Can Convicted Felons Get a Driver’s License? Restrictions, Laws by State

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Criminal Records | April 29, 2024

Convicted Felon driving a red car and thinking about a driver’s license wonders can convicted felons get a driver's license, or can a felon get a driver's license and can a felon get a passport?

Many individuals who have recently been released from prison might wonder, can convicted felons get a driver’s license?

Every state has its own restrictions and laws, but for the most part, felons should not have huge issues obtaining a driver’s license.

No states outright ban felons from obtaining a driver’s license, however, there are numerous crimes in which the individual’s license being suspended will be part of their sentencing.

So, can convicted felons get a driver’s license in every state? Yes, but there are exceptions.

This full guide explains them.

Can Convicted Felons Get a Driver’s License?

A criminal conviction can result in the loss of constitutional rights, such as freedom (when a person is incarcerated).

However, some other fundamental rights are often forfeited when a person is convicted of a criminal act, such as firearm ownership.

So, can convicted felons get a driver’s license, or are they barred from doing so? Although it is possible for an individual to be barred from obtaining their license, this is rarely the case.

No state automatically bans individuals who have been convicted of a crime from obtaining a license to drive, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, once they have served their sentence.

The exception to that is when a person was convicted of a vehicular related crime.

What Happens To Your Driver’s License When You Go to Jail?

So, what happens to your license when you go to jail. This is a common source of confusion for many individuals, especially those who have served longer sentences (past the expiration date of the license).

Many of these individuals will be released to find that their driver’s license is invalid. However, this is usually due to the fact that the individual’s driver’s license simply expired while they were serving their sentence and since they were incarcerated they had no way to renew the license.

Although the process to renew a driver’s license is somewhat tedious, it is entirely possible for most felons to simply go through the normal process to renew their license once they are released.

There are a few exceptions that individuals should be aware of, however.

One of the most common reasons that individuals will not be able to renew their driver’s license once they are released from their sentence is because the suspension of their driver’s license was part of the initial sentencing for their crime.

Screenshot of NHTSA website page for driving with yellow arrow on drunk driving.

Repeated drunk driving charges can result in a convicted felon having a permanent (or long term) license suspension.

This isn’t something that a judge will add arbitrarily, rather it generally accompanies cases involving excessive DUIs or instances where distracted driving led to serious injury or death such as a vehicular manslaughter charge.6,3

In many of these cases a judge will decide to suspend the individual driver’s license for several years so that even after they have served their sentence, they will still be unable to obtain a new driver’s license.

How long a license suspension shows up on your record will be one of their concerns and might prevent them from getting a driver’s license right away especially if the individual plans to get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) because the local DMV will have to check the individual’s MVR report.

Besides the suspension of the license being a part of the sentencing for a crime, there are a couple of other reasons that felons may have trouble obtaining or renewing their driver’s license. In most states, individuals will not be able to apply for a driver’s license if they have outstanding fines or court fees.

This can be something as simple as unpaid parking tickets or can be more serious fines that are owed as part of the criminal conviction. This can be especially frustrating for many individuals who have served their sentence and require transportation so that they can find employment in order to pay the fines.

But, thanks to the increase of Uber and other public transportation, the situation isn’t hopeless.

When Can a Felon Get a Driver’s License?

After getting released from prison or completing their sentence in some other way, many individuals will be eager to get to work but might need a car to do so. This leads many people to ask, when can a felon get a driver’s license, and the answer should be somewhat relieving.

Assuming that the sentencing for the crime did not involve the individual’s driver’s license being suspended, individuals can generally apply as soon as they are released. As mentioned there are often other conditions that must be met, in relation to felons and other individuals with criminal records this generally involves paying any outstanding fines.

However, there is generally no time limit regarding how long felons have to wait before applying for a driver’s license renewal and they should be able to do so as soon as they are released.

Many people will be making plans for employment before they are even released from prison in order to get a head start as soon as they get out. A common question amongst those in this situation is, can you renew your driver’s license while incarcerated, unfortunately, this is not possible.

Although those who are incarcerated are able to obtain their existing driver’s license and other documents for identification purposes, they will not be able to apply for a driver’s license with their local DMV. However, individuals are able to do so as soon as they are released on parole, assuming there are no other extenuating circumstances that would prevent this.

Since most individuals will find that their driver’s license expired while they were incarcerated, this leaves many individuals without a valid form of ID once they are released which can affect their chances of securing a job.

Screenshot of California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation website page for rehabilitation with yellow arrow on California identification card program.

Obtaining an identification card is one way that a person with a license suspension can show applicable ID for employment and residency applications.

However, more and more states are adopting programs, such as the CAL-ID program in California, aimed at helping inmates obtain government-issued id prior to their release, in order to help them renew their license and find employment more easily.1

Can Someone on Parole Get a Driver’s License?

Most of the individuals asking questions like can convicted felons get a driver’s license will be out on parole and trying to figure out what their options are for work.

Although most people will rightly assume that it is not possible to get a driver’s license or renew an existing one while incarcerated, many individuals will also be wondering, can someone on parole get a driver’s license, and usually this is possible.

