Florida Ex-Inmate Voting Threatened by New Ruling

Lance Wissinger is hugged by Permon Thomas as Neil Volz looks on as they fill out their voter registration forms at the Lee County Supervisor of Elections office on Jan. 8, 2019, in Fort Myers, Fla. Wissinger and Volz, both with felony records, were able to register to vote for the first time after an amendment took effect. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Voting rights advocates are scrambling to understand the impact of an appeals court decision blocking some Florida felons’ eligibility to participate in elections, the Washington Post reports. The case is a blow to efforts to restore voting rights to as many as 1.4 million people. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta halted a judge’s order that had cleared the way for hundreds of thousands of felons to register to vote. The judge had found that a state law requiring them to pay fines and fees first amounted to an unconstitutional voting tax if they are unable to afford it. The appeals court scheduled a hearing for Aug. 18, the same day as Florida’s primary election. It’s unclear if the court will decide the issue in time for the presidential election, or if the court’s ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, the Campaign Legal Center asked the Supreme Court to vacate the circuit court ruling, saying it has “thrown the election rules into chaos.” Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program said the ruling “will surely mean that we are once again in a state of some confusion when it comes to people’s eligibility, as we were before.” Voting rights activists worry the uncertainty of the issue may discourage former inmates from trying to register even if they’re eligible. The re-enfranchisement of Florida felons has been a contentious issue since voters passed Amendment 4 in 2018. The amendment cleared the way for most felons, except those who had been convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, to register. About 85,000 felons have registered since Amendment 4 went into effect last year. Florida had been one of a few states that barred felons from voting for life.

via The Crime Report https://ift.tt/2myW3Gx

July 9, 2020 at 10:47AM

‘I’ll be a human being again. I’ll be an American citizen again’: Registering to vote brings out emotions among Florida felons

Joshua Replogle and Adriana Gomez Licon

The normally humdrum bureaucracy of registering to vote brought tears to the eyes of some Floridians on Tuesday when most felons regained their right to vote under a state constitutional amendment.

“I’ll be a human being again. I’ll be an American citizen again,” Robert Eckford said, choking up and weeping after filling out an application at the elections supervisor’s office in Orlando.

The ballot measure went into effect Tuesday, overturning a ban that netted Florida the highest number of disenfranchised felons in the nation. It potentially increases the pool of eligible voters by as many as 1.4 million people in a battleground state infamous for its narrow margins in key elections.

“I’m an ex-Marine,” said Eckford, who served seven years for a drug conviction. “I served this country. I’ve done my time. I’ve made some mistakes. But thank God the system works.”

Nearly 65 percent of Florida voters last November approved Amendment 4, which was crafted so that it would take effect on Tuesday. It applies to all felons who have done their time and completed the terms of their probation and parole, with the exception of people convicted of murder or sex offenses.

It is still not clear how those registrations will be treated in the state capitol. Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Monday that he believes the Legislature still needs to pass an implementing bill spelling out the restoration process.

“There’s going to need to be guidance for that. It’s not delaying it. The people spoke on it. It’s going to be implemented, but I think it needs to be implemented the way people intended, and I don’t think that they wanted to see any sex offenders fall through the cracks,” he told reporters.

Civil rights groups have maintained the measure is self-executing, but just to be sure, they warned that they are ready to go to court if there are any delays. Elections supervisors across the state posted notices at their offices and websites saying they would accept the registration forms starting Tuesday. They noted the new voters don’t need to present proof that they completed their sentence; they can simply fill out the existing application, signing under oath that their voting rights have been restored.

Members of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said they expected the registration to go smoothly. Despite any confusion, the organization’s president, Desmond Meade, encouraged members to celebrate.

Meade has been fighting to regain his right to vote since 2006 when he had served his sentence for a drug offense. Meade readied his family to head out south of downtown Orlando before the sun rose Tuesday. Wearing shirts with the slogan “Let my people vote,” Meade likened his journey to the 1960s movement to end widespread practices that kept black voters away from the polls.

“Moms and dads took their kids to vote with them during the civil rights era,” he said. “I can vote for the first time with my family and that means a lot to me. That means not only do I get to vote, but this is an opportunity now to stimulate a conversation about how important voting is.”

Until the amendment passed, Florida’s constitution automatically barred felons from being able to vote after leaving prison. The state’s clemency process allowed the governor and three elected Cabinet members to restore voting rights, but it was for many an arduous process and the governor could unilaterally veto any request.

Dan Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who studies elections, says it may take time for the effects of the change to become evident.

“There is very little evidence that individuals who have the opportunity to have their rights restored are going to immediately take advantage of that opportunity,” Smith said.

