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Can a Felon Become a Judge?

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Felons often must look at a different career path while finding a job upon their return to society, including returning to school for additional education.

After their experience with the legal system during their trial and incarceration, some felons might consider a career in the legal field.

This blog post will address your question: can a felon become a judge?


What is a Judge?

A judge presides over hearings and trials in a court of law.

A judge enforces the rules of the courtroom as lawyers present their cases in court.

In some types of cases, a judge hears evidence from both sides and comes to a ruling.

In others a judge gives a jury instructions so that they can come to a legal decision.

There are many different types of cases judges can preside over including:

  • Criminal law
  • Family law
  • Juvenile cases
  • Probate cases
  • Contract cases

A judge applies the law by overseeing the legal process in courts.

He or she conducts pretrial hearings and issues legal decisions.

A judge typically has many duties, including:

  • Researches legal issues
  • Reads and evaluates court documents
  • Presides over trials
  • Determines if the information presented supports the charge
  • Decides if the procedure is being conducted according to the law
  • Applies laws to reach a decision
  • Writes decisions regarding cases

In criminal cases, a judge may decide that those charged with a crime should remain in jail until the trial or conditions for release may be set.

He or she also approves search and arrest warrants.

What Education/Training Does a Judge Need?

Typically, a judge is a lawyer who has practiced law for at least several years.

To become a lawyer, one must complete a three-year Juris Doctor (JD) program after earning a bachelor’s degree.

After completing law school, a candidate must pass the state bar exam to function as a lawyer.

A lawyer who wants to become a judge may be more likely to be appointed or elected to a position if his or her experience has an emphasis on court trials.

A judge may be appointed to his or her post by government officials, or he or she may win a post in an election.

Some judges have a limited term of service, while others hold their positions for life.

Each state sets requirements for the qualifications of judges in different types of courts.

In addition to earning a law degree, a federal judge must pass a competitive exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

All states have some type of orientation and training requirements for newly-elected or appointed judges.

The Federal Judicial Center and American Bar Association provide judicial education and training for judges.

How Much Does a Judge Earn?

There were about 43,800 judges in the U.S. in 2016. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a judge is $109,940.

Experience and region will also influence the salary a judge receives.

Judges working on the East or West coast, for example, will typically earn more than those employed elsewhere in the country.

Overall employment of judges is projected to grow 5% from 2016 to 2026, about average for all occupations.

The demand is expected to continue as individuals continue to require legal services that will involve a judge.

Can a Felon Become a Judge?

A felon can pursue any college degree he or she wants. Although 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, there is no standard policy regarding a background check.

At many colleges the background check consists of only one question on the admission application regarding whether or not there are any convictions.

Any felon that wants to get a degree can find a college that will accept him or her.

The challenge is in becoming admitted to a state’s bar as a lawyer and obtaining a job after graduating.

All law school applications will ask about any criminal history.

Each law school sets its own policy as to whether applicants with felonies are eligible for admission, but a felon is able to get a law degree.

A few jurisdictions deny an applicant with a felony conviction from bar admission:

  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Texas

In all other states, a felony conviction is not an automatic denial for admission to law school so long as the applicant can prove current good moral character.

The following factors are typically taken into consideration when making the determination of character fitness:

  • Applicant’s age at the time of the offense
  • Recency of the crime
  • Reliability of the information
  • Seriousness of the offense
  • Cumulative effect of conduct
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Applicant’s recent positive social contributions
  • Applicant’s honesty in the admissions process

It is important to be honest when filling out an application for licensure as a lawyer or for a position as a judge.

If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable.

It is a crime to falsify any application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful in becoming a judge, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background.

They are already viewed with negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in beginning a new career and becoming a judge.

Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

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It is challenging, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a judge.

Giving him or herself the best chance for success by having his or her record expunged and being persistent in pursuing a degree could make a critical difference.

Having support from family or friends could make a huge difference.

A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime.

We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them.

He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a judge with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Judge?”

  1. Wow, thank you. I had a rocky start but this gave me hope. I’m going to move forward in my goal to obtain a law degree, in hopes of becoming a judge. Thank you so much for your inspiration.


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