Being a felon in Florida — in America — means losing a few privileges, a few civil rights.
In this state, you’ll no longer retain the right to vote, hold public office, sit on a jury (not that anyone ever really wants to do that), and possess a firearm, should you be convicted of any felony charge.
People like Reggie Garcia, a soon-to-be 55-year-old clemency attorney originally from Tampa, realize that in some instances, it just takes being in the wrong place at the wrong time to permanently alter your future.
“Everybody I knew smoked pot in high school and college,” said Garcia from the second floor lounge of St. Pete College’s downtown campus. “I could have literally been arrested 10 times in high school and college.”
As both a lawyer and lobbyist, Garcia’s career highlights include presenting clemency cases to four different Florida governors over the course of his 20-plus-year career. He’s made a living out of helping convicted felons get their rights back.
He was at SPC on Monday to give a free lecture and publicize his new book: How to Leave Prison Early.
“I wrote this book to help inmates and their families, since most of them cannot afford a lawyer,” Garcia said. “These are people who have been convicted of crimes and substantially paid their debt to society. Now they are hoping for a measure of mercy or grace from the state, but the calls and letters I receive have made it clear that [some] have no idea where to begin.”
Garcia defines clemency as “the governor’s power to grant mercy under the Constitution.” It’s also the constitutionally authorized process to provide convicted felons with an opportunity to restore their civil rights. It can absolve an individual from all, or part, of the punishment previously imposed on them as well.
New rules for executive clemency, created on March 9 of 2011, may be part of the reason so many people are having trouble navigating their way through the formal clemency process.
“[Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet] created at least a five-year waiting period for all restoration of civil rights cases,” said Garcia. “The idea was that they wanted people to show rehabilitation.”
Prior to the state’s clemency waiting period mandates, most convicted felons could have their civil rights restored as soon as they completed their criminal sentence.
In How to Leave Prison Early, Garcia gives real how-to steps (25 in total) to achieve clemency. The book also provides clear steps to take while seeking parole, work-release and conditional medical release.
Despite free copies of How to Leave Prison Early being available to those in attendance, some people, during the Q & A session, were fine with straight-up asking about their own personal legal dilemmas.
One guy asked if, as a convicted felon, he could own a BB gun — to which the answer was no. A convicted felon could only own a firearm if it was an antique. Though anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Dog the Bounty hunter knows that convicted felons can still carry some pretty heavy-duty, decked-out mace guns.
Another question came from a kid who’d been convicted of selling a small amount of weed as a minor, then again as a an adult. He was wondering if he could seek a “pardon for misdemeanor,” for his most recent crime, to which Garcia responded by saying the young man should seek a local lawyer practicing in the area where the offense occurred.
Both Garcia’s last book, Second Chances, and his new release, How to Leave Prison Early, are available on Amazon.