How to Restore Your Civil Rights in Tennessee

The Tennessee legislature has laid out a procedure to restore citizenship for those convicted of an “infamous” crime, more commonly known as a “felony”. A restoration of citizenship has some limitations, but it largely restores one’s civic standing to the level it was prior to conviction.

Tennessee Code Annotated 40-29-101 through 40-29-106 lays out the requirements for restoring one’s citizenship. The law has changed, so that the rules applying to someone convicted (not charged, convicted) after June 30, 1996 are somewhat different than for those before. Here we will deal with individuals convicted after June 30, 1996.

Restoration can be had through a governor’s pardon or through petitioning the circuit court. Pardons can be hard to come by, so most individuals will have to petition the circuit court for restoration of citizenship. Jurisdiction lies in two places: the county where the offense occurred and the county where the petitioner currently resides. As a matter of practice, it is easier to petition where the crime occurred as the necessary documentation concerning the crime is already present and easily accessible by the district attorney and the court.

There are a few basic requirements that must be met before one is considered eligible to have his rights restored. It is the burden of the petitioner to establish eligibility. One must show in the petition the reasons one thinks his rights should be restored, including demonstrating that the “maximum sentence imposed by the court for the infamous crime” has expired and that one merits restoration. As in, hasn’t been a problem since the crime occurred and the sentence has expired.

The presumption is in favor of the petitioner. The state can oppose the petition but by the preponderance of the evidence show that you are “not eligible for restoration or there is otherwise good cause to deny the petition.” In practice, unless there is some glaring reason not to restore your rights, the district attorney will remain silent on the petition.

Once the petition is filed, the court must provide thirty days notice to the district attorney prior to scheduling a hearing. If the crime was in federal court, the US Attorney in the judicial district where the crime occurred must also be notified.

Once a hearing is conducted and the petition is granted, the court will sign an order and send a copy of the order to the administrator of elections in the county where you would vote. You, however, must take a certified copy of the order to the election commission yourself in order to register to vote. Those convicted of murder, rape, treason or voter fraud can never have their eligibility to vote restored.

Technically, restoring your rights under Tennessee law restores your right to own a long arm under state law (those convicted of violent or drug related felonies are expressly prohibited from owning handguns forever pursuant to T.C.A 39-17-1307). Generally, federal law says a state restoration of rights enables a federal restoration of rights. Unfortunately, federal law also says that you cannot own any firearm if state law puts any restriction on firearm ownership. Therefore, it is legal to own a rifle under state law, but not under federal law. Illegal firearm possession under federal law requires a minimum five year prison sentence.

All costs related to rights restoration are to be borne by the petitioner. Because the petition and restoration process is so complex, it is always advisable to seek legal counsel prior to getting started.

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