Florida clemency rules are supposed to ban felons who commit serious crimes from regaining their civil rights without an extensive state investigation and a formal hearing. The Miami Herald identified at least 400 released from custody between 2001 and 2003 who had their civil rights restored even though they appeared ineligible. Dozens were convicted of violent crimes, such as battery on a police officer, arson, armed robbery — felonies that require a hearing before civil rights are restored. Scores got their rights back even though rules bar them if they still owe money to crime victims. Others got rights restored twice in 10 years, which is prohibited. Some regained their rights even though they should have been rejected for at least two reasons. Two hundred other felons who committed disqualifying crimes got their rights back through a loophole in the rules.
“There’s got to be a better way to manage it,” said Attorney General Charlie Crist, a Clemency Board member, when told of the Herald’s findings. A spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush, who heads the board, said only that the agency “continues to work on ways to further streamline the clemency process.” The cases uncovered by The Herald account for about 6 percent of the civil rights restorations granted to felons released from custody from 2001 to 2003. Civil rights advocates say Florida’s $4-million-a-year clemency system is arbitrary, unbalanced, and unfair. In the last six years, the Clemency Board has denied civil rights to thousands of drug abusers, forgers, thieves and other nonviolent offenders whose crimes warranted little or no prison time.