I have often discussed the consequences of being a convicted felon. Being a convicted felon means that you have been adjudicated guilty of a felony offense. You can become a convicted felon after being found guilty at trial or by admitting your guilt by accepting a plea offer. You can also become a convicted felon by pleading no contest to a felony. So long as the sentence is an adjudication - as opposed to a withhold of adjudication - it doesn't matter whether you admit guilty (plead guilty) or take the plea simply for convenience (plead no contest). A felony conviction is a felony conviction.
One of the direct and immediate consequences of being a convicted felon is that your right to vote is taken away. This is not unique to Florida. This is nationwide. If you are a convicted felon you cannot vote. Period.
And guess what? Florida leads the charge when it comes to the number of citizens who cannot vote due to felony convictions.
The Sun Sentinel recently reported that nearly 1 in 10 Florida citizens cannot vote due to a felony conviction. For African-Americans, that number is 1 in 4.
That's right. 25% of all African-Americans in the entire State of Florida cannot vote.
Florida is a state that does not automatically restore civil rights upon completion of a sentence. In some states, upon completion of your jail, prison, or probationary sentence, your right to vote is restored without application.
In Florida, you must apply to the Executive Clemency Board to restore your civil rights. This process takes a long time, not to mention the amount of time you must wait after completion of your sentence to apply in the first place. You are also not guaranteed a restoration of your rights.
The point is - lots of people are being convicted of felonies in Florida. A felony conviction can come as easily as pleading no contest to a possession of cocaine charge and receiving credit for time served (CTS).
Lots of people want to accept pleas to get their criminal cases done and over with. And oftentimes, a plea of guilty or no contest may be in the client's best interest. However, you must be mindful of all the consequences of having a felony conviction on your record. Pleas that can result in a withhold of adjudication do not carry the same consequences, thus are more favorable for the client.
If you are charged with a felony, chances are you and your criminal attorney will discuss the possibility of a plea. Make sure that you explore the possibility of having adjudication withheld. Not only will you be able to seal your record if the offense is eligible, you will be able to vote. And in this democracy, your vote is your voice. If you are a convicted felon, you are as good as silent.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward. He can be reached directly at (305) 504-6655.