Felony convictions carry direct and indirect consequences, and sometimes that can mean you won't be able to get a U.S. passport. The rules defining which felons are ineligible for passports are quite narrow, and unless you fit into the description, you'll be able to apply for and receive a passport the same way everyone else does. If you do fall within the narrow category of felons who can't get passports, there is little other than a pardon that can assist you to get a passport.
Times have changed. Originally a felony was a crime of moral turpitude, violating the moral standards of the community. Today the moral qualification is largely abandoned, and most states and the federal government classify a felony as a crime for which the penalty exceeds one year in prison. Obviously, the range of felonies is quite broad, including such things as murder and treason, but also various drug crimes and financial offenses.
A person with a felony conviction is not automatically disqualified from getting a U.S. passport. Remember that a passport is not a ticket to travel. Rather, it is a type of international identification that allows you back into the United States if you travel. But the right to enter another country is governed by that country, who will have its own rules about who can enter.
The rules in this country preclude only felons who committed international drug trafficking from getting a passport. That is, a person cannot get a passport if she crossed an international border while drug trafficking and was arrested and convicted for it.
The Department can, but doesn't have to, disqualify a passport applicant if he has been convicted of a misdemeanor (lesser) state or federal drug charges. However, a first-offense conviction for possession of a controlled substance cannot serve as a basis for denial.
Other Reasons for Passport Denial
Even if you have no criminal convictions, you may not get a passport. If you are currently charged with a felony or a felony arrest warrant is outstanding, your application will be denied. Likewise, if you are currently in jail or on parole for felony drug changes, you can't get a passport.
You will not be given a passport if you owe $2,500 or more in back child support, or owe certain loans to the government. The State Department will also deny you a passport if a court order, a probation order or a parole order states that you are not to leave the country.