Frequently Asked Questions Upon Conviction in Federal Court

Author: Marcus J. Berghahn

Among the most frequently asked questions by those convicted of a federal criminal offense (after “Am I going to jail and for how long?”) are, “When can I have my first conjugal visit?” and “Can I bring my golf clubs?” Such questions about imprisonment and supervision may, initially, to someone who is not dealing with the emotions that are sweeping through you, seem superficial and trivial. These questions, however, reflect real concern about how your sentence will affect you.

These questions are important to you – and to us. In this memorandum, we hope to be able to answer some of the questions you may have. This memorandum may raise additional questions, which I encourage you to ask – there are no dumb questions when it comes to your future.

Upon conviction and assignment to a Bureau of Prison’s institution, business travel, being allowed to hunt and vote, placing credit card calls, and even selecting the best kind of sneaker, all become important issues for someone beginning life as a convicted felon.

By presenting these frequently asked questions and answers, I hope to be able to reduce your anxiety, help ease your transition into incarceration and, later, supervised release.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 1995 Annual Report, 62.2% of those convicted of fraud are sentenced to imprisonment. Imprisonment is also imposed in 56.5% of embezzlement cases, 31.1% of criminal tax cases and 73.6% of money-laundering convictions. Therefore, sophistication in post-conviction issues has become almost as important as trial prowess for criminal defense attorneys. Advance consideration of your questions about incarceration also has the side-benefit of decreasing the frequency of otherwise daily calls from prison to your attorney, which leaves more time for remaining in contact with family.

For ease of presentation, the most frequently asked questions are grouped into three categories:

(1) The Presentence Investigation Report (PSI) and Sentencing Hearing;

(2) In the Prison System; and

(3) Probation/Supervised Release.

We apologize for sometimes stating the obvious, but do so because it is so often overlooked.

Presentence Report (“PSR”) and Sentencing Hearing

When you enter your guilty plea before the Court, the Court will order the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services officer assigned to your case to complete a PSR. The federal rules of criminal procedure usually provides that the PSR must be completed within 35 days of the entry of the plea. The report will be provided to the court, the prosecution, your attorney and you. The PSR is, in essence, a report to the Court about who you are, the nature of the offense to which you have plead guilty and the circumstances of the offense conduct. The PSR will be one of the documents the Court will consider when sentencing you.

The PSR is probably the most misunderstood and underestimated component in the post-conviction process. And its significance does not diminish after sentencing. The PSR is the first document the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) reviews regarding every new inmate. The BOP uses the PSR to determine the facility at which you will serve your sentence, security, and custody levels. The PSR dictates each inmate’s visitation privileges. It also affects eligibility for educational opportunities, drug/alcohol treatment, and medical care. (Participation in some of these programs can result in shorter sentences.) The report is also used to determine the level of supervision an inmate will receive once she is on probation or supervised release.

The following are typical questions often asked of us regarding the PSR:

Should you [my attorney] go with me when I meet the probation officer? Will that have a negative effect on the presentence report?

You will ordinarily feel more comfortable if your attorney is present during your initial interview with the probation officer, and that is usually a good idea. Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure entitles defense counsel to be present during all meetings between the probation officer and the defendant. Nevertheless, probation departments in some districts ask attorneys to waive, in writing, their right to be present during such interviews, something you obviously should resist. Generally, in this district, the probation officer requires counsel to be present.

The presence of defense counsel serves several purposes:

(1) to offer comfort, support and reassurance;

(2) to run interference between a difficult client and the probation officer (or between an ordinary client and a difficult probation officer); and

(3)to try to protect the client’s interests in pending civil litigation, tax matters, or an appeal.

To obtain a downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility, you must present your version of the offense. It is our practice to have you submit such statement along with a biographical statement in writing. In a written statement, which we will have reviewed first, you can demonstrate acceptance of responsibility and express remorse for your conduct, while avoiding a detailed discussion of the offense. Sometimes, it may also be beneficial for you to show remorse by voluntarily participating in a treatment program and/or beginning to make restitution before it is ordered. Such affirmative steps toward rehabilitation and contrition go beyond what is required (or even expected) for acceptance of responsibility, and should be well received by the probation officer and the court.