Although black people were disproportionately affected by felony disenfranchisement, they are not a majority of the population with felony convictions, Smith said. He says it is unclear whether the newly franchised voters will sway Florida red or blue. There is no public record of how people who were removed from the rolls have historically voted.

“These are questions that political scientists like myself are going to be looking at in great detail.”

Democratic Party leaders in the state and nation emailed statements welcoming the new voters and accusing Republican politicians of attempting to silence them in the past.

“Democrats will never stop fighting to expand access to the ballot and ensure that no one is silenced or sidelined on Election Day,” said Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee.


Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Miami. AP writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.

How Cities Make Money by Fining the Poor

The New York Times magazine has this lengthy new article about criminal justice debt under this full headline: “How Cities Make Money by Fining the Poor: In many parts of America, like Corinth, Miss., judges are locking up defendants who can’t pay — sometimes for months at a time.” I recommend the piece in full, and here is a snippet:

No government agency comprehensively tracks the extent of criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants, but experts estimate that those fines and fees total tens of billions of dollars.  That number is likely to grow in coming years, and significantly: National Public Radio, in a survey conducted with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, found that 48 states increased their civil and criminal court fees from 2010 to 2014.  And because wealthy and middle-class Americans can typically afford either the initial fee or the services of an attorney, it will be the poor who shoulder the bulk of the burden….

In areas hit by recession or falling tax revenue, fines and fees help pay the bills.  (The costs of housing and feeding inmates can be subsidized by the state.)  As the Fines and Fees Justice Center, an advocacy organization based in New York, has documented, financial penalties on the poor are now a leading source of revenue for municipalities around the country.  In Alabama, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center took up the case of a woman who was jailed for missing a court date related to an unpaid utility bill.  In Oregon, courts have issued hefty fines to the parents of truant schoolchildren. Many counties around the country engage in civil forfeiture, the seizure of vehicles and cash from people suspected (but not necessarily proven in court) of having broken the law.  In Louisiana, pretrial diversion laws empower the police to offer traffic offenders a choice: Pay up quickly, and the ticket won’t go on your record; fight the ticket in court, and you’ll face additional fees.

“What we’ve seen in our research is that the mechanisms vary, depending on the region,” says Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center.  “But they have one thing in common: They use the justice system to wring revenue out of the poorest Americans — the people who can afford it the least.”  Aside from taxes, she says, “criminal-justice debt is now a de facto way of funding a lot of American cities.”

The jailing of poor defendants who cannot pay fines — a particularly insidious version of this revenue machine — has been ruled unconstitutional since a trio of Supreme Court cases spanning the 1970s and early 1980s….  Still, decades after those cases were decided, the practice of jailing people who cannot pay persists, not least because Supreme Court decisions do not always make their way to local courts.  “Precedent is one thing,” says Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of Civil Rights Corps, a Washington-based nonprofit.  “The way a law is written is one thing. The way a law is actually experienced by poor people and people of color is another.”…

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed evidence of what it calls “modern-day ‘debtors’ prisons’ ” — essentially, courts operating in the same way as Judge Ross’s in Corinth — in Georgia, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington State.  “If you spent a few weeks driving from coast to coast, you might not find similar policies in place in every single county,” Sam Brooke, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s economic-justice program, told me.  “But every other county? Probably.  This is a massive problem, and it’s not confined to the South.  It’s national.”…

In recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations, including the A.C.L.U. and Karakatsanis’s Civil Rights Corps, have been filing class-action lawsuits against dozens of courts across the South and Midwest and West, arguing that local courts, in jailing indigent defendants, are violating the Supreme Court rulings laid down in Williams, Tate and Bearden.  The lawsuits work: As a settlement is negotiated, a judge typically agrees to stop jailing new inmates for unpaid fines or fees.  “No one wants to admit they’ve knowingly acted in this manner,” says Brooke, who partnered with Karakatsanis on lawsuits in Alabama and filed several elsewhere in the South. “So they tend to settle quickly.” The trouble is locating the offending courts.

via Sentencing Law and Policy https://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/

January 8, 2019 at 10:36PM

Starting today, ex-felons can sign up to vote in Florida

By Skyler SwisherContact Reporter  South Florida Sun Sentinel

Floridians with felony convictions are now able to register to vote with a new constitutional amendment taking effect.

About 64 percent of voters supported Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights to most people who have felonies on their record.

South Florida election supervisors are gearing up to implement the law, which takes effect today.

The change is the culmination of work by religious, social justice and civil liberties groups who pushed for Florida to join most other states in giving offenders a second chance.

“This is a historic moment,” said Melba Pearson, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Everyone who is eligible to vote as a result of Amendment 4 should register.”

