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THOUGHTS FROM PUBLIC DEFENDER REX DIMMIG

12/4/2018       Criminal Justice Reform
The Florida Bar recently held a Criminal Justice Summit in Tampa. Attendees included judges, prosecutors, public defenders, private practitioners, and members of the Florida Legislature. After two days of speeches, presentations and interactive breakout sessions, Senator Jeff Brandes, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, analogized criminal justice reform as being like “a firefighter coming up to a house where every room is on fire and figuring out where to start.”

Florida legislators should start by reforming Florida’s antiquated view of the objectives of sentencing. Florida law provides:

The primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender. Rehabilitation is a desired goal of the criminal justice system but is subordinate to the goal of punishment. §921.002(1)(b), Florida Statutes.

This overly simplistic view of sentencing may have been popular when first adopted in 1997 but in 2018 a more nuanced sentencing strategy is required.

Every parent understands that the primary purpose for disciplining a child who has misbehaved has to be to change their behavior. For some children, and for some conduct, administering a punishment is necessary. For others, rewarding good behavior is more successful. For most, a combination of punishment and incentives provides the greatest chance to ensure a lasting change. What is true for our children who violate family rules is also true for criminal defendants who violate society’s rules.

It is unquestionably true that some crimes are so heinous; some criminals are so incorrigible that the only way to protect the public is to incapacitate the offender. But it is equally true that most people convicted of a crime will, at some point, complete their sentence. It would be irresponsible not to use every means available to change these individuals behavior so that when they exit the criminal justice system they are law-abiding, productive members of society.

Rex Dimmig

 

12/7/2018      Were 5 Million Florida Voters Fooled?

 On November 6th, over 5 million Floridians voted to restore the voting rights of convicted felons when they finish serving their sentence. They may not get what they thought they were voting for.

Amendment 4 was widely advertised as “automatic” restoration of voting rights. The language seemed clear enough, “any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” After a convicted felon completes the sentence imposed by the court, their right to vote shall be restored. Simple, right? Maybe not.

Not every person wanting to vote may legally vote. First, they must register with the supervisor of elections in the county where they reside. Then, the supervisors must determine if the person registering is legally eligible to vote. During a statewide conference last week, county election supervisors questioned the director of the state Division of Elections about how to determine if convicted felons had finished their sentence and were therefore eligible to vote. Their questions went unanswered. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who oversees the Division of Elections, doesn’t believe the supervisors’ questions should be answered until the legislature provides direction as to how Amendment 4 should be implemented.

There are serious questions. Are voting rights “automatically” restored or must new rules be written? If new rules are required, who must write them? Must all monetary obligations such as restitution, court costs, fines and fees imposed at the time of sentencing be paid in full before the sentence is deemed to be completed? Who is responsible for determining if all terms of the sentence have been completed? County supervisors of election, the director of the state Division of Elections, and the Secretary of State are unsure. One thing is certain. It is a felony for any person to submit false voter registration information. Until more answers are known, convicted felons registering to vote need to be very careful. They must avoid becoming repeat felony offenders when trying to restore their right to vote.

Rex Dimmig