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40 Florida Ex-Felons Get Civil Rights Restored At Clemency Board Meeting

Forty ex-felons had their civil rights restored at Florida’s Executive Clemency Board meeting Thursday. 

It was the first Executive Clemency Board meeting to include restoration of civil rights cases since the Fair Elections Legal Network, an organization dedicated to protecting the right to vote, challenged the process in March.

“The system is arbitrary and doesn’t have specific or uniform rules,” said Jon Sherman, senior legal counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “It violates the First Amendment.”

In March, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled in favor of the Fair Elections Legal Network and its clients on three of their four claims, including the First Amendment violation. Judge Walker also halted the restoration of civil rights hearings and ordered the state to reform the “fatally flawed” process by April 25, 2018. 

Currently ex-felons in Florida must wait five to seven years before they can petition the state’s clemency board for a hearing to have their civil rights restored. A revised set of rules the state proposed in response to Judge Walker’s decision would have implemented strict, uniform criteria and eliminated the need for most hearings.

But before those new rules were adopted, the 11th Circuit Appeals Court ruled 2-1 that “binding precedent holds that the Governor has broad discretion to grant and deny clemency, even when the applicable regime lacks any standards.” In other words, it is constitutional for Governor Scott to have unfettered discretion on whether an ex-felon should be granted clemency. 

This decision from the 11th Circuit allowed the restoration of civil rights (RCR) process to resume Thursday at the June Executive Clemency Board meeting. 

Of the more than 10,000 RCR applications pending, only 68 were heard Thursday. Larry Nolen, a 42-year-old licensed contractor in Martin County, was one of the few.

“I try to improve myself every day and this is a step in the process,” Nolen said on the stand as he admitted to making poor decisions and took responsibility for his actions. “I would like to have my civil rights restored so I can help mold the future for my daughters and so I can continue to become a more productive member of society.”

He was one of the 25 people granted their civil rights in the RCR section of the meeting. Thirty-two of the appeals were denied and 11 of them were continued.

The Executive Clemency Board granted an additional 15 felons their civil rights during the pardon and firearm sections of the meeting.

If these felons register before the Oct. 8 general election deadline, they can vote on Amendment 4, which would automatically restore most non-violent felons’ right to vote.

Oral arguments in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case begin July 25.

Grace is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing grace.king@ufl.edu.