I have a lot of friends who have felony convictions. You might laugh when I say that they are some of the best people I know. You might also suggest that I find some new friends, but I am immune to such suggestions.

Most of my friends with such convictions have them in many respects because of an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Addiction is a disease, and I firmly believe in many respects it is hereditary. I am no scientist, but I have seen it affect entire families enough to know that it must be.

If addiction is a disease, then I believe you must view the felony convictions in the context of the disease. Addiction is no excuse for committing a crime, but it does provide an explanation. The jails and prisons are full of such people, and if the disease is not treated, the problems with obeying the law are likely to continue.

An overwhelming number of crimes are drug-related in some way. Some are obviously related to possession, but others include manufacturing and distributing illegal drugs. Yet, a significant number of other crimes are not for the drugs themselves, but because of stealing or robbery or some violent crime indirectly related to drugs.

Felony convictions have significant consequences. It is a violation of federal and state law for a felon to possess a firearm. Challenges have been made to Missouri laws for taking away the right to gun possession from felons convicted of non-violent crimes, but such challenges have failed. This prohibition keeps felons from hunting, and I have had more than one client ask if there was a legal way to hunt without violating the law. I have consistently told them that I am not aware of such a loophole.

Another consequence of a felony conviction is losing the right to vote. You cannot serve on a jury if you have a felony conviction. Many jobs require security clearances that disqualify felons from being employed.

Fortunately, many employers are willing to overlook felony convictions and employ such people and find their work to be exemplary. Yet, whether one has been convicted of a felony is a question on many employment applications.

The disqualification of felons from many basic civil liberties is in many cases a lifelong curse. For many, the felonies are from youthful indiscretions that have become ancient history.

Of course, if you have political connections, you can get a pardon from the governor or the president. Recently, Scooter Libby, former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, was pardoned for convictions he received for perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements arising from possible illegal leaking by government officials of the identify of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame Wilson.

He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, but President Bush commuted his sentence, and since he was pardoned, his record is wiped clean. Of course, he had already recovered his law license after it was initially suspended, so the convictions had not kept him from being a lawyer. It is valid proof of the old axiom, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.”

In Missouri, relatively new law provides for expungement of certain convictions. Certain felonies are excluded, such as any Class A felony, any dangerous felony, any offense that requires registration as a sex offender, any felony offense in which death is an element of the offense, and any felony offense of assault, any misdemeanor or felony offense of domestic assault and any felony offense of kidnapping.

Many others are listed in the statute, and if you are interested in pursuing this further, I would suggest contacting someone who is specializes in the area. A Google search for such lawyers would be helpful. I have no expertise in this area.

The governor is also empowered to issue reprieves, commutations of sentences and pardons. It begins with the filing an application with the governor. This may be accessed at:

governor.https://doc.mo.gov/Documents/prob/CLEMENCY_APPLICATION.pdf.

A full pardon does not remove the conviction from the individual's criminal record, but it restores all rights of citizenship and removes any disqualification or punitive effect stemming from the conviction.

Many productive members of society have made mistakes and deserve an opportunity to begin anew. Recovering of the rights of citizenship should certainly not depend on being politically connected. The new legislation in Missouri is a step in the right direction, but even that law needs some adjusting. My friends have earned the right to a fresh start.

Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at bbuckley@wagblaw.com.