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A felony conviction can cast a long shadow

The consequences of a felony conviction in Texas and around the country go far beyond spending some time behind bars. Convicted felons lose the right to vote, are barred from many jobs, face travel restrictions and may even lose custody of their children. Some may think that this is a fair price to pay when an individual has been convicted of a violent crime like murder or rape, but the vast majority of felonies are nonviolent, and many felons were convicted of behavior that most people would not even consider criminal.

Calling in sick to spend a day with friends, making loud noises in a post office and certain kinds of whistleblowing can all result in a felony conviction. When asked to simply compile a list of all federal crimes, the chairperson of the Congressional Research Service told the House Over-criminalization Task Force that they would need more resources and manpower to complete the task.

The dizzying number of crimes on the books is one of the reasons America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other developed country. Another reason is a criminal justice system so geared toward plea agreements that even innocent defendants may plead guilty to avoid the draconian penalties that usually follow a conviction in court. Researchers who have studied exonerations in the United States have concluded that as many as 10% of America's 2.3 million federal and state prisoners have been wrongly convicted.

Individuals who find themselves charged with a felony often feel that the system is stacked against them. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may remind them that they are entitled to due process under the law, and prosecutors must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Attorneys may seek to ensure that their clients are treated fairly by studying police reports closely for signs of improper conduct and advocating on their behalf in court.

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