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Paul, Weiss Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Challenging Conviction for Unlawful Voting

Paul, Weiss, in coordination with the Brennan Center for Justice, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) in Rivers v. State, concerning the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions. FRRC is a grassroots organization of returning citizens—people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences—seeking to end the disenfranchisement of and discrimination against people with convictions.

In 2018, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote to returning citizens. Shortly after the amendment was passed, a bill was enacted implementing the amendment, which required voters to pay all legal financial obligations associated with their conviction, such as restitution or fines, before being eligible to reregister and vote.

A separate Florida statute makes it a crime for a person to willfully register to vote or vote knowing that they are ineligible. John Boyd Rivers was charged under that statute with unlawfully registering to vote and voting in the 2020 election, and he was convicted of unlawfully voting. He was convicted despite his testimony that an election official visiting the jail at which he had been in custody did not mention legal financial obligations, and despite his receipt of a voter registration card approving his registration, which led him to believe that he was eligible to vote. Rivers’ case was further complicated because he was convicted of an additional felony after he registered but before he voted, although his sentencing paperwork led him to believe adjudication had been “withheld,” which would mean he had not lost his right to vote.

Our amicus brief reinforces Rivers’ argument that the state did not adduce sufficient evidence from which a rational juror could find Rivers guilty of willfully voting knowing that he was ineligible; informs the court of the pattern of similar cases in which defendants charged with these crimes have been confused about their eligibility; details the ways in which Florida officials frequently mislead voters about their eligibility and systematically fail to inform them that they are ineligible before they vote, despite the state’s legal obligation to confirm and accurately inform prospective voters of their eligibility; explains FRRC’s experiences interacting with voters who are confused about their eligibility and have been deterred from voting for fear of prosecution; and explains that conviction for these kinds of offenses is unjust under the circumstances.

The Paul, Weiss team was led by litigation partner Elizabeth Sacksteder and counsel Jonathan Hurwitz, and included associate Michael Dauber and law clerk Nicholas Roney.

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