As mentioned, the only thing that would prevent an individual with a criminal record from getting a driver’s license is if they were convicted of a crime that led to the sentencing involving their license being suspended.

Individuals who are on parole or probation should find that this will not be a factor at all when it comes time to visit the DMV and have their driver’s license renewed. However, when

What Can Prevent You From Getting a Driver’s License In Each State?

When it comes to what can prevent you from getting a driver’s license the list is longer than many individuals might think. Although there are federal minimums associated with getting a driver’s license, such as the driving age and the various tests that individuals need to pass, the majority of driver’s license rules and regulations are made at the state level.4

This means that the exact requirements to apply for a driver’s license as well as the list of things that can cause a license to be revoked or suspended will vary based on the state.

Screenshot of National Archives website page for Federal Register with yellow arrow on minimum requirements for mobile driver's licenses.

The federal government outlines the standards required for acceptable identification cards, used for official purposes.

However, there are very few laws that are only enforced by a single state, and most of the things that can prevent someone from getting a driver’s license in one state will also prevent them from getting a license in at least a dozen other states.

Most individuals are familiar with their state’s driving point system and should know that accumulating too many points will lead to their license being suspended.

Some of the more common issues individuals will be denied a driver’s license for as well as issues that will cause them to have their existing driver’s license revoked or suspended are listed below.

Reason #1: Defaulting on Child Support

Failure to make child support payments on time or not making the payments at all is one of the most common reasons that individuals will have their driver’s license revoked.8

This is a law in all 50 states and is related to the law of not being able to apply for a drivers license if the individual has any outstanding fees or fines that need to be paid.

Screenshot of website page for child support with yellow arrow on how to get child support.

Not paying child support can prevent an individual from obtaining a driver’s license.

In most states, individuals will be able to apply to have their driver’s license reinstated after they have paid back all debts and are up to date on their child support payments.

There are numerous offenses relating to alcohol purchases and consumption that can lead an individual to have their license suspended or prevent them from applying for a driver’s license at all. Often this deals with underage drinking, the underage purpose of alcohol, or a minor soliciting another individual to purchase alcohol.

In many of these cases, the individual’s license is usually suspended for 30 days for the first offense and the punishment will increase if there are future offenses.

One of the most common reasons that individuals will have their licenses suspended will be due to DUI offenses, usually if there is more than one.7

Screenshot of State of Indiana website page for Indiana Criminal Justice Institute with yellow arrow on impaired driving.

Impaired driving laws in every state outline when a person will have their license revoked and for how long the suspension will last.

Although there are not always state laws that specifically require an individual’s license to be suspended after a certain number of DUI offenses, it is fairly common if the individual shows a pattern of this kind of behavior.

Reason #3: Not Attending School

Younger drivers that have attendance issues in school can potentially have their licenses revoked in many states.In fact, many state require proof of school attendance before issuing a driver’s license.

There are also numerous juvenile crimes that can lead to the individual’s license being suspended.

Reason #4: Lack of Parental Permission

Many states require that individuals under the age of 18 obtain the written permission of their parent or guardian in order to obtain and hold a driver’s license.

Should the parent not give permission, the individual will not be able to apply for a driver’s license in these states.

Parents are also able to revoke this permission at any time in some states, which would lead to the individual’s license being revoked until they are 18 or the parent has given permission again.

How To Get a Driver’s License After Incarceration

Those wondering how to get a driver’s license after incarceration should know that the process is extremely simple and in most cases will not require any additional paperwork if the individual has a felony record.

Even if the individual has been released early due to things like the CDCR early release programs, individuals are still able to apply for a license as normal in most cases.2

Screenshot of California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation website page for programs and services with yellow arrow on California's in-prison programs.

Many states offer incarceration help for convicted felons while in prison, to assist their reentry into society, and includes obtaining the identification and licenses needed.

The first thing individuals should do is contact their local DMV using the state DMV website, such as the California DMV website, to locate the nearest office.5 Individuals will need to learn about the status of their driver’s license if it is not already known.

As mentioned, those who have been convicted of certain crimes may find that their license was suspended or even revoked.

A suspended license will generally have a specific date when the individual can apply to have their license reinstated, whereas revoked licenses are often permanent. However, even in the case of a revoked license, there is still a chance for the individual to get the license reinstated depending on state laws and a number of other factors.

Assuming the license has simply expired while the individual was incarcerated, most states will simply require the individual to fill out an application to have it reinstated and may require the individual to pass a written or driving test in order to have it reinstated.

Keep in mind that individuals will need to have some of the same materials as the first time they applied for a license, such as a birth certificate, so getting as much ready beforehand will usually help to speed the process up.

Many inmates will want to get their documents in order prior to their release and those wondering how can an inmate get his birth certificate should know that individuals are able to request these documents while they are incarcerated.

Can Your License Be Suspended Without You Knowing?

Although not extremely common, the answer to, can your license be suspended without you knowing, is yes. An individual license can be suspended for a variety of reasons due to state laws and in many states, certain events and offenses will automatically suspend the individual’s license.

