The role of the President of the United States is an important one to the American identity.
Not only do they represent the people of the United States domestically, but they also represent them on a global scale.
Because of this, there’s usually some pushback and concern when one of the candidates running for president is a felon.
Being a felon means that the individual committed some form of a crime.
They underwent a trial in a court, and a jury of their peers found that there was sufficient evidence to convict that individual.
Because they committed a crime, not everyone believes that the individual should be able to run for president.
That said, they may not realize whether a felon can become a president or not, regardless.
Here’s what you need to know about whether a felon can be a president or not.
Can A Felon Be A President?
Yes, a felon can be a president.
There aren’t any federal laws that bar a felon from becoming a president.
That’s because the list of requirements for eligibility is quite small.
To become a president, an individual only needs to satisfy three requirements.
- Must be at least 35 years old.
- Must be a resident of the United States.
- Must be a native-born citizen of the United States.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it specify the individual must have a clean criminal record.
Because of that, a felon could become the president.
How Likely Is A Felon To Become President?
The question as to whether a felon can actually become the president is tougher.
As of 2021, there has never been a felon who has reached the office of the president.
That’s largely because having a criminal record makes it extremely difficult to encourage people to vote for you.
Their opponents tend to dig into the felony charge and tear the individual apart during debates and advertisements.
It’s easy to destroy a person’s reputation and image when they are a felon.
Because they don’t have the trust of the American people, they don’t receive as much support in the election.
It’s not possible to hide a felony charge either.
Once someone is convicted and becomes a felon, it’s put on their public record.
Anyone can access that record to see what their crime was and their sentence.
That also means their opponents can see it and have the details they need to destroy the individual’s reputation.
After all, if they committed a crime, then how can the American people trust them to obey the laws and represent them to the rest of the world?
It’s a dangerous thing when a president or anyone in power believes that they are above the law.
A felon is often someone who believes that the law doesn’t apply to them.
It can create a dangerous combination that most people don’t want to experience in the political sphere.
While a felon can become a president, it isn’t likely that they’ll be able to receive the support they need to actually be elected to the office.
Can A Felon Run For A State-Level Office?
Another thing to consider is that a candidate running for office has to come from a state.
The people of that state also need to affirm whether they support them or not as a candidate.
This is where running as a felon becomes more complex.
On the state level, a few states have laws regarding felons and public office.
Some simply do not allow it.
Others do allow it but after a certain period of time.
For example, Georgia will allow a felon to run for public office, but only after 10 years have passed after they served their sentence.
It isn’t 10 years after their sentencing.
Rather, it’s 10 years after their sentence is over.
For example, if an individual received a prison sentence for 10 years, then they wouldn’t be able to run for office for another 10 years after they’re released from prison.
By that time, they may feel that they’re too old or no longer have an interest in running for office.
Some states, like Texas, make eligibility based on the type of crime that they committed.
For example, if the felon committed a crime that involved forgery, bribery, or perjury, then they’re not permitted to run for office in any capacity ever.
However, if they committed another crime that doesn’t fall under one of those categories, then they can still run for office.
In most cases, states dictate that if the felon committed a crime that involved moral turpitude (which is just a fancy way of saying they don’t meet the standards of the community), then they’re not able to run for office.
This is because they’ve proven that they don’t have the moral character required to represent the American people.
Since they’re unable to receive support from their state, and thus the local support of their party, then the felon is not able to run for president.
They can always attempt to run as an independent, but they’ll still require the support of the state.
As a felon, they may not receive that support.
While federal laws may not specifically prevent a felon from running for office, state laws make it more difficult.
How Can A Felon Run for Office?
There are a few ways that a felon can run for office.
The first thing that the felon needs to do is clear their record.
That usually means serving their sentence and satisfying its requirements.
Some sentences require that the felon pays a certain amount of money in restitution.
Others require a prison sentence.
Minor crimes may simply require the felon to perform a certain number of hours of community service.
Once the felon has completed their sentence, they can apply for clemency.
A judge will then go over the sentence and their performance and determine whether they’ve satisfied the requirements for clemency.
If so, then they’ll have their rights restored.
That includes the right to vote.
While they may have had their rights restored, their felony charge doesn’t disappear from their record.
It just states that they received clemency.
Once their record is in better shape, the felon has to spend a lot of time and energy cleaning up their image.
Their opponents are going to seize on the fact that they’re a felon and attempt to rip them apart because of it.
The worst thing a felon running for office can do is try and hide their felony.
It isn’t possible.
Instead, they need to be open and honest about the crime.
While they shouldn’t make excuses for it, they can share their version of the story.
The best way to run when you’re a felon is to show the American people that you’ve changed.
Everyone loves the story of the underdog.
The felon can show that they were a victim of the system but learned a few things while they were in jail.
They turned their life around.
That type of experience can attract some people to them.
It’s also a great way to appeal to oppressed minorities who are looking for prison reform.
Instead of defending one’s actions and past, a felon can potentially win support by being honest about their past and showing how it changed them for the better.
Where Can A Felon Find Support When Running For Office?
Finding support is the hardest part of running for office as a felon.
The biggest support needs to come from their family.
Running as a felon is an extremely vulnerable position.
It’s basically an open invitation for the entire world to look into your past and judge you for it.
That can take a serious mental and emotional toll on someone.
To help them get through it, the felon needs strong support at home.
