Revocation and Restoration of Civil Rights to Convicted and Former Felons
The United States Constitution guarantees that we have fundamental rights and that the State may not interfere with the practice of those rights unless there is a significant purpose for doing so. Generally, for the state to interfere with a person’s constitutional rights, there must be a compelling state interest that outweighs the person’s constitutional rights because it is for the greater good of society.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for committing a criminal offense, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.
Revocation of Civil Rights Due to Incarceration
If you were convicted of a felony in Florida, the freedoms guaranteed to you under the Constitution no longer apply in the same way that they apply to other citizens. This is because the rights guaranteed under the Constitution are part of a larger pact between government and citizen for whom there are privileges and obligations. A citizen receives the privileges of these fundamental rights by obeying and abiding with the laws of the state and of the country, which is their obligation.
Mandated Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States and Florida
In the United States, except for Maine and Vermont, incarcerated felons are not permitted to vote. For most states, the right to vote is restored to the felon once he or she has been released after serving a sentence. Florida is one of three states, including Iowa and Virginia, that do not return this right to the criminal defendant. The felons, even after completing their sentences, are stuck with a lifetime of disenfranchisement. Felons who have been released from their prison cells and are returned to society may only become voters again if voting rights are restored to them as a result of the clemency process. This process, however, can take months to years, and many ex-felons are without the resources to fully participate in this process.
Florida’s Rate of Clemency
In Florida, the number of ex-felons who were given clemency and the right to vote varies and depends entirely on the the administration. Many opponents of Florida’s system have stated that the process is too political; for example, between 2002 through 2006, more than 72,080 ex-felons received clemency. Between the years 2007 through 2010, more than 155,315 ex-felons received clemency and the right to vote. While Governor Rick Scott has been in office, for the years 2011 to 2014, only 1,534 were able to make it entirely through the process and receive clemency.
The Reemergence of the Restoration of Civil Rights Act
A new bill has been entered into the Florida legislature in the last few weeks. This law, which would be known as the “Restoration of Civil Rights Act,” notes that civil rights and voting rights are the fundamental tenets of citizenship. If a former felon is permitted to participate again in public service, vote, and serve on a jury, for example, he or she will feel more involved in the community and will be more likely to reintegrate successfully into society, with a lower recidivism rate. The bill, if passed, would allow felons, upon the completion of their sentences, to have all of their civil rights restored, except for those relating to the ownership, possession, and use of firearms. Currently, the Florida Supreme Court is reviewing a case relating to the constitutionality of lifetime felon disenfranchisement.
Felons Who May Be Ineligible to Receive Clemency
The new law would make certain felons ineligible for the restoration of their civil rights; the felons who committed the following crimes would be exempt:
- Aggravated manslaughter of a child,
- Sexual battery
- Sex or sex acts with a minor,
- Any crimes relating to the trafficking of minors, and
- Crimes relating to treason.
Ultimately, all felons would be permitted to apply for executive clemency in an effort to plead their cases on why they should be granted their rights.
Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.