What happens if the probation officer doesn’t like me?

The probation officer’s influence on your sentence cannot be overstated. The probation officer has unlimited access to the U.S. Attorney and the investigative agencies, and can be subtly influenced by their comments. Furthermore, the probation officer has ex parte access to the sentencing judge and court staff. You interaction with her probation officer is crucial. A positive experience with the probation officer may result in a favorable disposition. Negative interaction is a recipe for disaster.

You should be prepared, in advance, for your first encounter with the probation officer. You should understand that the probation officer will ask very personal questions about family, employment, health (physical and mental) and finances. I will review the scope of the questions with you prior to our meeting and should you wish further explanation, do not hesitate to ask before the probation officer’s first interview. If, during the interview, you wish to speak with your attorney about a specific answer to a question, you are entitled to do so; indeed, I encourage this, and the probation officer will not be troubled by this. A client who appears for her interview with a thorough understanding of the process will most likely conduct herself appropriately.

You should understand the importance of answering all questions posed to you truthfully. If the probation officer discovers that answers provided are false, then the reduction for acceptance of responsibility may be taken away and you may be charged with an additional criminal offense. If you cannot answer a questions truthfully, tell your attorney, and/or do not answer the question. In any case, do not lie.

Honesty and forthrightness are essential. During the probation officer’s conversations with the investigating agents, spouses and parents, most skeletons will be revealed. Nevertheless, you should understand that candor, while essential, may cause certain difficulties. For example, the admission of drug or alcohol dependency is such a “double-edge sword”; it may result in a reduction in prison time and enable you to participate in treatment programs while incarcerated, but required aftercare may also make supervised release more difficult.

You should also understand the importance of complying with all deadlines imposed by the probation officer. Avoid canceling appointments and failing to submit documents on time. I will try to follow up with you to ensure that you are complying with the probation officer’s requests. Any perceived lack of cooperation can be extremely damaging.

I have a 5K1.1 (Substantial Assistance) agreement with the government. How important is this interview with the probation officer?

The PSR is no less important simply because a defendant has agreed to cooperate with the government. There is no guarantee that your cooperation will reach the government’s standards for substantial assistance, which dictates the filing of a 5K1.1 motion. Furthermore, assuming that substantial assistance is rendered and the appropriate motions are filed, the prosecutor can still recommend a sentence that falls far short of your expectations. In such instances, the PSR may be beneficial and support the sentence you are requesting (or somewhere between). It is important to remember the PSR remains the primary resource the BOP uses in most decisions that affect an inmate’s daily existence.

Will the things the prosecutor stipulated to in the plea agreement determine my sentencing range?

It is advantageous to begin the sentencing process with agreement on factors that influence the application of the Sentencing Guidelines. Nevertheless, stipulated facts are not binding on the court. The probation officer will apply the sentencing guidelines to the evidence as she views it, independent of those stipulations. Furthermore, stipulated facts in the plea agreement may, in some instances, be a red flag for the probation officer. She may contact the prosecutor seeking justification for what appear to be unreasonable or unsupported stipulations.

Does my conviction mean that I will lose my social Security benefits?

Certain convictions will result in the suspension of Social Security benefits (disability or retirement) during the term of imprisonment. The Social Security Act bars payment of Social Security benefits to anyone who has been sentenced to imprisonment for a felony conviction. Upon beginning supervised release, you may have payments reinstated by presenting your release papers to a Social Security office. Social Security benefits are not affected by a probationary sentence, even following a felony conviction.

Most of my assets have been forfeited. Can I still be sentenced to pay a fine and make restitution?

Probably. Section 5E1.2(a) of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines requires the court to impose a fine in all cases, except where the defendant establishes that he is unable to pay and is not likely to become able to pay any fine. Therefore, the forfeiture of a defendant’s assets does not necessarily insulate her from a fine. Similarly, section 5E1.1 of the guidelines requires a court to enter a restitution order if authorized under 18 U.S.C. 3663-3664 and without exception for a defendant who has forfeited her assets.

