When Does A Criminal Sentence End?

You may remember that last November, Floridians passed “Amendment 6,” which restored voting rights to most felons – the exceptions being felons that had committed murder and rape.

Now, legislators are looking to codify when the rights can be restored.

A Florida House committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would require felony offenders to pay off court debts before they could regain the right to vote. It would also expand the number of crimes for which one would remain ineligible to vote.

Civil liberties groups and supporters of Amendment 4, however, say that such an imposition will effectively amount to a poll tax.

Many U.S. states have tacked on dozens of various fees and fines over the decades to fund their judicial systems, and Florida has been one of the most prolific. For example, the Fines & Fees Justice Center found that Florida courts, which are funded almost entirely through fines and fees, had “115 different types of fees and surcharges, the second highest number in the country.”

As a result, WLRN reported, Florida residents would have to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars to restore their voting rights. The outlet found that, “Across the state, over $1 billion in felony fines were issued between 2013 and 2018 alone, according to annual reports from the Florida Clerks and Comptrollers, a statewide association. Over that five year period, an average of only 19 percent of that money was paid back per year.”

The question is really “when is the ‘sentence’ completed?” Is it when the felon gets out of prison? Completes probation? Pays off restitution? Pays off court fees? All of the above?

The bill also requires that the persons complete any community service, complete any residential treatment plans, any work programs, a “batterer’s intervention” program, and any education program imposed by the courts.

We believe that the eligibility should begin when the penalties are satisfied. That means when the person is out of prison, completed probation, paid court fines, etc,.

Florida is a state with a large amount of court fees that have nothing to do with the actual reason for incarceration. We don’t think that those fines, implemented by some agency, should stop someone from voting. Fees are separate from convictions, in our opinion.

The bill also seeks to expand the number of offenses that would deny the restoration of voting rights. New restrictions would be on those who commit prostitution, attempted murder and “placing an adult entertainment store within 2,500 feet of a school,” and a host of other sexual crimes.

As we said, our opinion is that the right to vote should be restored when the penalties have been completed and not before.

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