A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Today, Florida Takes A Huge Step Backward

Today Florida's Executive Clemency Board will vote to repeal former Governor Crist's granting of automatic restoration of civil rights to convicted felons. Only Kentucky and Virginia require applications for restoration of civil rights.

It's a done deal, although the general public doesn't realize it yet. Most don't care, because they think it doesn't affect their innocent selves.

The leader of the repeal is our new attorney general Pam Bondi. You may have seen her on TV. She's a former career prosecutor who is very pretty and was often asked to appear on talking head TV shows to trumpet the guilt of suspects, like the Duke rape suspects. Remember them?

I met her once, about a decade ago when she walked into a courtroom for the specific purpose of objecting to the sealing of a record for my first time offender client whose case was dismissed. She was pleasant, but made clear to me that she didn't like the fact that my client hit her daughter's (abusive) boyfriend with a golf club. She toyed with the objection while we chatted, and eventually deferred to the court.

When she was running, I had someone ask her whether criminal defense lawyers should support her. I was told her response was something like: "some of my best friends are criminal defense lawyers, and if the criminal defense lawyers knew me well, they'd support me.


Pam won handily. She was the dark horse republican candidate. We were going to vote for a republican here in Florida for everything, because we hate Barack Obama and health care, and the republicans were/are going to fix everything, and as our new Governor says: "let's get to work."

Deferring a felon's restoration of their civil rights does nothing to get them back to work. That's not a concern of our leaders. Our concern in this republican dominated state is that felons mostly vote democrat, and well, you understand. No civil rights = no vote.

So at a recent meeting of our Executive Clemency Board, right at the end, our attorney general stated that she didn't think felons should get automatic restoration of their civil rights.

Bondi said:I fundamentally and philosophically oppose the concept of the automatic restoration of civil rights. I believe that every convicted felon must actively apply for the restoration of his or her civil rights and that there should be a mandatory waiting period before applying. The restoration of civil rights for any felon must be earned, it is not an entitlement.

The chorus of fellow members agreed. So did the Governor. Like, immediately. As if this had all been discussed prior to the meeting.... The Sheriffs joined the parade.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, published where democrats are as easy to find as snow in Florida, disagreed:

The current rules don't coddle criminals. They require felons to serve their sentences and pay their debts to society.

Imposing additional prerequisites, such as the mandatory waiting period that Bondi advocates, would serve only to extend felons' punishment and delay their return to productive lives. Remember: Many cannot work until they get occupational licenses, and they can't get those until their rights are restored.

This is a serious economic issue — especially in minority communities, where higher incarceration rates tragically perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

Economic issue? What?

Yeah, you see, when people can't get jobs, it affects the economy. It affects you and me. When we draw no line on when someone has paid their debt to society, we wind up paying a bigger debt.

Today the vote will be taken. It will pass. The reform that the public seemed OK with, gone.

We don't know the proposed rules though, the media not able to digest them, nor the public, because as Ms. Bondi's staff said.

...she plans to ask for a vote Wednesday and that the rules won’t be available until then.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

I guess "let's get to work" is better said "let's some of us get to work," others can wait until we say they can get to work." Or something like that.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter


  1. Praying on less experience here, I thought the principle of "civil rights" was somehow linked to the natural rights of man and freedom. I didn't know that natural rights had to be "earned" and that they were "not an entitlement."

    So then, how exactly has she "earned" her civil rights?

  2. ???? I'm sorry to be out of the blue, but convicted felons lose their civil rights when in jail? I practice law in Canada and it strikes me. The only civil right they lose in Canada is the actual physical liberty... (obviously) but for the rest, it is unthinkable to take those rights away. I must admit it is a terrible step back to repeal this previous law...

  3. @Fred. You have to remember, this is the United States, where we believe everyone else in the world should have those rights, but we will find a way to restrict our own citizens from having them. Florida is especially bad when it comes to such thinking. This action will only go further to prove that.

  4. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Well said. When Floridians elected Florida's version of Nancy Grace was there any doubt she would grand stand on issues like this? The problem with lawyers who have never represented a person such as Bondi is that they lose perspective and develop an "us against them" mentality and since convicted felons are "them" it is easy for her to continue kicking them even after they have gotten back up. It is a sad state of affairs.

  5. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Up to last year my wife worked directly for convicted Floridians' rights. We moved back to the Northeast, and our fears were confirmed: Florida one the most back-water states in our nation. Living there is a great opp. to swim upriver against the trends of freedom, open-mindedness, mercy and common sense. Lord help ye all.

  6. Anonymous9:01 PM

    WOW, I certainly learned a few things by your post. I had no idea that Kentucky and Virginia require applications for restoration of civil rights. I agree with you about it being a big "step back."