Are Convicted Felons Sentenced to Life, Regardless of the Sentence They Actually Serve?

In Michigan and all other states in the U.S., felony offenses are considered more serious than those classified as misdemeanors. A felony charge can be related to anything from tax fraud or distributing illegal drugs to some theft offenses or murder. The prison term for those found guilty of committing felony crimes can range from a couple of years to life in prison, depending on the case and the offender’s criminal history. In most cases someone who is convicted of a misdemeanor offense will serve one year or less behind bars.

Being convicted of a felony crime doesn’t mean the alleged offender (the operative word here being “alleged,” as many who are incarcerated are innocent) will face 20 years or a lifetime in prison. Some serve two or three years, some 10, some much longer. However, upon being released from prison after serving their terms are those labeled “felons” still facing a life sentence in reality? Unfortunately, many are.

Imagine what it’s like to be labeled a felon when upon release from prison, you can’t find a job or a place to live because of your criminal record. For lots of folks, it’s difficult and even overwhelming trying to reenter society after being incarcerated for years or even decades. When you can’t find employment, how can you pay for the basic necessities you need to live such as food, a roof over your head, transportation, clothing, and other needs? It is truly is a life sentence, regardless of the punishment handed down by the court at the time of the conviction.

A May 2016 article at the New York Times titled “Labels Like ‘Felon’ Are an Unfair Life Sentence” spells the problem out clearly. Essentially, with labels such as “felon,” “ex-convict,” or “ex-offender” that stick to those who have been convicted of a crime like glue, people who have served their time and who want to move forward on a positive path in life are forever defined by the worst moment of their lives. With labels like these, there are no second chances for many people who, like we all do, made a mistake at some point in their lives.

A group of more than 20 government agencies, the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, has driven an initiative under President Obama’s administration in an effort to take our country in another direction when it comes to policies that make it impossible for those with felony convictions to secure education, jobs, consumer credit, housing, and other essential tools for successfully living in today’s society. Still, there is a long road ahead for those who although may have become upstanding citizens and desire to put who they used to be in the past, are still paying their debt to society.

When charged with a felony crime, it is critical to hire a skilled defense attorney and fight the charges. Even when charges cannot be dismissed or the likelihood of winning at trial is almost non-existent, there are other options. In many situations a charge can be reduced to a misdemeanor with the right lawyer, which at the very least will help the defendant avoid “convicted felon” and similar labels that impact their lives forever. Individuals should never have to face a life sentence even though they weren’t sentenced to life for a mistake made in the past, sometimes decades ago.

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