Since April 24, 1996, the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (“MVRA”) has required federal courts to order defendants, in most felony cases, to make restitution “to each victim in the full amount of each victim’s losses …without consideration of the economic circumstances of the defendant” (emphasis added), and without consideration of any compensation received by the victim from other sources. Sections 3664(f)(2) and (3)(B) provide a very limited escape clause, permitting the court to consider the defendant’s financial resources in establishing the schedule by which restitution is to be paid. If the defendant’s economic resources are insufficient for the payment of restitution, the court may order mere “nominal periodic payments.” The MVRA was ruled unconstitutional in United States v. Kemp where the court referred to it as “so unworkable as to be something to laugh at” and “so fundamentally flawed and confused that it cannot be interpreted or judicially nudged into constitutionality.”

What if I can’t afford the cost of confinement or supervision?

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines require the imposition of “an additional fine amount that is at least sufficient to pay the costs to the government of any imprisonment, probation, or supervised release ordered.” However, this requirement is subject to the defendant’s ability to pay. Therefore, if the defendant establishes that she is presently unable, and is unlikely to become able, to pay this additional fine, even on an installment basis, the court may reduce or waive the fine altogether. In that event, the court must impose an alternative sanction. The guidelines suggest that community service is the preferred alternative.

What factors determine whether I will be permitted to self-surrender?

The court has authority to release you pending the execution of your sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3141(b). Under 18 U.S.C. 3143(a), you will be permitted to remain at liberty only if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that you are not likely to flee and do not pose a danger to the community.

On the contrary, immediate imprisonment is likely if you have been convicted of: (1) a crime of violence; (2) an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death; (3) most drug crimes punishable by imprisonment of ten years or more; or, (4) at any time, two or more of the foregoing offenses.

Nevertheless, trial judges are encouraged by the BOP to authorize self-surrender in certain cases. In general, this includes individuals who have been on, and complied with all terms of, pre-trial release, and other eligible offenders who are deemed by the court to be worthy of self-surrender. Courts have commented on the fiscal benefits of permitting self-surrender.

In the Prison System

First, there are no “country club” prisons.

Once incarceration becomes inevitable, you might begin to focus on having familiar amenities incorporated into prison life. You should disabuse yourself of any illusion that you will be able to operate a businesses from pay telephones while working on laptop computers. Make no mistake, you are about to undergo a dramatic changes in your lifestyle. Our clients typically are middle-aged, self-reliant and accustomed to making their own decisions, therefore, the prospect of being controlled by another party is frightening.

For present purposes, we assume that you are eligible for a low security institution, and are fortunate enough to be permitted to self-surrender.

The following are typical questions asked by individuals, like you, about entering and living in the federal prison system:

The judge recommended FPC Oxford, so how did I end up in FPC Duluth?

Judicial recommendations for designation have no binding effect on the BOP. Although such recommendations may receive consideration, formal designation decisions are made by local Community Corrections Managers (CCMs) and confirmed by the BOP Regional Designator.

What factors will influence my designation? Where will I serve my time? Can I go to a “country club” prison?

CCMs consider a number of factors to ensure that inmates are placed in appropriate facilities, and to ensure the security of BOP personnel and other inmates. Using a defendant’s PSI, a CCM evaluates the severity of the offense conduct. In doing so, the CCM looks beyond the plea agreement and conviction to the defendant’s most severe documented behavior. BOP considers it irrelevant that you were convicted of a lesser offense if the PSI documents that she was involved in a more serious offense.

Other factors will influence your designation, including: (1) the expected length of incarceration; (2) any prior commitments (custodial sentences); (3) any outstanding detainers; (4) a history of escapes or attempted escapes; and, (5) any history of violence. There are also subjective factors, known as “management variables,” that may negatively affect your designation and custody classification. When BOP personnel do not believe that an inmate’s security score accurately reflects her security risk, they may assign a management variable which permits her to be placed in a higher level institution, even if that designation is outside normal guidelines. Consideration is also given to factors relating to the individual defendant, including the proximity of her family and/or attorneys and programming needs (e.g., drug treatment). Therefore, barring overpopulation issues, defendants who pose only a minimal security risk will ordinarily be eligible for designation to a minimum security institution.

