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How U.S. law makes it easy to become a felon

It’s easy for people to think of felons as “bad people” who did something wrong and deserve to be punished. But U.S. criminal law is more complicated than you might think. Many people get convicted of a felony for doing something they had no idea was even illegal.

There are many bizarre crimes out there—that most of us don’t even know about. For instance, it’s a federal crime to sell “turkey ham” if these two words are written in different fonts. It’s similarly illegal to leave the state of North Carolina with a tomato—among other random things—in your possession. It’s also a federal crime to make “loud and unusual noise” in a post office. Even something as common as faking a sick day at work can be a felony.

It’s surprisingly common for Americans to unwittingly commit a felony in this country. And yet the long-term repercussions, even for such seemingly absurd offenses, are life altering.

Once you’re released from prison, the law makes it difficult for you to get back on your feet and resume a normal life. You lose your:

  • Right to vote—if you owe any fines related to your case
  • Right to serve on a jury
  • Ability to travel to many countries that require a visa
  • Ability to live in certain neighborhoods
  • Parental rights
  • Ability to adopt a child
  • Right to bear arms
  • Ability to get certain jobs—in addition to facing challenges getting any job

The collateral consequences that felons face well after they’ve finished their sentence are unfair and discriminatory. To permanently strip someone of their freedoms for one bad decision they made is reprehensible. It goes against the core values that are supposed to make us “the land of the free.”

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