A Judge Got One Wrong

Recall Florida’s citizens, by a 2:1 margin, voting up a State constitutional amendment restoring to convicted felons (except murderers and sex offenders) their right to vote on completion of their criminal sentences.

Recall, further, Florida’s government passing a law that required these felons to pay off their outstanding fines, fees or restitution—in other words, actually to complete their sentences, including court-imposed financial requirements.  This law went further: it provided mechanisms for relief from those financial penalties so the felon could complete their sentences more quickly after release from jail:

  • payment of the financial obligation in full
  • a court’s dismissal of the debt
  • conversion of the debt to community service

That last is instructive: community service is one of several sanctions, whether in addition to or in lieu of jail, applied on felony conviction. Community service in this guise thus stands as the State’s explicit recognition that a felon has not completed his sentence until he has completed all of it, including financial penalties.  That community service also is used to sanction misdemeanors and civil wrongs in no way alters that simple truth.

Now Federal District Judge Robert Hinkle has chosen to overrule the will of the citizens of the State: he’s issued an injunction that bars Florida’s Secretary of State and County Supervisors of Elections

from preventing plaintiffs from registering to vote solely because they can’t pay a financial obligation. He cited an appellate court ruling that held that “access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources.”

Never mind that the law does not bar a right to vote based on a voter’s financial resources but on a felon’s having completed his sentence.

Never mind, either, that the law provides two means of relief from the financial portion of the felon’s sentence.  With his injunction, Hinkle has both removed the possibility of relief from financial distress, thereby making even more difficult an already arduous journey back to society, he’s removed much of the incentive for the felon to try.

This is another example of activist judges making political decisions in direct contravention of the political arms of a government, for all that this injunction is temporary, pending next year’s trial on the merits.

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