Under no circumstance should you believe that any BOP institution resembles, in any way, a country club. A minimum security institution is still prison, as you will discover.

Can I be designated to a facility near them?

Probably. The BOP does consider an inmate’s desire to be close to family and friends during incarceration. Therefore, the BOP tries to place each inmate at the appropriate facility nearest to his or her family. The BOP also has procedures to assist an inmate whose family moves during incarceration, and who wishes to be transferred to a facility nearer them. It is for this reason that you provide as much information as possible to the PSI author as this is the source of address information by BOP.

Can I go to a boot camp?

Possibly, but be prepared to wait. Non-violent offenders who have been sentenced to between a year and 1 day to 30 months are eligible, but must receive a judicial recommendation to participate. Non-violent offenders with 30 to 60 months remaining on their sentences may apply for admission through their case managers. Nevertheless, the boot camp will contact the sentencing judge for an opinion whether boot camp is appropriate. There is no age limit for boot camp. Inmates of age 50 and older have completed the program. However, all new participants must undergo a physical fitness test to ensure their eligibility and to place them in an appropriate fitness group. If an inmate’s fitness improves, she is reassigned to the next highest training level. So far, no camp participant is known to have suffered a heart attack or been injured as a result of her age. After completing the program, inmates are sent to a halfway house to finish their sentences.

I have a serious medical condition. Can I wait until after my surgery to self-surrender?

No. Once the court has set a defendant’s self-surrender date, it becomes binding, and a defendant who fails to report becomes a fugitive. There are two options in this situation. First, verify tell us about your medical condition. This way, we can inform the judge and request that you be permitted to surrender after recovering from surgery. If the judge refuses, you must report to your designated BOP facility or local U.S. Marshal’s office on the date ordered. Once you are within the BOP’s jurisdiction, you may request a medical furlough to permit you to obtain treatment. Don’t count on receiving the furlough, however, the BOP has its own medical personnel whom it will have provide medical care whenever possible.

My spouse is also incarcerated in a federal facility. Can I write him?

Each warden has discretion as to what kinds of correspondence are permissible. As nonsensical as it seems, there may be cases where one spouse is permitted to correspond, while the other is not. Wardens enjoy similar discretion regarding whether the spouse who is released first may visit the other.

My father died. Can I get a furlough to attend the funeral?

This decision is also within the discretion of the warden. Funeral furloughs are not unusual, provided the inmate can pay the costs associated with transportation both ways. The costs may include airfare for one or two marshals, hotel accommodations, food, etc. Obviously, an inmate who is viewed as a flight risk is unlikely to receive this dispensation.

Will the BOP be able to treat my high blood pressure?

Each BOP facility has medical personnel on hand or available in the surrounding community. Inmates with extraordinary medical needs are eligible for designation or transfer to one of the four medical centers operated by the BOP. In extreme medical emergencies or where BOP resources are grossly inadequate to treat an inmate, a medical furlough may be granted. The government will bear the expense of the furlough if it is necessary to obtain treatment not otherwise available. However, in all but truly extraordinary cases, the BOP likely will conclude that it can provide the needed treatment. An inmate must bear all costs associated with obtaining second opinions and elective care.

I received my designation letter today from the United States Marshal. I can self-surrender either at the marshal’s office or at the institution.
Does it matter?

Yes, where you surrender matters! You should always surrender at the institution! Otherwise, while awaiting transportation to your designated facility, you will experience high-level security restraints. Furthermore, transportation to the institution is rarely direct, and there may be many stops along the way. Consequently, while in transit, you may spend many nights – it may take over three weeks for you to travel to your assigned institution – at local jails under conditions much worse than those at your designated facility.

Self-surrender is also important for reasons entirely separate from your short-term convenience, namely, it will favorably affect your security classification score. In turn, this will affect the institution to which you are designated. Voluntary surrender creates a presumption in favor of minimum security classification and camp designation.

Do I have to pay my fine and/or court-ordered restitution while I am in jail?

