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League of Women Voters of Florida Create Process For Felon Sentence Modification

Jessica Yeary being sworn-in virtually as public defender
Jessica Yeary
Jessica Yeary being sworn-in virtually as public defender

Whether a felon can vote in Florida depends on several factors; type of crime committed, whether they’ve finished their sentence and if they’ve paid their financial debt accrued from court fees, fines, and restitution. The latter part is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit. But the League of Women Voters of Florida is promoting an alternate option: sentence modification.

Prior to 2019, felons could have their financial debt moved to a civil lien so it wouldn’t count against them when they attempt to restore their voting rights. But that changed when the legislature approved Senate Bill 7066.

"So what 7066 did is it opened up that gate and said literally we don’t care if a judge converted it to a civil lien you’ve got to pay it as if it were on the criminal side," said Cecile Scoon the First Vice President for the League.

Scoon is also the chair of their efforts on the restoration of rights.

"We were very unhappy with 7066 because it did limit opportunities, and it did take away the impact of the civil lien which was a very big negative, but there was something in there that we said we could try to use," said Scoon.

That something was a provision within the bill that allowed for felons to ask the court to modify their sentence, which could result in fines, fees, and even restitution being removed.

"We developed a program to train lawyers [on] how to use the provisions in 7066 to help people to be able to get their voting rights back," said Scoon. "A process to file a pleading for a modification of their sentence so that they can vote.

Scoon says now that the program is up and running, they’ve been trying to publicize it.

"When you create a legal process that never existed before, no one’s ever heard of it, it’s going to be difficult for people to take advantage of it. Even lawyers had no idea about it and then when you take a returning citizen who has that felony conviction, with limited job opportunities, and many other responsibilities that they’re trying to meet," said Scoon "What is the chance that they’re ever going to use this process? Very slim."

Scoon says the league has a list of felons who’ve completed their probation and parole from the Florida Department of Corrections and has started notifying people about the help the league can provide.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.