In March of 2011, the media quietly reported that the newly-elected Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, and his Cabinet changed the rules governing the application process for restoration of civil rights. According to the report, the public and press was given little to no notice of the change in the rules, and little public comment was permitted before the Cabinet unanimously voted the changes into effect. The most dramatic effect of the change: instead of being granted an automatic restoration of their civil rights, those convicted of non-violent crimes now have to wait for five years before being permitted to apply. Those convicted of violent crimes, such as murder or DUI manslaughter, must wait seven years and will be required to attend a hearing to have their civil rights restored. Florida’s newly-elected Attorney General, Pam Bondi, is reported to have suggested the change. Florida’s new rules became some of the harshest in the nation.
Now, merely 8 months later, Governor Scott is reported to be reconsidering changing the rules yet again. Scott announced his plans to reconsider the rules before meeting with members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus in Tallahassee. Although the report states that Scott’s motivation to reconsider changing the rules was the result of his meeting a felon who told him of his problems renting an apartment and finding a new job, the report also suggests that Scott’s change of opinion may have more to do with getting the votes he’ll need to secure his re-election than helping Florida’s convicted felons. When the changes in the rules were announced, many people in Tallahassee were not happy with the new Governor, including the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. And remember how he promised to get Florida “back to work”? Well, being a convicted felon often leads to being unemployable. A convicted felon cannot vote or hold certain occupational licenses, and sometimes, even if a job doesn’t require a license, employers don’t want to hire convicted felons who haven’t succeeded in getting their rights restored. So, making it harder for a convicted felon to restore his or her civil rights in turn makes it harder for convicted felons to find work. (Assuming there are jobs out there to be had!)
It will be interesting to see if the rules will be changed yet again. But for now, the rules are generally as follows:
(1) Wait the required time period, either 5 or 7 years, depending on the nature of the crime committed, to apply to have rights restored.
(2) To apply for a pardon, you must wait 10 years. To apply for authority to possess or own a firearm, you must wait 8 years. No waivers will be permitted.
(3) Before applying, you must have successfully completed all aspects of your sentence, including fines, restitution, community service, and probation.
(4) Before applying, you cannot have been re-arrested during the waiting period. You must be crime-free and arrest-free for the entire waiting period.
(5) Civil rights will not be automatically restored for any convicted felon.
(6) When applying, some applicants can apply for review “with a hearing,” and others will be required to apply for review “with a hearing.”
(7) If the Parole Board denies restoration of rights “without a hearing,” you may reapply for restoration “with a hearing.” However, if the board grants or denies any form of clemency, you cannot apply for further clemency for at least 2 years.
(8) People convicted of a specific list of offenses may only apply for restoration of their rights “with a hearing.” The list of offenses requiring a hearing is quite long, but generally includes sexual offenses, all drug trafficking offenses, all first and second degree drug offenses, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, RICO, public corruption crimes, DUI manslaughter, DUI Serious Bodily Injury, leaving the Scene of Accident involving Injury or Death, and violent offenses.
(9) To apply, you’ll need to get a certified copy of your conviction, complete the required application, and send it in, making sure to keep a copy of everything for your own files because nothing will be returned to you. (The ACLU website has an application here, but since it’s hard to tell if the application is current, you may want to use the Florida Parole Commission’s application here, instead.) Follow all instructions. As part of your application, it may help to include letters of recommendation from members in your community, such as any employers, leaders of your church, or leaders of any community organizations that you are involved with. Letters from your own family members may not be given as much weight.
(10) After applying, be prepared to wait months before hearing back. If your request requires a hearing, you will be scheduled to meet with an Examiner of the Florida Parole Commission for an interview. The examiner may also contact people who sent letters of recommendation on your behalf, employers, or other individuals who may have information about you.
(11) If your case required a hearing, and your application is granted, an Executive Order will be prepared, signed by the Clemency Board members, and a copy mailed to you. If your application did not require a hearing, you’ll be sent a Certificate of Restoration of Civil Rights in the mail.
Criminal defense attorneys and others wanting to learn more about how to restore civil rights in Florida can go to the website for the Florida Parole Commission or the Florida ACLU. The Florida Parole Commission’s contact information is here.