It depends upon what the court orders. 18 U.S. Code section 357(d) states that a person sentenced to pay a fine shall make such payment immediately, unless, in the interest of justice, the court provides for payment at a later date or in installments. Typically, installment payments must be made in equal monthly payments over the period provided by the court. The Sentencing Guidelines suggest that “[t]he length of the installment schedule generally should not exceed twelve months, and shall not exceed the maximum term of probation for the offense.” In addition, the guidelines state that “[t]he defendant should be required to pay a substantial installment at the time of sentencing.” In determining what a defendant can pay, courts have considered a defendant’s ability to earn income while in prison. Thus, the court may require you to pay some or all of your fine or restitution while in prison.

What do I bring to the institution?

Most institutions no longer allow you to bring clothes or footwear. You should bring an inexpensive watch, eyeglasses (many institutions do not allow contact lenses), and a money order of sufficient amount to purchase clothes at the commissary and start your telephone account. You can also bring a plain wedding band and your legal papers (although not too many). It is also wise for you to bring a few days’ supply of any prescription medication, and a letter from your physician explaining the reason for it. It is also helpful to bring a list of names, addresses, and telephone numbers of people for your visitation, telephone, and correspondence lists.

If not permitted to self-surrender, you should wear (or bring) a comfortable pair of clothes and shoes. In either case, you should become familiar with her United States Marshal number which becomes your identification number for the duration of post-conviction life.

What will happen to me the first day?

You should say your good-byes before arrival at the institution. Upon arrival, you will be asked to present your self-surrender papers, and then you will be escorted away for initial intake. A breathalyzer test will be administered. Therefore, be advised that you should not have any “off-to-prison blowout” several days before reporting. A few Bloody Marys before arrival will result in several days in segregated housing. You will be strip-searched and issued temporary clothing (usually, a humiliating jumpsuit and slippers). Your clothes will be inventoried and sent home. The intake process includes a health questionnaire and an interview by an intake officer. The officer will inquire whether there is any reason why the inmate should not be allowed in the general population. You will be subjected to psychological tests from which a profile will be developed, which is used to determine whether you are suicidal. There will be a brief interview with a health care professional, who often will confiscate any medication brought by you. You will then be informed where you can pick up prison-issued medication. Once you are medically, psychologically, and safety cleared, you are then issued bedding, toiletries and assigned a bunk. Clothing will be issued, and telephone and commissary accounts will be established. You will also undergo orientation and an initial “team meeting,” involving the case and unit manager and a counselor. You will be given a physical examination and assigned a job. Obviously, this process takes more than one day, and sometimes takes several weeks.

What are the sleeping arrangements?

Will I have my own room and get to choose my roommate?

Will I be safe?

In most federal prison camps, inmates are housed in buildings called “units” with sleeping arrangements in two, four and six-person cubicles. However, each facility is different. Almost all have bunk beds. Priority for bottom bunks is given those with seniority or health problems (as determined by an institutional physician). Most units also have television room(s), a laundry room, and writing or “quiet” rooms. The bunks are military style. Although nothing is guaranteed, camp life is generally safe, with relatively few violent incidents.

What kind of commissary privileges will I have?

What can I buy there?

Initially, you will need to purchase casual clothing, including sweat suits, gym shoes, and, perhaps, a radio. Thereafter, an inmate may purchase snacks (potato chips, crackers, tuna, soft drinks, etc.), toiletries, and additional clothing up to a monthly maximum of approximately $150 (not including postage stamps and telephone calls).

How much money should I have in my Bureau of Prisons account? How do people send me money?

The largest expenditures are usually for long distance calls. The amount needed will vary with you. If there is too much money in an inmate’s account, the BOP will levy on it to satisfy any fines or restitution which is owing. Prison accounts do not bear interest. Money is credited to a prison account immediately if received in the form of a postal money order. Money sent by check or other money order may take several weeks to clear. Inmates are not permitted to have currency in any amount.

Can my spouse send me food, clothes, tapes, or books?

Inmates generally are not permitted to receive anything from family and friends other than letters and paperback books. Hardback books are permitted if mailed from a bookstore or publisher. Inmates may also receive magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Playgirl, Playboy, Penthouse, etc., are prohibited.

