Can a Convicted Felon Pursue a Career in Criminal Justice?

You have a checkered past that includes a felony conviction.

However, you’ve paid your debt to society, and now you want to be on the other side of the fence.

Perhaps your experience with the criminal justice system has prompted you to want a career in criminal justice, but you wonder if it’s possible given your felony conviction.

Convicted Felon

The answer is more complicated than you may think.

Can You Work in Criminal Justice with a Felony Conviction?

The short answer is, it depends on a variety of factors.

Generally, government agencies will not hire anyone with a felony conviction.

This excludes you from positions in law enforcement, FBI, and probation.

When it comes to private firms, they can set their own rules regarding your background.

This means you may find employment within some criminal justice fields, including as a paralegal or attorney, private security guard, or within drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

The Type of Felony

There are several types of felonies.

While all felonies are serious, some are more serious than others.

Avvo classifies felonies as two types, crimes against property and crimes against people.

Crimes against property include theft, burglary, fraud, arson, and vandalism.

Crimes against people include assault, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, drug crimes, and DUI.

Crimes can also be classified as violent or non-violent.

Drug crimes and property crimes are typically non-violent, while violent crimes include assault, robbery, rape, murder, and manslaughter.

Firearms Considerations

Federal law prohibits felons from owning a firearm due to the Gun Control Act of 1968.

This also prevents them from buying ammunition or purchasing a firearm.

Some states also restrict felons from gun ownership, but this varies greatly.

Texas, for example, restores gun rights after 5 years as long as you meet certain requirements.

However, other states ban you for a lifetime.

Of course, if you are prohibited from owning a gun at the federal level, it’s illegal regardless of your status at the state level.

Generally, if your rights are restored at the state level, you are also able to own a gun federally.

However, you should check with your local law enforcement agency or lawyer to be sure that’s the case for you.

If you are restricted from owning a gun, this automatically disqualifies you from some criminal justice positions, including law enforcement.

Does The Amount of Time Since the Conviction Matter?

Yes. Most background checks go back 7 years, due to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

However, this act refers specifically to arrests.

Technically, an employer can look at convictions as far back as they wish, unless it’s prohibited by state law.

Some states limit criminal record checks to 7 years, while others place no limits.

Still, most employers and background check agencies will only go back 7 years.

When it comes to law enforcement or government positions, they may go back further.

Most applications will also ask if you have any felony convictions.

Lying on this form can get you into legal trouble, so it’s best to be honest.

This means that even if a conviction doesn’t show on a background check due to the time since the conviction, it’s possible to be disqualified due to your own honesty.

Ironic, unfortunate, but true.

The type of position you want to pursue can also have a big impact.

If you are applying for your local police department, they may overlook an older conviction.

If you are applying for the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security, you will likely be disqualified because they require a higher security clearance.

Expunging Your Record

Perhaps it’s been more than 7 years, but you want to ensure that you can get the career of your dreams.

Perhaps it’s only been a few years, but you’ve been a model citizen since completing your sentence.

You may be able to get your record expunged.

Police departments and other government agencies can view sealed records, but they generally can’t see expunged records.

This means, in terms of your background, it’s like the incident never happened.

The expungement process varies from state to state.

Generally, the process requires you to fill out an application, pay a fee, and go in front of a judge, who makes the determination to expunge your record.

Depending on the state, expungement may only be available for lower-level felonies.

Your state may also have time limits that require a number of years to pass without further legal troubles before you are eligible.

You’ll need to get the expungement in the state you were convicted in, even if you are pursuing a job in another state.

Sealed Records

If the crime was committed before you were 18 years old, your records are likely sealed.

If they aren’t currently sealed, you can request the court that convicted you to seal them.

Just like expungement, you’ll be able to say that you have no felony convictions.

Sealed records generally don’t show up in background checks.

In fact, it’s often illegal to reveal them.

State Policies

Some states will allow you to get a job in criminal justice with a felony conviction.

These states include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, and Washington.

The specific laws vary based on the state, but generally, these states don’t allow any public or government agency to ask about your criminal background.

This gives those with a felony conviction a fresh start, which can make your future brighter.

Some states do have limitations if the crime you committed relates directly to the position you are applying for, however.

You’ll want to check the specific laws in your state for a better understanding of your options.

Final Thoughts

Getting a job in criminal justice with a felony conviction is hard, but not always impossible.

It depends on the felony, the state you are working in, and the position you are interested in.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

2 Responses to Can a Convicted Felon Pursue a Career in Criminal Justice?

  1. Avatar
    Keyla Lynch #

    Absolutely, there’s hope! Many states offer pathways for felons to pursue careers in criminal justice, often requiring rehabilitation and proving they’ve turned their lives around.

  2. Avatar
    Jaziel Woods #

    It’s a complex issue, but everyone deserves a chance at redemption. Some agencies may have strict guidelines, but others focus on an individual’s qualifications and character.

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