11th Circuit Rules That All Ex-Felons Must Pay Fines Before Voting, But with Caveats
In a huge blow to civil rights, in September, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle’s previous decision that would have restored voting rights to most former felons here in Florida, regardless of whether they still had unpaid court fees or fines. Specifically, the 11th Circuit ruled that the law put in place by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the state legislature dictating that anyone with a prior serious criminal conviction must first pay any and all fees and fines before they can register to vote was constitutional and did not violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. The decision is expected to affect almost 800,000 former felons in Florida who currently have outstanding financial obligations even though they have completed time served and parole.
The law challenged in the case was put in place by Gov. DeSantis and the state legislature after the state constitution was amended in 2018 via ballot measure Amendment 4, which ended disenfranchisement for those convicted of most felonies (except for sexual and murder offenses). Unfortunately, civil rights advocates do not have a lot of hope in appealing to the state Supreme Court, as it already previously sided with the governor’s administration in upholding the fees and fines requirement via an advisory opinion.
Florida’s Lack of Organization May Allow 85,000 Ex-Felons to Vote Anyway
According to reports, the Florida division of elections received and processed approximately 85,000 voter registrations from former felons applying to vote due to eligibility under Amendment 4 prior to the 11th Circuit’s decision, and these names can only be removed from voter rolls after they have been screened to determine whether they have paid their financial obligations. However, Florida still does not have a system in place to determine who has and has not paid their fines such that they can be notified and quickly removed from voter registration rolls. As a result, according to the appeals court, the state is currently lacking credible and reliable information supporting their removal, and all 85,000 can vote until they are screened and removed based on the production of this credible information.
Can I Vote? Have I Completed My Sentence? Can My Fees Be Reduced?
If You Have Any Questions or Concerns, Do Not Make Assumptions – Work with A Florida Civil Rights Attorney
It is important to avoid making assumptions when it comes to this issue, as there are a number of potential pitfalls that could cause you to become confused or miss your chance to vote even though you are eligible. For example, the law only applies to felonies; therefore, if you have any outstanding fines or fees associated with previous misdemeanors, for example, you are still eligible to vote. In addition, if you sent in your registration and were added to the voter roll prior to the 11th Circuit’s recent decision, it is the state of Florida’s obligation to produce credible, reliable information that you have outstanding court fees and fines that prohibit you from voting. If it cannot do so, then, pursuant to the court’s ruling, you are allowed to vote.
In addition, remaining fees and fines are supposed to be convertible to community service hours if ex-felons cannot pay them. However, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated an already insufficient system for doing so here in Florida. Still, the 10th Judicial Circuit issued an administrative order authorizing clerks to grant one-time requests for 60-day extensions to pay fees and fines imposed by county courts in criminal cases, and Hillsborough County has also tacked on an additional 60 days for any financial due dates through December 31, 2020 for all criminal cases.
If you have any questions or concerns about exercising your civil rights in Florida, contact the Orlando criminal defense attorneys at The Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can provide you with the very best in legal guidance.