Ex-cons urged to seek restoration of rights

Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney, left, stands beside Front Royal resident Chris Harris, right, during his appearance Tuesday afternoon at a Restoration of Rights workshop with the Winchester Area NAACP Chapter in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney arrived in town Tuesday with a message for convicted felons that they may be eligible for the restoration of certain rights lost to them on the day they pleaded or were found guilty.

Those rights include voting, holding public office, serving on a jury and serving as a notary public.

Stoney spoke to about 40 people, some of them with criminal records, who gathered at Phazz One ministry to hear him talk about the restoration of rights process.

Stoney came bearing a certificate from Gov. Terry McAuliffe restoring the rights of Christopher Lee Harris, 43, of Front Royal. Harris, who was convicted of several non-violent felony offenses in Prince William County back in the 1990s, applied for the certificate about six months ago.

Harris said he elated after receiving a phone call Monday inviting him to appear at Phazz One with Stoney.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stone speaks during his appearance Tuesday afternoon at a Restoration of Rights workshop with the Winchester Area NAACP Chapter in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I feel free now,” Harris said after receiving the certificate. “I feel really good.”

Stoney, who was part of McAuliffe’s “Cabinet on the Road” tour of the Shenandoah Valley Monday and Tuesday, said 6,500 ex-felons have had their rights restored since the governor took office. The goal is 20,000 by the time McAuliffe’s term ends, Stoney said.

“We believe in second chances, opportunity and redemption,” Stoney said.

Littycia Clay-Crawley, a restoration of rights specialist in Stoney’s office, told the group that it takes from 90 days to a full year to restore the rights of someone once an application is received.

The long waiting period stems from the amount of time it can take to gather sentencing orders and other documents from agencies such as the Virginia State Police, circuit courts and probation and parole officers, Clay-Crawley said.

Chris Harris, 43, of Front Royal had his voting rights reinstated Tuesday afternoon in Winchester by Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney during his appearance Tuesday afternoon at a Restoration of Rights workshop with the Winchester Area NAACP Chapter in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

Those seeking to have their rights restored must have been free from incarceration or supervised probation or parole for at least three years; must not have been convicted of felonies or have had any pending charges in the three years prior to an application; and have paid all court costs, fines, penalties and restitution.

“If you answer yes to all those questions, then your rights will be restored,” Clay-Crawley said.

Stoney praised those who have lobbied hard to ease the way for felons to have their rights restored in Virginia.

“You all have kept the pressure on public officials on this particular subject,” Stoney told the audience.

The restoration of rights program does not apply to possession of firearms, which requires a separate process conducted through the circuit courts.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com