'How long does he have to be punished?' Clemency issue heads back to court

Appeals court to tackle clemency next month

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The clemency process in the state of Florida will be up for debate in federal court next month, as officials discuss the standards involved when it comes to denying or restoring a person's civil rights.

As it stands, convicted felons come in from across the state to pour their hearts out.

“I had a very troubled young life,” said Arthur Rosenthal, who traveled three hours from Jacksonville to appear before the Executive Clemency Board.

Some people plead and even beg.

“How long does he have to be punished for the stupid things that he did as a very young man?" said Delores Hawthorne, from Tavares.

More often than not, people are denied clemency.

Ladetra Johnson traveled 300 miles to present her case. She walked away with her voting rights, but the process took years.

"It was sort of discouraging because I didn’t think it would take that long,” Johnson said.

At least 10,000 people are waiting for their day before the Executive Clemency Board. There are 101 cases on this quarter’s agenda.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the process was unconstitutional.

Afterward, Attorney General Pam Bondi, who helped orchestrate a more conservative approach seven years ago, said looking people in the eye is important.

"If these people go out and we give them a gun and they kill somebody, who does it come back on? All of us," Bondi said. "The violent crimes and the public. And it's our job to look out for victims."

An appeal to the federal judge's ruling will be heard in July.

No matter what happens during the federal appeal, the stage is set for a vote on whether the process should be automatic once someone has done his or her time. 

Tallahassee native Rick McElroy, who waited almost 20 years to be able to vote again, said that in November, he plans to vote for automatic restoration.

The felons' rights amendment needs a 60 percent vote to replace the current system. Earlier this week, a Florida chamber poll showed it with 40 percent support. 

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