What kind of telephone privileges will I have?

You will receive a personal telephone identification number within a few days after entering prison. What this means is that you should be prepared that you will not be able to make a phone call for a number of days upon entry into the institution. You will also be directed to complete a telephone list, containing the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of approved contacts. The list may include as many as 30 names. For this reason we suggest making a list and bringing the names, addresses and numbers with you. Inmates are permitted to place collect calls or to pay through their prison accounts. You may not use calling cards or call “800” numbers, and may not make conference calls. All telephone calls are routinely monitored.

An unmonitored call to an attorney must be arranged through an inmate’s counselor or case manager.

Is my mail confidential?

How can I receive confidential mail?

Can I write to a family member who is in another facility?

All incoming mail is opened and checked for contraband (under BOP regulations even postal stamps are contraband). Depending on the type of institution, outgoing mail may be sealed except for inmate-to-inmate correspondence. Such correspondence requires approval by the warden, and may authorized in the warden’s discretion where, for example, both inmates are immediate family members, or parties in a civil case. Such correspondence is routinely inspected at both the sending and receiving institutions.

Mail on attorney letterhead, marked “special mail – Open only in the presence of the inmate,” will be opened in the inmate’s presence, checked for contraband and for qualification as special mail. If so designated, staff will not copy or read it.

How often can I have visitors?

Is my family searched?

Can they bring me anything?

Visitation rules vary from institution to institution. The usual restrictions concern time and number of visits. Inmates ordinarily submit a visitation list for approval by their counselors. Only visitors on the list are permitted. Immediate family members will be placed on the list, if verified in the PSI. The names of other relatives and friends must be submitted on a form, and may be approved after verification. Adult visitors are usually required to present identification, and may be asked to submit to a search. Purses, attorneys’ briefcases, etc. may also be searched. Family members are not permitted to bring anything to an inmate when they visit.

Probation/Supervised Release

A common misconception is that release from prison equates to “freedom.” Consequently, many inmates are entirely unprepared for the restrictions that will be placed on them by the Probation Department.

An inmate is released after serving approximately 85 percent of her sentence.

You are eligible for placement in a halfway house six months before being released.

Eligibility is based on: (1) the perceived need for a transitional period; (2) the length of incarceration; and (3) availability. The longer an inmate has been incarcerated, the more halfway house time she will ordinarily receive. The final 10 percent of an inmate’s sentence, up to six months, may be served on electronic monitoring or in home confinement.

What is expected of me while I’m on probation/supervised release?

Standard conditions for probation and supervised release are established under 18 U.S.C. 3563(a). After the sentencing hearing the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services officer will review the standard conditions with you. In addition to the standard conditions, the court can impose special conditions of supervision.

The following are samples of frequently imposed special conditions of supervision:

(1) The defendant shall participate in an approved treatment program to include urinalysis for drug and/or alcohol abuse as directed by the United States Probation Office. Participation may include residential placement if deemed necessary.

(2) The defendant shall submit to a search of his person, property, or place of residence, conducted in a reasonable manner and at a reasonable time as requested by the probation officer.

(3) The defendant shall be required to provide full financial disclosure to the probation officer as requested.

(4) The defendant shall be prohibited from incurring new credit charges or opening additional lines of credit without approval of the probation officer.

(5) The defendant shall not engage in any business that offers securities/investments or business opportunities to the public. The defendant is further prohibited from engaging in telemarketing, direct mail, or national advertising campaigns for business purposes.

Special conditions of supervision may occasionally be imposed to assist you. For example, at sentencing, a self-employed defendant may be given special travel privileges as needed to conduct business.

What is home confinement like? Do I have to wear one of those bracelets?

There is a difference between home confinement and electronic monitoring. Home confinement, imposed as either a condition of release, or as a “punishment” component of a sentence, requires you to spend most non-working hours at home. You will ordinarily be permitted to attend weekly religious services and go grocery shopping, and special dispensation for other “outings” may be granted by the probation officer. No electronic monitoring device is involved. The “inmate” ordinarily is instructed to check in, by telephone, at specified times.

