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Criminal justice reformers criticize stripping felons of rights

| Sep 23, 2019 | Felonies

So many laws are on the books in Virginia that someone might break the law without realizing it. At the federal level, critics of the government and criminal justice system have identified laws that could call for felony charges despite their absurd triviality. One example cited by a representative from the Fairness Center is a federal criminal statute that requires people to wear waterproof shoes when moving a crate containing imported primates. Although critics recognize that some offenders commit serious crimes, the complexity and number of criminal laws make people vulnerable to conviction as a felon. Once someone has a felony record, the law strips away rights, like voting, child custody or owning a firearm.

A felony conviction could also prevent someone from traveling freely, serving on a jury or adopting children. Critics call these lifelong consequences sobering because innocent people face a chance of conviction. Researchers estimate that 2% to 10% of defendants at trial are convicted in error. Considering that the United States imprisons 2.3 million people as many as 230,000 may have lost their liberties unjustly.

Plea bargains have become prevalent throughout the criminal justice system. Defendants might enter into these agreements regardless of their innocence. They never go to trial where evidence must prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Due to the serious consequences associated with felonies, a defendant might choose to speak with a lawyer after being arrested. Legal counsel could measure the strength of the evidence and provide advice about how to enter a plea. The client might gain an informed perspective on the choice between standing trial or pursuing a plea deal. A lawyer may also suggest a defense strategy that could reduce the chances of a felony conviction.