A. After passage of Amendment 4, our legislature created Florida Statute 98.0751 to specifically address the amendment’s implementation for felons having their voting rights restored. This law says a person must have their voting rights restored upon the completion of all terms of his or her sentence. The wording, “completion of all terms of sentence” was defined as any portion of a sentence contained in the “four corners of the sentencing document.” This would include full payment of court-ordered restitution, and fines and fees that are part of the sentence, regardless of whether these have been converted to a civil lien. The legislature has passed laws that require judges to impose mandatory fines, fees, and service charges. When judges waive any of these monies, clerks of court are required to report the same to the Legislature.
Under F.S. 98.0751, completion of all terms of sentence within the four corners of the sentencing document also includes release from any term of imprisonment, termination from any term of probation or community control, and termination from any supervision.
The new law requires the department of state to make an initial determination of a voter registrant’s eligibility and to forward the information to the local supervisor of elections. The department of state will compare information from the clerks of oourt, the board of executive clemency, the Florida Department of Corrections, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or U.S. Attorney’s office. The local supervisor of elections shall verify and make a final determination of eligibility. This law also requires the department of corrections and county jail facility administrators to notify inmates, prisoners, and offenders of all outstanding terms of sentence at the time of release or termination of a term of supervision. The department of corrections is working with the clerks of eourt, and each will provide the information within the office’s possession.
This is a complicated matter, and many different agencies are involved in determining whether all terms of a sentence have been completed. Clerks of court can look at cases and see if there are outstanding fines and fees, but determining whether restitution is owed is another issue because clerks of court aren’t always responsible for collecting restitution payments. It’s not unusual for restitution payments to be a condition of probation. Clerks of court can look in cases to see if a termination of probation has been filed, but clerks of court do not have records to show when inmates have completed their prison or jail sentences, and clerks of court don’t have records of inmates released on supervision and whether or not those conditions have been completed. There are questions about how the process will work. Information regarding various parts of a criminal sentence can be complex, as information about fines, incarceration, restitution payments, and probation and supervision, are housed with different agencies and in different databases. Clerks of court have access to some data, but even that data won’t tell the whole story for each individual.
In accordance with CS/SB 7066, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of members to the state’s Voting Rights Task Force. The task force was a requirement within the language of the new law for the purpose of conducting a comprehensive review of the department of state’s process of verifying registered voters who have been convicted of a felony but may be eligible for voting rights restoration. The task force, which includes two clerks of court, must submit a report to the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives by Nov. 1.
As an elected clerk of court, I will follow the law. From my experience working in the clerk’s office for over 40 years, I know that fines, fees, service charges, and restitution are ordered in court and are a part of the sentence. Clerks of court have court budgets approved based in part on a reliance of revenues generated from fines and fees, and we are responsible for collecting them. Clerks of court, by law, shall accept partial payments, and I do so willingly and work with our defendants to decide payments that correspond to the person’s ability to pay. If a felon wants rights to vote restored and still owes fines and fees, a partial payment agreement can be set up and once paid in full, voting registration could be sought.
At this point, it is my understanding completion of a sentence is defined by all conditions imposed by the sentencing judge being met, which includes payment of all monies, any incarceration in jail or prison, and successful termination of probation and supervision, which may include terms of restitution.
Each case may be different, and clerks of court likely do not have all the information because of the various agencies involved. Clerks of court are closely monitoring this issue and working with our partners to ensure the appropriate response to the directions from the task force.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please forward them to Marcia Johnson, Clerk of the Court, 33 Market St., Suite 203., Apalachicola, FL 32320, or by email to: email@example.com. Visit the clerk’s website at www.franklinclerk.com.