This can lead to a situation where the individual’s license is suspended and the notification of this will be mailed, leading individuals to be driving on a suspended license.

The most common culprits of this are individuals who have outstanding fines that have not been paid as well as failure to stay up to date with car insurance payments. There is also the possibility of an individual’s license being suspended without them knowing after a DUI, although this generally involves an arrest so the individual will at least have some warning.

Individuals who suspect their license may be suspended should check their mailbox for any letters regarding the status of their driver’s license or contact the DMV directly to inquire about the status of their driver’s license.

Can a Felon Get a Passport?

Many individuals who have been convicted of felonies might be considering going on an international trip but will be wondering, can a felon get a passport, and if there are any restrictions such as where they are allowed to go.

Surprisingly, having a felony on your record will not prevent individuals from obtaining a passport in most cases. The most notable exception to this is individuals who have been convicted of serious international crimes such as international drug trafficking.

However, almost all domestic crimes will not prevent an individual from obtaining a passport.

As far as a criminal record is concerned, the main thing individuals should be aware of is that it is usually not possible to obtain a passport if the individual is awaiting trial or if they are still on probation or parole for a previous crime.

Can a Convicted Felon Get a Passport To Go on a Cruise?

When it comes to can a convicted felon get a passport to go on a cruise, the same rules for qualifying a passport regardless of where the individual intends to go with the passport?

This means that as long as the conviction was not for an international drug trafficking charge, the individual will have nothing to worry about as far as their criminal record is concerned.

Can Convicted Felons Get a Driver’s License?

The question of can convicted felons get a driver’s license is very simple, as long as the sentencing did not involve the individual’s license being suspended or revoked, then there should be no obstacles related to the felony that prevents the individual from obtaining a driver’s license.

However, individuals should always familiarize themselves with state laws to be sure.

What Professional License Can a Convicted Felon Get?

Those who are worried about which licenses can felons pursue for employment will be pleased to know that there are very few professional licenses across the country that automatically disqualify an individual for having a felony on their record.

In most cases, each professional license application will be reviewed by the board in charge of giving out professional licenses. Generally, if an individual has a criminal record the process will take slightly longer as most boards will examine this information on a case-by-case basis.

This may involve the board speaking directly to the individual to judge their character and integrity before making a final decision.

Keep in mind that although having a felony will not automatically disqualify an individual, there are specific crimes that might be automatic disqualifiers for certain positions. One of the most notable examples of this is states that require accounts to obtain a professional license.

In these states, license applications from individuals who have been convicted of financial crimes such as fraud or embezzlement will be denied.

Can a Felon Get a Business License?

Many individuals might be interested in starting their own business after serving their sentence and will want to know, if can a felon get a business license, although state law will come into play, all states allow individuals with felony records to obtain a business license.

However it will depend largely on the county and what kind of business the individual hopes to start, but generally this information will be examined on a case-by-case basis so individuals will be able to explain the situation before the city licensing board which will make the final decision.

This is similar to the answer to can a felon be a general contractor, although there are no laws that outright ban felons from becoming a general contractor, it will depend largely on the jurisdiction and what crime the individual was convicted of.

Finishing your sentence and being released can be an extremely exciting time for most individuals. However many will also want to hit the ground running and will likely need a car to do so that they can get to work more easily and expand their job opportunities.

Individuals should know that when it comes to can convicted felons get a driver’s license, as long as the conviction was not for anything driving related, the individual should have little trouble getting their driving privileges back.

Frequently Asked Questions About Can Convicted Felons Get a Driver’s License

Can You Get a Driver’s License With a Criminal Record?

Individuals who have criminal records are generally able to apply and obtain a driver’s license as normal as long as the sentencing did not require the individual’s license be suspended or revoked and as long as all fines and other court fees have been paid in full.

Can Felons Get a Driver’s License?

Individuals who have been convicted of a DUI or other driving-related felonies will likely have their license suspended or even revoked as part of their sentencing, however the majority of crimes will have no effect on the individual’s ability to get a driver’s license.

What Are the Guidelines for License Applicants With Criminal Convictions?

There are very few guidelines that apply exclusively to those with criminal convictions. As long as the sentencing for the crime did not involve the license being revoked or suspended and all fines have been paid, there shouldn’t be anything preventing the individual from obtaining or renewing a driver’s license.


1California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. (2022). California Identification Card Program. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

2California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. (2022). In Prison Programs. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

3Cornell Law School. (2022). Vehicular Manslaughter. Legal Information Institute. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

4Homeland Security Department. (2021, April 19). Minimum Standards for Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards Acceptable by Federal Agencies for Official Purposes; Mobile Driver’s Licenses. Federal Register. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

5State of California. (2022). How Can We Help You Today? State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

6United States Department of Transportation. (2022). Drunk Driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

7US Department of Transportation. (2019, September 19). Impaired Driving Laws, Enforcement and Prevention. US Department of Transportation. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

8US Government. (2022). Find Help with Collecting Child Support. USAGov. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from <>

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