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DeSantis' clemency revamp will wipe out a backlog of thousands of Florida felons' cases awaiting review 

Have mercy

For the past decade, felons in Florida have had to wait at least five years after being released from prison before becoming eligible to have their civil rights restored.

But last week DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the Board of Executive Clemency, did away with the waiting periods, opening the door for so-called "returning citizens" to have their rights restored and possibly wiping out a backlog of thousands of other cases awaiting review. 

The revamped clemency rules also establish an expedited process for felons who have paid all of the legal financial obligations related to their crimes.

That "automatic process" is "going to streamline everything," Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

"I think this is going to be a huge advancement toward reducing that backlog," she added. "I think this is a great first step, and I think our numbers will ultimately show that."

The plan adopted by the board — made up of DeSantis, Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — will "automatically" restore civil rights to felons who have paid all court-ordered fines, fees and restitution related to their crimes. They will have to apply to begin the process of rights restoration, but they will not be required to go before the Board of Executive Clemency to have their cases considered.

Under the new rules, indigent felons with outstanding legal financial obligations will be able to apply to have their civil rights — the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for public office — restored but will have to go before the clemency board, which has the authority to waive court-ordered fees and fines.

DeSantis said he proposed the changes in part to address a 2018 constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4, that was designed to restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Republican lawmakers in 2019 passed a measure, signed by the Republican governor, that requires felons to pay "legal financial obligations" associated with their crimes to be eligible to have their voting rights restored under the constitutional amendment. 

The changes approved last week "unfortunately, meets only the bare bones of Amendment 4," said Fried, who is eying a run against DeSantis next year. 

"What about the vast majority who can't afford the fines, fees, court costs and money that is owed to the government?" she asked.

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