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State Attorney Brian Kramer and North Florida Supervisors of Election introduce Voter Education Program

Press release from State Attorney Brian Kramer, 8th Judicial Circuit of Florida

As State Attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, I swore an oath to support, protect, and defend both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Florida. Traditionally, the State Attorney, as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Circuit, meets the requirements of this oath by lawfully and ethically prosecuting those charged with crimes. However, the State Attorney serves other critical functions as well. Among these many functions, for instance, the State Attorney serves an integral role in the sealing and expunction of criminal records by verifying a former defendant’s eligibility to have his or her record sealed or expunged. There are other examples, but suffice it to say that prosecution is just one of many roles that the State Attorney serves in the name of supporting, protecting, and defending the Constitution.

Today, I write to introduce you to a new role. In 2018, the citizens of the State of Florida passed an amendment to the state Constitution colloquially known as “Amendment 4.” In substance, Amendment 4 (Fla. Const. Art. VI, § 4) automatically re-enfranchised previously convicted felons, except those convicted of murder or a sexual offense, who have completed all of the terms of their sentences. While this sounded simple enough on its face, it turned out to be anything but. There was significant litigation surrounding the language of the amendment, “…voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” This litigation is now settled and, as State Attorney, I am bound to enforce the law as it is interpreted by the courts. So, while opinions may differ, it is abundantly clear that mine does not matter. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the phrase “all terms of sentence,” as used in Article VI, Section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Florida, has an “ordinary meaning that the voters would have understood to refer not only to durational periods but also to all legal financial obligations imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt.” In other words, to be qualified to vote again, a convicted felon must have satisfied all financial obligations from the case including court costs, fines, and restitution. This decision created a significant conundrum for many people who had been convicted of a felony and want to vote.

While it may seem easy to know if one has completed all of their financial obligations, in practice, it’s not. There are a variety of reasons for this, and these reasons vary from person to person and case to case. For example, at the time of sentencing, if a defendant is being sentenced to incarceration, but not probation, that person may understandably give little regard to the financial penalties associated with the conviction. It may be many years until the person is released. The individual may not be well versed in navigating the complexities of multiple clerks’ offices or the department of corrections to make the necessary determination of the status of the legal financial obligations. This uncertainty creates a Hobbesian choice for these individuals. Continue to be disenfranchised or vote and potentially commit a new felony offense. I am starting a program that I hope will address both choices, and in doing so effectuate the intentions of the People of the State of Florida and uphold the Constitution.

I am starting the “V8th program.” This program will serve the dual function of effectuating Amendment 4 and enhancing election security. We will accomplish this by offering my opinion on whether an individual has completed all the terms of his or her sentence. I must be clear that it is not the role of the State Attorney to make this determination. However, enforcing the law of the State of Florida and preventing potential criminal actions are squarely within the purview of the State Attorney. Ultimately, it is the duty of the Supervisor of Elections to determine who may or may not vote. When a citizen disagrees with the Supervisor’s decision, that citizen would have to go to the courts to address this decision. I, however, am free to offer my opinion on this issue, and if I determine that a former felon is eligible to vote, I am within my duties as State Attorney to assure that person that exercising that right will not result in criminal prosecution.

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