Restoration of Civil Rights through the Judicial Process

A new bill pending in the Florida legislature would allow a person convicted of a felony to petition the court to restore their civil rights. Those civil rights that would be restored would include both the right to vote and the right to possess a firearm. A felony conviction in Florida comes with a lifetime of consequences including a ban on being able to hold elected office or qualify for an occupational license.

HB903 is entitled the "Economic Redemption and Restoration of Constitutional Rights Act.” HB903 would allow a person with a felony conviction to petition the circuit court for the restoration of civil rights including the right to vote or possess a firearm.

The "Petition for Restoration of Civil Rights" would be considered by a judge after a showing that all terms of the sentence were fulfilled. A prosecutor with the State Attorney’s office would have the right to oppose the petition if the prosecutor believed that the restoration was inappropriate.

After an adverse decision, the petition would be able to reapply after one year. The bill does not apply to the requirements for registration as a sexual predator or a sexual offender.

If the bill is passed and signed into law, it would take effect on July 1, 2018.

The problem with the current state of the law is that only the Board of Clemency (which includes the governor and elected cabinet) has the power to restore a felon’s civil rights on a case-by-case basis. Anyone who applies for a restoration of civil rights in Florida must wait up to seven years to apply. The board has a backlog of more than 20,000 cases. As a practical matter, the process is so burdensome and the chances of relief are so unlikely, that only a small percentage of qualified applicants even apply.

Additional Resources

Civil Rights through the Judicial Process - Visit the Florida Bar website to find a news article published on January 1, 2018, explaining a new measure that would allow the restoration of civil rights through the judicial process.

Automatic Restoration of Civil Rights Citizen’s Initiative - Destined for the November ballot, a ACLU-backed citizen’s initiative, the Voting Rights Restoration Initiative, would provide for an automatic restoration of civil rights and restore voting rights to well over a million Floridians.

A bill to be entitled
       An act relating to restoration of rights; providing a
       short title; amending s. 944.292, F.S.; conforming
       provisions to changes made by the act; creating s.
       944.2925, F.S.; authorizing a person subject to a
       legal disability due to a criminal conviction to apply
       for relief from such disability; providing exceptions;
       providing requirements for such petition; providing
       requirements for hearings on such petitions;
       specifying requirements for a judgment; requiring a
       waiting period after denial of such a petition before
       a new petition may be filed; providing for judicial
       review; providing for taxation of costs; specifying
       that the court must grant or deny a petition in full;
       providing that relief from disability restores a
       petitioner's constitutional and civil rights;
       providing an effective date.
  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
       Section 1.  This act may be cited as the "Economic
  Redemption and Restoration of Constitutional Rights Act."
       Section 2.  Subsection (1) of section 944.292, Florida
  Statutes, is amended to read:
       944.292  Suspension of civil rights.—
       (1)  Upon conviction of a felony as defined in s. 10, Art.
  X of the State Constitution, the civil rights of the person
  convicted shall be suspended in Florida until such rights are
  restored by a full pardon, conditional pardon, or restoration of
  civil rights granted pursuant to s. 8, Art. IV of the State
  Constitution, or as provided in s. 944.2925.
       Section 3.  Section 944.2925, Florida Statutes, is created
  to read:
       944.2925  Relief from legal disability.—
       (1)  A person subject to any legal disability, including
  suspension of constitutional or civil rights, due to a criminal
  conviction may petition the circuit court of the county in which
  the person resides or the county in which the person was
  convicted for relief from such disability. This section does not
  apply to the requirements for registration as a sexual predator
  under s. 775.21 or as a sexual offender under s. 943.0435.
       (2)  The petition must contain the following:
       (a)  Documentation showing the convictions or adjudications
  upon which the petitioner's disability is based, the sentence
  imposed and served, and any release granted or other disposition
  of each case.
       (b)  Facts showing the petitioner is a fit subject for
  relief under this section. At a minimum, the petitioner must
  show that he or she has completed or fulfilled all court imposed
       (3)(a)  A copy of the petition shall be served on the state
  attorney for the county in which the petition is filed.
       (b)  The state attorney may object to and present evidence
  relevant to the relief sought by the petition.
       (c)  The petitioner may present evidence and subpoena
  witnesses to appear at the hearing on the petition. The
  petitioner may confront and cross-examine witnesses called by
  the state attorney.
       (d)  A record of the hearing shall be made by a certified
  court reporter or by court-approved electronic means.
       (e)  The court shall make written findings of fact and
  conclusions of law on the issues before it and issue a final
       (4)  The court shall grant the relief sought by the
  petition if the court finds, based on the evidence presented
  with respect to the petitioner's reputation and criminal history
  record, the circumstances surrounding the disability, and any
  other evidence in the record, that:
       (a)  The petitioner has led a law-abiding life since
  discharge or release and appears likely to continue to do so.
       (b)  The petitioner is not likely to act in a manner that
  is dangerous to public safety.
       (c)  Granting the relief is not contrary to the public
       (5) If the final order denies relief, the petitioner may
not petition again for relief until 1 year after the date of the
final order.
     (6)  The petitioner may seek judicial review of a final
order denying relief in the district court of appeal having
jurisdiction over the court that issued the order. The review
shall be conducted de novo.
     (7)  Costs of the proceeding shall be charged as in other
civil cases and taxed to the petitioner.
     (8)  The court must grant or deny the petition in full.
     (9)  Relief from disability granted pursuant to this
section restores the petitioner to all constitutional and civil
rights to the full extent provided by law.
     Section 4.  This act shall take effect July 1, 2018.

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