In an answer to another question, it is stated that capital felons don't have the legal capacity to enter into a legal binding agreement.

I think that is wrong because otherwise they could not buy food, buy anything, go to a restaurant, etc. Those are also contracts.

Is this true or possibly different between several jurisdictions?


3 Answers 3


California Civil Code section 1556 states "All persons are capable of contracting, except minors, persons of unsound mind, and persons deprived of civil rights", so that would go beyond just capital felons. Montana says the same thing, as does Idaho and South Dakota. Oklahoma law (15 O.S. §11) is a bit more complex

All persons are capable of contracting, except minors, persons of unsound mind, and persons deprived of civil rights, however, persons sentenced to imprisonment under the Department of Corrections for any term, during confinement under said sentence, may make employment contracts, subject to the approval of the Director of the Department of Corrections, when this benefits the vocational training or release preparation of the prisoner; provided however, such persons during confinement shall not be eligible to receive benefits under the unemployment compensation law.

There may be jurisdictional differences: I can't find any statutory provision along these lines for Washington state. It used to be true in Oregon, but I don't know if this has survived. It is not true in North Dakota, which excluded those deprived of civil rights from its law.


To clear up a little of the above:

An individual stating that capital felons - or any other felon, automatically - is barred from entering into legally binding contracts is an individual who is misinformed.

A judge may, as a term of probation or parole (for a non-capital felon, obviously), add such prohibitions against the individual. In fairness, though, a capital felon likely would never be buying food or going to a restaurant. A capital felon would be in prison.

That said, as @NateEldredge points out, the notion that an individual's identity is "subsumed by the state" is without merit.

  • A capital felon can write a book, even when in prison.
    – user6726
    Feb 11, 2018 at 1:29
  • Are you agreeing, disagreeing, simply commenting, or...?
    – A.fm.
    Feb 11, 2018 at 1:30
  • 1
    I'm pointing out that buying food and going to restaurants aren't the best tests for an inmate's right to contract. I'm telling you where you might look to substantiate your opinion.
    – user6726
    Feb 11, 2018 at 1:43
  • Gotcha. I was simply responding to OP's question, which used those examples in particular, with respect to her doubt regarding the comment about capital felons being barred from entering into contracts. I did not offer an opinion. I do agree, however, that the book example is a better one with which to consider this question.
    – A.fm.
    Feb 11, 2018 at 1:46

Australia does not have capital felons because we don’t have the death penalty. Additionally, felons in Australia do not lose any legal capacity (voting, contracting etc) except while they are imprisoned.

With respect to capital felons in the US, they are either in prison awaiting execution (in which case their legal identity is subsumed by the state) or dead (a state in which no one has legal capacity).

  • 3
    The United States portion of this answer doesn't feel totally correct. I can think of instances of convicted felons serving life entering into book publishing deals. I don't know for sure if those on death row lose this option, but I'd be surprised if that is the case uniformly across all 50 states if there is any variation in specific states. Feb 10, 2018 at 1:59
  • 1
    "Legal identity subsumed" is clearly an oversimplification at best. As another example, capital felons can commit crimes in prison and be prosecuted for such - in such cases, it is the individual who is prosecuted, not the state. Also, it not infrequently happens that capital felons have their sentences commuted or their convictions overturned. Feb 10, 2018 at 20:03
  • @NateEldredge in which case they are not capital felons
    – Dale M
    Feb 10, 2018 at 20:46

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