Update: Convicted Felons and Civil Rights

lady justice

by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….

Several weeks ago, we published a story about Key West Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz’ criminal record. He is a convicted felon, having spent three years in the penitentiary back in the early 1990s on major drug charges. He and his partner in crime were caught bringing in cocaine by the boatload. As a result, he cannot vote, serve on a jury, hold public office or possess a firearm– for the rest of his life– unless he goes through the clemency process to try to get his civil rights restored.

Here is an update on that story– not necessarily an update on Veliz’ situation, but an update on information that was not included in our original story: 1. Details concerning the clemency process available to a convicted felon who wishes to have his or her civil rights restored. 2. A proposed state constitutional amendment that could restore a convicted felon’s voting rights immediately after completion of his or her sentence, including probation.

I need to make an editorial comment here. When our original story appeared, it generated a lot of pro and con conversation concerning an assistant city manager who can’t vote– and other ramifications of his criminal record. Many readers took the position that Veliz has “paid his debt to society.” That may or not be true. There is still a $50,000 fine– part of the original sentence– that remains unpaid. When Veliz got out of jail, the state authorities waived that fine because Veliz convinced them that he was too poor to pay. But now, as assistant city manager, he makes $120,000 per year. He can afford to pay. Also, there is the matter of a convicted felon demonstrating (or not) a desire to rejoin society– like applying to have his or her civil rights restored, so he or she can at least vote and serve on a jury. Twenty years after getting out of prison, however, Veliz has apparently not bothered to do that. Having said that, we do know that he has been encouraged by friends to go through the clemency process– but it is not known if he has taken any action because felons’ applications to have their civil rights restored are not public records.

THE CLEMENCY PROCESS. The process is cumbersome, but doable. So why wouldn’t any convicted felon who really wants to “rejoin society” at least make the effort to get their civil rights restored? Such an effort would start by looking at the website of the Florida Commission on Offender Review– fcor.state.fl.us. That is the office that deals with all requests for clemency, such as pardons and restoration of civil rights. That website is where the Application for Clemency is found. The application is only one page, but applicants are required to attach certified copies of all documents related to all felony convictions, including indictments, judgments, including sentencing (including fines) and probation orders. Although applicants may choose to have a lawyer assist them with the clemency process, they are not required to have one. But if Veliz is going through this process or plans to, it is likely that he would have a lawyer. He can certainly afford one. Did I mention that he makes $120,000 per year in his city job? Way more than most Key Westers. The good news, however, is that there is no application or filing fee.

Applications for clemency are received by the Office of Executive Clemency where they are screened for eligibility concerning time restrictions (how long since the sentence has been served) for various offences. This office also reviews court records that are required to accompany applications. The paper work for applicants initially found to be eligible for clemency is sent to a team of investigators in the field. After an investigation has been conducted and a report prepared, these applications are sent to the Executive Clemency Board for final decision-making. Now we’re in the Big Time. The Executive Clemency Board, which meets four times a year, is made up of the governor, two cabinet members who are also statewide elected officials, and the State Attorney General. A hearing may or may not be required before a decision is made by the board. In Veliz’ case, the governor and other members of the board may or may not have questions about the unpaid $50,000 fine. A favorable decision by the board results in the issuance of a certificate of Restoration of Civil Rights. This does not restore the right to possess a firearm, however. This requires a separate application.

POTENTIAL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. For the past year or so, civil rights and voting rights groups have been conducting a petition drive in an effort to get a measure on the 2016 ballot that, if approved by the voters, would amend the Florida Constitution and restore voting rights to many convicted felons who have completed their sentences, including probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sex crimes. Nor would the amendment restore other civil rights that have been stripped from convicted felons in Florida– serving on a jury, holding public office and possession of a firearm.

To get the proposed amendment on this year’s November ballot, supporters need to have collected a minimum of 683,149 valid voter signatures by February 1, 2016– like the end of this month. How supporters are doing so far may suggest how Floridians feel about restoring voting rights to convicted felons. A story published last July in the online publication Florida Politics quotes one organizer of the petition drive as saying that only about 50,000 signatures had been collected. Another organizer said that maybe 100,000 signatures have been collected– still way more than 500,000 signatures short.

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