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Should we Continue to Punish Felons After They Have Completed Their Sentence?

Written by Moses & Rooth Attorneys at Law on August 8, 2016

“A man without a vote is a man without protection.” –Lyndon B. Johnson

A third Driving on a Suspended License, Possessing more than 20 grams of Marijuana, and Trespassing on a construction site. All felonies. If convicted of any one of these, you would lose your civil rights including the right to vote. These are just a few examples of seemingly minor crimes that, upon a conviction, would trigger a permanent loss of your fundamental right to vote.

In Florida, more than 1.6 million citizens cannot vote because of a felony conviction. The Florida Constitution prohibits a person who has been convicted of a felony from voting, serving on a jury, or holding public office until those civil rights are restored. The laws do not differentiate between a person convicted of a robbery or the person convicted of purchasing marijuana. In fact, Florida is only one of three states that has permanent disfranchisement of its citizens for any conviction.

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As shown on the map the vast majority of states allow for the right to vote be restored upon the completion of a person’s sentence. The debt to society has been paid and the government allows the person to resume their life and hopefully become a productive citizen.

This is not the case in Florida. A convicted felon must apply for the restoration of their civil rights including the right to vote. Seems simple enough. Well not really. Here is the process. First, the convicted felon must wait five years after they complete their sentence (includes probation) before they can even apply. If they are arrested for even a misdemeanor the clock resets, even if the case is eventually dismissed.   This application must be approved by the Clemency Board. As of the end of 2015 Gov. Scott had restored the rights of 1866 felons. There is also a backlog of over 20,000 applicants.

This has not always been the case in Florida. Under Gov. Bush 72,000 felons had their rights restored and Gov. Crist instituted a nearly automatic restoration of civil rights for non-violent offenders restored the rights of 155,000 felons.

As a society we want those who stepped outside the legal system to come back in. We want them to move on from their past and work hard and succeed. The fact that our current administration is delaying this process for many is not right. These people paid their debt to society; let’s welcome them back. The more accepting we are the less likely they are to reoffend. If you agree consider signing this petition to amend the Florida Constitution. The amendment would only allow for the restoration of civil rights once the person completed their sentence including probation or parole. The amendment would not apply to individual who committed murder or sex related offenses. I am normally against amending the constitution by vote, however I think the discrepancies between governors is not fair and a more consistent process is needed to assist people who are trying to reintegrate themselves into our communities.

Posted Under: Criminal Defense

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