Electronic monitoring requires the inmate to wear an anklet, which transmits an electronic signal to a monitoring requires the inmate to wear an anklet, which transmits an electronic signal to a monitoring center through a device attached to the telephone. Call forwarding, call waiting, and three-way calling are prohibited. If your computer modem uses the same telephone line, you will not be permitted to use the modem unless you have a second line installed. Any break in the signal triggers an alarm at the monitoring center. The time at which the break occurs is checked against the approved times for the defendant to be absent from her residence. If the time is unapproved, the probation officer is notified.

I’m self-employed and operate my business in New York and Florida. I also have residences in both places. May I travel while on supervision for work purposes? Must I ask my probation officer for permission every time I wish to travel? Can the probation officer prohibit me from conducting my business? Will the probation officer permit me to continue working with my partner, who was a co-defendant?

Travel is usually prohibited for the first 30 to 90 days of supervision, depending on the district. After that, travel for any purpose within the continental United States is permitted if approved by the probation officer. Whether permission is granted ordinarily will depend on how well the defendant complies with the other conditions of supervision. Delinquency in making payments toward a fine or restitution will result in the denial of permission to travel. Required aftercare and community service may also interfere with proposed travel. Travel outside the United States must be approved by the court, and should be requested well in advance.

The conditions imposed on a self-employed individual vary. Both the business and the proposed activity must comport with reason and common sense. A defendant will ordinarily be permitted to continue a legitimate, pre-existing business unless it requires a professional license, is deemed sensitive (such as the securities business – see the sample conditions of probation discussed above), or was involved in the offense of conviction.

Can my civil rights be restored after a felony conviction?

The answer to this question is primarily a matter of state law. Convicted felons ordinarily lose certain rights, including the rights to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury, and possess firearms. Most states provide some means to lift those restrictions after completion of the individual’s sentence. In some states, civil rights are restored automatically on release from prison. Elsewhere, offenders are required to seek relief from a court or follow an administrative procedure. In such states, federal felons can have their civil rights restored only by obtaining a pardon. Finally, in some states, federal felons lose certain rights permanently.

The right to vote is almost never lost permanently. In most states, if lost at all, the right to vote is suspended only during imprisonment. In such cases, the right is either automatically restored upon expiration of the sentence, or may be restored through an administrative or court procedure.

In Wisconsin, the right to vote is restored after six years. However, your right to seek elected public office cannot be restored.

The right to sit on a jury is one of the hardest to regain. For instance, in Vermont, the right to sit on a jury is lost following a sentence of imprisonment. The right can be restored by pardon, but it is unclear whether restoration for a federal felon would require a federal or state pardon. Similarly, 28 U.S. Code section 1865 precludes a convicted felon’s service on a federal jury unless the felon’s civil rights have been restored.

In some states, the right to hold office is lost on conviction. In Arizona, a first-time offender has this right restored automatically upon completion of her sentence, although repeat offenders must apply to the court or obtain a pardon. However, in some other states, this right cannot be restored even by obtaining a pardon.

The right to hold federal office or employment may also be restricted by federal law. Generally, a felony conviction does not automatically bar federal employment, but may nevertheless be considered. In most cases, the greater the relationship between the offense and the job, the more likely a felon will be precluded from employment. In addition, in many states, a felony conviction may result in revocation or denial or occupational or professional licenses.

Both state and federal law restrict a felon’s ability to possess a firearm. Such restrictions vary by state and by the crime involved. For federal felons, this firearms disability continues even if their firearms rights are restored under state law. For federal felons, federal firearms rights may be restored only under federal law. This may be accomplished through a pardon, or through the restoration program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The ATF’s restoration program is presently unfunded, however, and the agency will not process restoration applications, even for individuals who offer to pay processing costs.

A federal felony conviction may also cause the revocation of ceratin federal benefits, including grants, licenses, and contracts. However, welfare, Social Security, retirement, health, disability, and public housing benefits are not generally affected by a conviction, other than as described above.

In conclusion, while the process may, at times, be incomprehensible to you, we hope that this memorandum has answered, at least preliminarily some of the questions you may have been too afraid to ask. As you think of additional questions, please do not hesitate to call upon us.

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