Breaking: Divided 11th Circuit, Sitting En Banc, Upholds Florida Law Making It Harder for Ex Felons To Vote without Acknowledging That Some Ex-Felons Do Not Know How Much They Owe in Fees and Fines

You can find the 200 pages of opinions and rulings at this link.

From one of the dissents (Judge Martin):

Second, even if a returning citizen is able to determine his original LFO obligation, then “[d]etermining the amount that has been paid on an LFO” is likewise “often impossible.” Id. at *18.

The State, pointing to its advisory-opinion system for voter eligibility, says the Plaintiffs cannot complain about the inability to determine LFO obligations because, since the enactment of SB-7066, only about 30 members of the public have made inquiries of the Florida Department of State about “voter eligibility with regards to financial terms of sentence.” Br. of Appellant at 55. This is beside the point. Although the State offers the advisory opinions as a panacea, it explains in its briefing that these advisory opinions actually only give a returning citizen “a legal determination on whether he would violate the laws against false registration and fraudulent voting by registering and voting given the facts and circumstances attendant to his case.” Id. The Department of State’s current advisory-opinion process does not promise returning citizens accurate information about their outstanding LFOs.

And in any event, this record shows the precise amount of payments made is “sometimes easy, sometimes hard, sometimes impossible” for a returning citizen to determine. Id. at *21, *23. The District Court discussed a number of examples of returning citizens struggling mightily to calculate their outstanding LFO balance.

One named plaintiff, Clifford Tyson, contacted the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court to help him determine his outstanding LFO balance. Id. at *20. The District Court recounted that it took the Clerk of Court’s “financial manager” and “several long-serving assistants” 12 to 15 hours to come up with an answer. Id. Even at the end of that painstaking process, nobody was able “to explain discrepancies in the records” that surfaced. Id.

Under the majority’s decision, it remains incumbent on the person seeking to vote to bring all relevant “facts and circumstances” to the State’s attention, including the amount of his outstanding LFOs. To the contrary, I believe the State has an obligation to give accurate information to its citizens about how much it believes they must still pay to discharge their obligations under SB-7066. This is particularly so, in light of the State’s idiosyncratic “every-dollar” method of calculating payment. Under this method, all payments made in relation to an LFO are to be counted toward the outstanding balance of a criminal sentence, even if a portion of the payment has in fact been allocated elsewhere in the payment process. See id. at *21. So it is the State’s position, adopted by the majority, that a returning citizen can qualify to vote if he has paid the amount assessed in his sentencing document, but still has outstanding LFOs if any portion of his payments were, say, pocketed by a debt collection company. As I understand it, this “every-dollar” method is not the mode of accounting any local government uses for any purpose. This is likely because the calculation method was devised midway through this case, apparently as a litigation strategy, and seems completely divorced from how LFO remittances actually work. But, because no formal policy, rule, or statute in Florida provides for the tracking of “every dollar” paid, for many, this “fact” the State demands to know is simply unknowable. This result cannot comport with due process.

I would be very surprised to see the Supreme Court take up this case before the election.

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