How You Can Exercise Your Voting Rights with A Felony Record in Florida
While Florida voters passed amendment 4 last year, finally restoring voting rights to ex-felons in Florida, a bill passed by lawmakers and which is expected to be signed into law by Governor DeSantis, has added a whole new layer of complications and hurdles to those individuals be obtaining the civil right to vote. Specifically, people have to pay off all fines, fees, and restitution before they can earn that right back under the legislation.
If signed into law, it is expected to take effect as of July 1. Below, we answer some of the common questions that have come up with respect to this legislation:
What Crimes Are Covered?
Note that anyone convicted of a felony sex offense or murder–regardless of this legislation–will not be able to have their voting rights restored unless done so by the state clemency board. Specifically, these charges include:
- First and second-degree murder;
- Providing support or resources to terrorism or terrorist organizations that leads to death or serious bodily injury;
- Any felony that involves someone having to become a registered sex offender;
- Abuse of a dead body;
- Female genital mutilation;
- Prostitution while knowing you are HIV positive;
- Sexual cyber harassment
- Sexual, romantic, or lewd conduct with a student as a school authority figure;
- Sexual misconduct by psychotherapist;
- Seller distribution to minors or use of minors in the production of harmful materials; and
- Sexual misconduct with an inmate if you work at a correctional detention facility.
Also note that only convicted felonies count when it comes to your voting rights being taken away from you. This means that if you have had fines and fees assessed as a result of misdemeanors, you do not have to worry about paying these off before voting exercising your right to vote.
Has The Sentence Been Completed?
Determining whether a felon has completed all terms of their sentences is slightly confusing under the law. It appears that, when someone is released from incarceration or probation, their release documents should be explicit about what is left in terms of their sentence, including fees, fines, and restitution.
However, things are far more complicated for those whose crimes occurred in the past. This is because probation simply being over and done with does not necessarily mean that voting rights can be restored. If, for example, someone has a classification of “unsuccessful termination” attached to them—even though the state is no longer intends to supervise them—this means that they still have additional requirements that they have to meet, such as paying off fines and fees.
The best thing to do is to work with an attorney to check your case file online. However, note that, if the case is at least 20 years old or older, you may need to file an official request to do so; as opposed to accessing it online. Check the financial section for any potential remaining balance that might be due. Note that this can be a little more confusing when it comes to restitution, as sometimes judges have ordered this to be paid to the court and, at other times, directly to the victims. Working with an experienced civil rights and criminal defense attorney can help you figure this out. Another option is contacting Probation Services within the Department of Corrections to find out if everything has been paid off. However, if the victim is no longer alive, this creates another challenge.
What Do You Do If You Cannot Pay The Fines, Fees, And/or Restitution?
Another common question that we have had is what to do if ex-felons cannot pay remaining fees, fines, or restitution. While, technically, this is supposed to be convertible to community service hours, the problem is that this option has not yet been set up in the system. Ideally, every county court is going to need to set up a way to file a form that allows you to go before a judge to reconsider this issue and eliminate the fees or convert them to community service.
Will I Get into Trouble If I Register Before I Am Technically Eligible?
Another question we receive involves what might happen to someone if they register but technically were ineligible to. Note that while Florida state law considers willfully providing false information on your voter registration to be third-degree felony, registering is not a crime as long as you think you are eligible. In this case, legal experts believe that, because of the amount of misunderstandings that this new law has created, individuals will not be prosecuted for misunderstandings i.e. someone believing that they are now eligible to vote when they may not be due to the law. Being unsure simply isn’t enough to charge someone for false voter registration.
Contact Our Florida Civil Rights Attorneys to Find Out More
If you have questions about your civil rights in Florida, contact our experienced Orlando civil rights attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can be of help.