.
- *A felony conviction also triggers loss of one’s right to possess a firearm. Because the Governor does not have the authority to restore firearms rights, for the purposes of this article, the discussion of civil rights restoration will be limited to the right to vote, to run for and hold public office, to serve on a jury, and to serve as a notary public. For information about restoration of firearms rights, contact your local circuit court.