Restoration of Civil Rights in Florida

A few significant rights are taken away from a person once he or she has committed a felony. Specifically, in Florida, “a convicted felon is not allowed to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until civil rights have been restored.” In addition, the convicted felon is no longer allowed to possess a firearm. While taking away civil rights from a convicted felon may seem like additional, yet justified punishment, some criminals do not have the desire to remain criminals for the rest of their lives. Some people have a change of heart or an epiphany, realizing they need to get their lives together. But, how can you have the mindset of wanting to become a law abiding citizen if you’re not treated as such? Well, there is some hope within this dreadful circumstance. A felon may have his or her rights restored and in essence become a regular citizen again. Usually, they will need a criminal defense attorney to help them through the process.

Executive Clemency Under Florida Law

The process to restore these rights is referred to as an executive clemency. Under Florida law, it states that “Any person who has been convicted of a felony may be entitled to the restoration of all the rights of citizenship enjoyed by him or her prior to conviction if the person has: (1) received a full pardon from the board of pardons; (2) served the maximum term of the sentence imposed upon him or her; or (3) been granted his or her final release by the Parole Commission.” Sounds like it could be a pretty simple process, right? Well, not exactly. There is a lot more that goes into this process. For example, the cases for restoration of civil rights are divided into two categories: with or without a hearing. Both categories require a time period of, essentially, good behavior. Without a hearing, which is for less serious offenses, the citizen must remain free of any crime or any arrests for five years. With a hearing, for the more serious offenses, the citizen is required to remain free of any crime or any arrests for seven years. To some, five and seven years may not seem like a long time, but look at this from the perspective of the citizen trying to have his or her rights restored. It’s basically saying that you can be free from jail, but we’re not going to treat as an actually citizen again until you prove to society that you’re civilized. Once the time period of good behavior has been satisfied and the certified court documents for each conviction have been provided, the case is reviewed by the Executive Clemency Board. The Board takes into account several different factors: the nature of the offense, criminal history, employment history, and letters opposed and in support of the restoration of civil rights. As you can see, while the process may seem simple, it can actually be a never-ending, complex nightmare.

No Say In Society As a Citizen

These laws can make life somewhat abnormal for someone trying to become a normal citizen again. For example, on top of already having a difficult time finding an above average job, the citizen cannot participate in elections. It’s like walking around as a free citizen without a voice. The citizen basically has no say in society until they’ve had five or seven years of a clean slate. But what if the citizen doesn’t even get that far? What if the citizen looking to have his or her rights restored is denied by the Board? If a citizen is denied by the Board, he or she has to wait another two years from the date of the initial decision was made before being allowed to apply again. For an unlucky citizen, this process could take away a substantial amount of time from his or her life. Hopefully, less Floridians have to go through this process and maybe in the future the strict rules can be revised.