Whether it comes from their spouse, kids, parents, or even their partner, if the support isn’t there, then the felon isn’t going to last long in the race.
Another crucial area of support is from their local community.
If they’re unable to gain support in their local community, then they’re not going to do well on a national or global stage.
To secure that support, the felon needs to be a visible, active member of the community.
That includes running festivals, petitioning for changes, taking part in various charities, and just always being ready to help their community out.
When their community sees how engaged they are and how eager they are to help and change the community, they’re more likely to support them regardless of their past.
In politics, many people prefer to judge a person through their actions rather than their words.
A felon can prove that they have the community’s best interests at heart by being a visible member of society.
In return, their local community will support them.
Can Felons Vote?
A vital part of running for office is being able to vote for oneself.
Not only is it an American tradition, but it also serves as a symbol.
Felons may not be able to do that, which can seem a bit jarring to some people and keep them from voting them into office.
The problem is that the ability to vote for felons is dependent on the state.
Only two states currently allow felons to vote regardless of whether they’re in prison or not.
Those states are Vermont and Maine.
They allow felons to vote while they’re in prison.
In 14 states, the right to vote is taken away when someone becomes a felon.
That right is eventually restored after the felon finishes their prison sentence.
Some of those states include Massachusetts, Utah, and Hawaii.
A total of 22 other states make it even more difficult for felons to vote.
They remove the ability to vote while they’re in person and even while they’re out on parole.
It’s only after they finish the parole portion of their sentence that they’re able to vote again.
Some of those states include New Jersey and Texas.
Then there are the states which don’t allow their felons to vote at all.
When a person becomes a felon, they lose the right to vote for the rest of their life unless they receive a pardon.
Since pardons are difficult to receive, several felons who live in the United States will never be able to vote.
Arizona and Alabama are among those states which make it illegal for felons to vote unless they receive a pardon.
Because not all felons can vote, it’s harder for them to reach public offices.
It’s yet another thing that their opponents can latch onto and tear them apart about.
While there has been a lot of talk about whether to allow prisoners to vote or not, there hasn’t been any movement on the federal level to make it legal.
Because of that, most felons will miss out on the chance to vote.
Can Someone In Prison Run For President?
Another consideration to make about whether a felon can run for office is how they’ll act as president if they’re in prison.
There have been candidates who ran in the past who were also serving a sentence in prison.
One of the most famous was Eugene V. Debs.
He ran for office while he was in prison.
He even capitalized on his prison sentence by giving campaign buttons that read Convict No. 9653.
Debs was in prison for protesting against World War I.
In 1992, Lyndon LaRouche also ran for president despite serving time in prison.
He was in prison for mail fraud and tax evasion.
While neither of these individuals became president, there was a chance that they could have.
If that happened, then it begs the question of how the president would serve the American people while in jail.
A few things could happen should a felon ever become president while serving time in jail.
The first is that Congress could choose to impeach the president.
Since the president committed a crime, impeachment is a possibility.
Whether it would be successful or not is another matter.
The second thing that could happen is that the Cabinet could invoke the 25th amendment to remove the president from office.
The 25th amendment deals with the succession of the presidency.
Although it’s usually invoked when a president dies, it may also find use in the rare event that the president is in prison.
Since the president is unable to attend meetings or perform other vital tasks of office, he is not able to serve.
In this case, the Cabinet would invoke the 25th amendment and remove the president from office.
Instead, the Vice President would become the new president.
The final thing that might happen is that the president appeals to the court system.
Instead of turning over the prison sentence, a delay could occur instead.
The court could come to an agreement that the president could delay their prison sentence until after they’ve finished serving as president.
Suspending their prison sentence until after their presidency is over is a viable option.
Regardless, new legislation may come into being should the government ever find itself in this situation.
Has A President Ever Committed A Crime?
There have been a few impeachments in the history of the presidency.
The first was with Andrew Johnson.
He became president following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The House of Representatives impeached him on the grounds of violating the Tenure of Office Act.
Although enough Representatives garnered support for the impeachment, it was the Senate that chose not to convict him.
As such, although they impeached him, Johnson never received a conviction for his crime.
Another president that nearly received a conviction was Bill Clinton.
By denying his infamous affair with Monica Lewinsky, they believed he was committing perjury.
The House of Representatives impeached him, and the case went to the Senate for conviction.
Although it was close, the Senate didn’t manage to convict him either.
As such, a president has never been convicted of a crime, at least in the eyes of the law, while in office.
What Is A Felony?
Felonies cover some of the most serious crimes that a person can commit.
They’re a step above misdemeanors which usually carry shorter prison sentences or other forms of punishment.
A felony is usually associated with violence, but it covers several more crimes than just murder.
There are several classes of felony and each one comes with a standard type of punishment.
Each state, however, chooses to punish felons differently.
According to federal law, the felony classes are as follows:
- Class A Felony: Life imprisonment or the death penalty
- Class B Felony: 25+ years in prison
- Class C Felony: 10–25 years in prison
- Class D Felony: 5–10 years in prison
- Class E Felony: 1–5 years in prison
Certain crimes like murder, theft, kidnapping, and other types of violence usually fall under one of the felony classes.
Because the laws depicting the eligibility of the president are minimal, a felon could become the president of the United States.
However, garnering support as a felon isn’t easy when a candidate’s opponents use their criminal background against them.
That said, if a felon serving a prison sentence were to become president, then it would place Congress in a difficult position.