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The Push Toward Restoration of Felons’ Civil Rights in Florida

For many criminal defendants who have been charged and convicted, many believe that once they have served their prison sentences, outside of a period of time where they are on probation, they will return to their lives as law-abiding citizens. Florida and a few other states, however, have legislation on the books that makes it so that once a criminal defendant has gone through the system and is a felon, then he or she will never fully return to being a citizen of the state.

Civil Rights Withheld from Ex-Felons

Currently, Florida and Kentucky are the only two states to have laws that prohibit the return of civil rights to those who have committed felonies, yet who have fully completed their sentences. Some of the civil rights that are not returned after a defendant has served his or her time include the right to vote, right to hold public office, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to hold state licenses for certain professions.

Current Restoration Process in Florida

The restoration of civil rights movement is most concerned with the withholding of the right to vote in federal and state elections. Currently, the only way that an ex-felon may be able to restore his or her rights is to apply for clemency. Rights are only restored to ex-felons by virtue of an executive order approved by the governor and two cabinet members after a five-year waiting period. This process, however, is known to take up to 10 years and most appeals are denied. Currently, there is a backlog of almost 20,000 clemency cases waiting to be reviewed.

The Clemency Tiered System for Restoration of Civil Rights

The current civil rights restoration process requires, as stated above, that the petitioner wait a five-year period. In 2007, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency created a tiered process by which certain felons could apply for clemency.

  • Level I eligibility requires that a felon has not been convicted of a violent offense, and has not been declared a habitual violent felony offender, a violent career criminal, or a sexual predator (among others). If a felon qualifies, his/her rights may be restored without a hearing and are not required to apply for rights restoration.
  • Level II eligibility requires that the felon is convicted for a more severe crime than Level I offenses, but has not committed murder or sex offenses. Level II felons are not to be declared sexual predators. Level II felons must also be 15 years arrest and offense free. Level II felons, after an investigation, may have their rights restored without a hearing, but if the petition has been rejected, a hearing may be requested pending a more exhaustive investigation.
  • Level III eligibility requirements state that felons who have been convicted of murder or sex crimes, those who do not fit into Level I or Level II eligibility, and those who have been named sexual predators may qualify. Level III felons’ petitions require a full investigation and hearing.

2016 Ballot Initiative in Florida for Constitutional Amendment

A statewide initiative in Florida, however, is looking to the tackle the issue with a 2016 election initiative that could be voted on by Florida citizens. The Florida constitutional amendment would provide the automatic restoration of felons’ civil rights (in particular the right to vote and hold public office) after the completion of the felons’ sentences, as long as the felon was not convicted of any type of felony involving a sexual offense or homicide.

Reasoning Behind the Movement

The main reasoning behind the call for reformation is not only about restoring civil rights to those citizens who have served their time and have become reformed in the eyes of the state, but also because these laws have a severe impact on minority communities, more specifically the African American communities in Florida. Currently 10 percent of Florida residents are disenfranchised and almost one in four African Americans with past criminal convictions are affected.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Restoration of civil rights for ex-felons is an extremely long and arduous process, and those who have been convicted of a felony lose these rights as a result of their conviction. But an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can advocate on your behalf and help you avoid these loss of rights altogether by helping you to avoid conviction. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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