On December 6, 2017 State Representative Cord Byrd of Florida pre-filed a bill that aims to restore all Constitutional rights, including the ability to vote, to sit on a jury, and to exercise Second Amendment rights. It is a bill aiming to provide a pathway for full Constitutional rights restoration for those who have been convicted of a felony in the state. Florida House Bill 903, the Economic Redemption and Restoration of Constitutional Rights Act, would allow for rehabilitated individuals to petition the court in a civil filing to have their civil rights restored. The current law only permits restoration of civil rights after a long waiting period through the executive clemency board.
If this bill were to become law, it would represent a positive step for those seeking the restoration of their rights after losing them due to a disabling criminal conviction. It is a means of the state giving deserving individuals a chance at redemption and the ability to be full members of society again. The current clemency process is overburdened by requests and simply takes too long to be effective. It’s currently taking around 8-10 years for an application to the clemency board to be heard and decided on. Having an avenue to petition the court would spread the workload and create a more effective process of reviewing requests for redemption.
The requirements to be eligible are simple and provide a judge wide discretion in granting or denying a request for restoration of rights. Basically, a petitioner must have complied with all requirements of the court and must be considered “fit” for receiving the relief this process provides. Fitness is essentially being someone who after having their rights restored is not going to return to their past criminal behavior. The court is looking at:
- If the individual has led a law abiding life since completing their sentence. Basically this means if someone has multiple convictions, or not a lot of time has passed since receiving a conviction, the court may be more inclined to not see the petitioner as “fit” to receive relief under this law.
- If the petitioner is likely to engage in behavior that presents a harm to the public. Basically the court evaluates a petitioner to see if they will reoffend or engage in harmful behavior once their rights are restored. If a petitioner seems like someone likely to reoffend, or has a history of committing acts harmful to public safety, then the court has discretion to deny the request for relief.
- If granting relief goes against the public interest. This final point of measuring fitness is broad in order to guarantee the court has discretion when evaluating a petitioner’s “fitness” for relief under this law. Not all convictions, even for the same crime, are equal. Context and rehabilitative efforts play in an important role in evaluating a petitioner’s fitness for relief.
The ambiguity of what fitness is provides the court with wide latitude when considering a petition for rights restoration under the proposed law. Additionally, the state’s attorney may also submit a response to the petition to argue against restoration. The flexibility provided to judges means those who can demonstrate they are rehabilitated, and will not commit further acts against the community, can have all of their Constitutional rights restored. It also means those who cannot demonstrate that they are rehabilitated are not restored their rights that they do not yet deserve. If a petition is denied then the petitioner has to wait one year before they may apply again.
This process does not seal or otherwise expunge the record of conviction. That information will remain available after rights are granted just as it was before a petition for restoration is filed. The value in this bill is in the full civil rights restoration. There are many deserving Floridians being denied fundamental rights of citizenship due to past mistakes.
If you believe that rehabilitated people should have a chance at redemption, and that they should have the opportunity to request their full rights be restored in a reasonable time frame, then you should support this bill. If you are a Florida resident, call your state representative or state senator and tell them to support House Bill 903. You can quickly find your representative here: https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx
Since this bill is still in its infancy, and is subject to change as it goes through the legislative process, Recordgone cannot provide any legal advice regarding your specific case as it pertains to this bill. At this stage, you should contact your representative if you want to see relief through this bill.