PHOENIX — Arizona has stricter laws than most states on barring felons from voting, and the civil rights restoration process varies depending on one's criminal convictions.
By law, people who are convicted of a felony in Arizona lose their right to vote, serve jury duty, run for public office, or possess a gun.
Some states never restrict a felon from voting. Most states have allowed felons to vote as soon as they are released from prison or complete their sentence.
However, Arizona is one of seven states with hybrid models where some felons are disenfranchised permanently or some felons have extra steps or waiting periods to restore rights, according to the ACLU. Only two states permanently disenfranchise felons.
ABC15 recently uncovered how some felons in Maricopa County were being illegally registered to vote.
The consequence for failing to follow Arizona's rules could be additional prison time. Felons who illegally register to vote could be charged with a Class 6 felony.
Convicted felons who actually cast a ballot, without first restoring their civil rights, could be charged with a Class 5 felony.
First-time felons convicted of a single felony offense, can automatically restore their civil rights, but not their gun rights, once they meet certain criteria. They must complete all their prison and probation time, and they must pay all their restitution. After that, they may register to vote.
All other felons must apply for rights restoration in superior court in the county where they were convicted, according to Arizona law.
Maricopa County Superior Court provides application forms online and in the court's law library. In order to apply, a felon must have an absolute discharge from prison, must have paid all restitution and fees, and wait two years after the date of absolute discharge. Each county has its own restoration of rights form and felons must fill out a separate application for each criminal case. Court administrators research the application and forward it to a judge to make a ruling.
"Once it's submitted, you are looking at three to six months for the process finalized, but the court will contact if it's granted," said Julie Gunnigle, a lawyer who previously ran for Maricopa County attorney.
"It's actually illegal for you to register to vote or to vote before you get that order," said longtime Valley defense attorney Ken Countryman.
Felons in Arizona can also restore rights by asking a judge to set aside a judgment.
No felon automatically gets gun rights restored, and additional rules specify who can qualify to possess a firearm again. Firearm restoration applications are sometimes combined on the same forms as civil rights restorations or set aside requests.
"Once it's submitted. you are looking at three to six months for the process finalized, but the court will contact if it's granted," said Julie Gunnigle, a Valley lawyer who previously ran for Maricopa County attorney.
"Contact the Department of Public Safety or the ATF, or preferably both, and confirm that you're validly allowed to possess a firearm before you go out and possess it because the consequences of being a prohibited possessor and possessing a firearm are significant," said defense attorney Kris Califano.
Because there are so many legal nuances to rights restoration in Arizona, both Califano and Gunnigle recommend felons seek a lawyer's advice to ensure the process is done properly.
Maricopa County offers free one-on-one help for ex-offenders who wish to restore their civil rights or have their cases set aside. People are asked to preregister to participate in the quarterly events.