If you were convicted of a felony, restoring your civil rights is the first door to get through to obtain a pardon and to have your right to possess a firearm restored. The restoration of rights restores the rights to vote, to run for and hold public office, to serve on juries and to serve as a notary public. Restoration of rights does not include the right to possess or transport a firearm or to carry a concealed weapon.
Restoring your civil rights begins with the Governor’s office. The eligibility requirements for restoration of rights by the Governor of Virginia:
- The applicant must be a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia or have been convicted of a felony in a Virginia court, a U.S. District court or a military court.
- The applicant’s sentence must be completely served.
- The applicant cannot be under any supervised probation and parole for a minimum of two years for a non-violent offense or five years for a violent felony or drug distribution, drug manufacturing offense, any crimes against a minor, or an election law offense.
- The applicant must have paid all court costs, fines, penalties, and restitution.
- The applicant cannot have any pending misdemeanor or felony charges.
- The applicant cannot have had a driving while intoxicated charge in the five years preceding the application.
- The applicant cannot have any misdemeanor convictions and/or pending criminal charges for two years preceding the application for non-violent felonies or five years for a violent felony or drug distribution, drug manufacturing offense, any crimes against a minor, or an election law offense.
The Director of the Department of Corrections is required to provide to any person convicted of a felony notification of the loss of his civil rights and of the processes to apply for restoration of civil rights and of voting rights. The notice is required to be given at the time the person has completed service of his sentence, period of probation or parole, or suspension of sentence. Va. Code § 53.1-231.1.
The application for restoration of civil rights is submitted to The Secretary of the Commonwealth Office, which will conduct a criminal history and DMV record check. An applicant will receive notice of the Governor’s decision within 60 days from the time an application is considered complete. If the petition for restoration of rights is denied, you may reapply after a one-year period.
There’s another interesting avenue to get to a restoration of civil rights, and that’s using Va. Code § 53.1-231.2. Va. Code § 53.1-231.2 allows persons convicted of non-violent felonies, except certain drug-related offenses and election fraud, to petition a circuit court for approval of a restoration of voting rights. This petition is to determine voting rights, but can be used as a stepping stone to the full restoration of a felon’s civil rights. The decision whether to restore a petitioner’s civil rights rests solely with the Governor, who may grant or deny a petition without explanation. In this statute, the General Assembly has established standards for identifying felons who may qualify for restoration of their eligibility to vote. The court’s function is limited to making a determination whether a petitioner has presented competent evidence supporting the specified statutory criteria, and a court’s approval or denial of a petition and transmittal of its order to the Secretary of the Commonwealth completes this statutory process. The court’s order does not constitute the rendering of an advisory opinion because the order adjudicates only the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the statutory criteria and does not state an opinion whether the Governor should restore the civil rights of a petitioner.
It is important to know that if a circuit court denies a petition filed under the statute, that denial does not affect a convicted felon’s constitutional right to apply directly to the Governor for restoration of the petitioner’s civil rights. Filing a petition in the circuit court is not a requirement before applying to the Governor.