Here are some things to know.

Who is eligible to register under Amendment 4?

Floridians with felony convictions who have completed “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation” will have their voting rights automatically restored Jan. 8. The amendment, though, does not apply to people convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

Those offenders will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Clemency Review Board.

Applicants who meet the criteria will need to fill out a form affirming that they have had their rights restored, Pearson said.

“The burden is on the state to do that due diligence and remove you from the rolls if it turns out you are not eligible,” she said.

Election officials are encouraging applicants to verify they meet the requirements by checking with their county’s clerk of court, the Department of Corrections and other resources.

Where do you go to register?

You can register to vote at your county’s elections office or online at registertovoteflorida.gov.

Is there any confusion?

One thing is clear — election supervisors must process applications starting this week. Florida law specifies that constitutional amendments take effect “on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January following the election,” which is Jan. 8.

But the state and the courts will need to clarify some issues, said Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

One question involves what constitutes “all terms” of a sentence. It’s unclear whether ex-offenders with outstanding court costs not ordered by a judge as part of a sentence could register to vote.

The amendment also doesn’t define which crimes constitute sexual offenses.

How will the state check?

The process has not been developed yet, said Law, who serves as supervisor of elections in Okaloosa County.

“There isn’t a single place you can go to get the information right now,” he said. “How the back-end of this process will work will be anybody’s guess.”

Information on criminal convictions is scattered across multiple agencies, including county clerk offices, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Corrections.

The state will need to develop a process for verifying that a person has fulfilled the terms of his or her sentence, Lux said. In the meantime, he said he will process applications based on the voter’s affirmation in accordance with the law.

“Willfully” lying on a voter registration form is a felony offense under Florida law.

Pearson, a former Miami-Dade prosecutor, said the state would need show someone intentionally lied on the form — rather than made a mistake — to press charges.

What are the political ramifications of Amendment 4?

Experts estimate more than 1.5 million Floridians with felony convictions could be eligible to vote.

In comparison, in 2016, President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 112,911 votes in Florida.

via South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com – News http://bit.ly/1LH0PID

January 8, 2019 at 07:26AM

Database Policing: Can Your Personal Data Be Used to Arrest You?

If police find incriminating evidence against you in the course of an identity check, are they entitled to make an arrest? 

Police now have access to a broad expanse of databases detailing information on individuals, but there are few limitations on how they can obtain or use this information, according to a forthcoming study in the Iowa Law Review. 

The study, by Florida State University-College of Law professor Wayne A. Logan, warns that even as technology has rapidly increased police capabilities of discovering personal information about suspects, such as the usage of “remote biometric identifiers” which allow people to be identified without physical seizures or demands for identification, Constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure or from self-incrimination have not been broadened to cover them… 

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Cost of Denying Votes to FL Felons Put at $385M

Seven years after Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet voted to end the state policy that automatically restored the civil rights of nonviolent offenders after they complete their sentences, a price tag has emerged, the Miami Herald reports. Florida lost an estimated $385 million a year in economic impact, spent millions on court and prison costs, had 3,500 more offenders return to prison, and lost the opportunity to create about 3,800 new jobs. So concludes a report from the Republican-leaning Washington Economics Group of Coral Gables for proponents of Amendment 4 on the November ballot that asks voters to allow the automatic restoration of civil rights for eligible felons who have served their sentences.

The report was commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a national criminal justice reform organization that works with crime survivors, to show the economic impact of approving the amendment. The findings estimate the cost of the policy that was fast-tracked into law by the governor a month after taking office in 2011, its impact on crime and its cost to taxpayers. Scott and the cabinet repealed the automatic restoration of rights that had been in place for four years and replaced it with a plan requiring a minimum five-year waiting period before offenders could start the application process to have their voting and civil rights restored. The proposed amendment would restore rights automatically, except for those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. To come up with a price tag for the policy, economists looked at the data from 2007 to 2011 and compared it with current data. They focused on the recidivism rate, the number of released felons who returned to prison after being released and projected the costs and the impact those felons would have on the economy if they went to work instead.

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Eleventh Circuit Creates Circuit Split on Cell Phone Border Searches

The Eleventh Circuit has handed down an important new ruling on cell phone searches at the border, United States v. Touset. In an opinion by Judge William Pryor, the court disagrees with the Fourth Circuit and Ninth Circuit caselaw requiring suspicion to conduct a forensic search at the border.

The basic issue in these cases is this: When the government seizes a computer or cell phone at the border, and they want to search it using forensic equipment, do they need some sort of suspicion that evidence or contraband is on the device? Or does the traditional border search exception (which ordinarily permits searches of prioperty crossing the border without suspicion) apply?

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