Any individual who has a criminal record may wonder whether a prior conviction means that it is not possible to obtain a United States passport. While not all convictions are an automatic bar to traveling outside the United States, there are situations where the Department of State may deny a passport to those with certain criminal convictions.
One reason that a passport may be denied is if a person has a criminal arrest warrant outstanding, is on probation or parole, or if there is a court order that prohibits the person from leaving the United States. 22 C.F.R. 51.60. The warrant would have to be recalled or the court order lifted before the individual could obtain a new passport.
However, in some cases, a passport could be denied even after a person has completed punishment and is no longer under supervision. For example, any person who has been convicted of certain state or federal felony drug offenses may be denied a passport if the person used a U.S. passport in the commission of the offense or crossed an international border. 22 C.F.R. 51.61. A misdemeanor drug conviction should not prevent a passport from being issued.
Offenses that may prevent the issuance of a passport include any violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act or the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act, plus any violation of state law that prohibits the possession, distribution, or manufacture of controlled substances. Thus, most drug crimes could fall within this category if international borders were crossed or a passport was used. In addition, the Department of State could deny a passport to any person convicted of money laundering or a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, if there is reason to believe the offense was related to violation of state or federal drug laws.
A person who has been denied a passport due to a felony conviction has the ability to ask the Department of State to make an exception in an emergency or if there are humanitarian reasons that a passport should be given. However, an exception is wholly within the discretion of the government.
Unfortunately, there is no expungement law for the types of federal offenses that would lead to a person being denied a passport. A pardon from the president is an option that could relieve the disability caused by the conviction.
In addition, some countries have requirements that prevent people with certain criminal convictions from entering. Before booking international travel, it is important to check the requirements of every country a person intends to visit, even if only passing through briefly. Often times a criminal record that occurred at the state level can be expunged, thereby making it less likely that a country would deny entry to a person based on their criminal history. Expungement can take several months, so this step should be planned well in advance.
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