Can a convicted felon run for president? It's happened before

Can Donald Trump be president again if convicted of a felony? Here's what the U.S. Constitution says about who can be president.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Can a presidential candidate run for office while they sit behind bars?

That question is as timely as ever as former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election, was found guilty on all counts Thursday in connection with a hush money payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.

The answer is, simply, yes.

A convicted or imprisoned felon can not only campaign for president and other federal offices, but also be elected.

Can a felon run for president?

The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a presidential candidate from running for office while under indictment, or even while serving time behind bars.

Eligibility requirements for presidents state only that they must be at least 35 years old, be a natural-born citizen of the United States, and have been a resident of the country for at least 14 years.

So, a criminal record, an orange jumpsuit and being on the wrong side of prison bars will not necessarily prevent someone from becoming president. It's the voters who have the power to do that. 

Has anyone run for president from prison?

Just over a century ago, Eugene V. Debs served as the Socialist party's nominee in 1920 while he was imprisoned for speaking out against World War I and convicted under the Sedition Act.

Debs ran as a free speech martyr and collected about three percent of the vote, which was about 915,000 votes. 

Eugene Debs Speaking with Seymour Stedman and Jas O'Neil
Getty Images
Eugene Debs, (L), during a sentence in the federal prison at Atlanta, speaking to two members of the committee that notified him of his nomination for the presidency on the Socialist ticket. They are Seymour Stedman, candidate for vice president, and Jas O'Neil, (R), chairman of the Notification Committee.

Can you run for Congress if accused or convicted of a crime?

United States political candidates have campaigned from jail in the past to varying degrees of success.

Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon in 1798 won re-election while imprisoned under the Sedition Act for speaking out against President John Adams, becoming the only federal candidate to do so while in jail.

Beleaguered New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, currently under indictment, campaigned throughout his first bribery-related indictment from 2015 to 2018. After those earlier charges were dropped, he won another six-year term.

Can Trump be president if convicted? 

The Constitution does not specifically disqualify candidates for public office due to criminal records.

Some people have argued that Trump's actions are different because they violated a key part of a constitutional amendment.

Some courts and election officials have also argued that Trump's actions before and on the day of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021 should deem him ineligible for office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which disqualifies people who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” after taking an oath to support the Constitution.

Former President Donald Trump was found guilty Thursday on all 34 felony counts in his criminal trial over concealing hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Can felons vote?

In another interesting twist, though, while Trump would not lose the ability to run for president if convicted of a felony, he could lose the right to vote.

Trump is registered to vote in Florida, where most disenfranchised felons do not regain their right to vote until after completing their full sentence, including parole or probation.

Contact Us