Home2024 CampaignCan a convicted murderer run for office in Florida? Maybe

Can a convicted murderer run for office in Florida? Maybe

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Palm Bay, FL – The candidacy of Michael Bruyette for Palm Bay City Council brings to the forefront an aspect of electoral law that crosses state lines, highlighting how Massachusetts’ relatively liberal policies on voting rights for former convicts can impact eligibility in Florida.

As we covered earlier, Michael Bruyette, previously convicted of murder in Massachusetts, sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, has served his prison time and is now on parole. He was convicted of beating a man to death with a bat after being promised a share of the life insurance payout by the victim’s significant other. He previously violated his parole while in Florida in 2011, and was forced back into prison, but has since been released again in 2016. While such a felony criminal record would typically preclude voting and running for public office in many states, Massachusetts law provides that voting rights are automatically restored to individuals once they are released from incarceration, even if they are on parole or probation.

Bruyette-Michael

This provision directly impacts Bruyette’s potential political and voting rights in Florida in several key ways:

Automatic Restoration in Massachusetts: In Massachusetts, individuals who are no longer incarcerated but are on parole or probation regain their right to vote automatically. This contrasts with Florida’s approach, where felons must apply to have their rights restored, except for those covered under Amendment 4, which excludes individuals convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Massachusetts only prohibits those convicted of crimes related to corrupt election practices from voting again.

Interstate Recognition of Civil Rights Restoration: When a person’s civil rights, including voting rights, are restored in one state, other states generally recognize this restoration. Therefore, if Bruyette’s civil rights were fully restored under Massachusetts law upon his release, which they appear to be, he might argue that these rights should be recognized in Florida, thereby allowing him to vote and possibly even run for public office.

https://dos.fl.gov/elections/for-voters/voter-registration/constitutional-amendment-4felon-voting-rights/

Legal Documentation and Verification: For Bruyette to leverage Massachusetts’ restoration of his rights in Florida, he would need to provide Florida authorities with documentation proving that his rights have been restored. This documentation would be critical in registering to vote or filing to run for office in Palm Bay. But again, according the Massachusetts’ law, his rights are automatically restored the day he walks out of prison.

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Implications for Running for Office: Florida law stipulates that to be eligible to run for office, an individual must have their civil rights restored. The recognition of Massachusetts’ restoration could potentially clear a path for Bruyette to not only vote but also to pursue a position on the Palm Bay City Council, contingent upon successful verification of his status by Florida officials. According to the Palm Bay City Charter, one of the requirements to qualify for candidacy is that you must be a registered voter in the city of Palm Bay. As of March this year, Mr. Bruyette is registered to vote in Palm Bay.

Challenges and Precedents: While theoretically possible, the process of having another state recognize Massachusetts’ restoration of rights is not guaranteed and could face legal challenges. Florida’s laws and administrative rules concerning out-of-state civil rights restoration have nuances that might still pose hurdles for Bruyette.

During our live interview with Bruyette yesterday, he stated that he registered to vote when he went to the DMV to renew his license. I believe this is where the “maybe” comes into play. When registering to vote, the form specifically asks if you are a convicted felon. An applicant must affirm that they are not a convicted felon, or if they are, that their right to vote has been restored. According to Bruyette, his has. However, in 2011 he was arrested for Battery Domestic Violence. He was acquitted of those charges, but as a result, the parole board in Massachusetts decided it was enough to revoke his parole. Subsequently he was arrested in Brevard County on a FELONY fugitive warrant for extradition.

Michael Bruyette’s case could set a precedent in Florida, testing the state’s flexibility and the of its laws with those of other states like Massachusetts with much more liberal voting requirements. As this situation progresses, it will likely attract attention from legal scholars, civil rights advocates, and policymakers interested in the intersection of state laws governing the civic participation of former felons.

Since the implementation of Florida’s amendment 4 which gave felons the ability to have their voting rights restored, several arrests have taken place across the state by those who voted, but were not eligible. Those arrests highlighted the confusion of the restoration process in Florida.

In 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 524, which among other election integrity measures, also created the Office of Election Crimes and Security (OECS) tasked with conducting preliminary investigations into any irregularities or fraud involving voter registration, voting, candidate or issue petition activities, or any other alleged violations of Florida’s Election Code. 

As Bruyette moves forward with his candidacy, the community of Palm Bay—and potentially legal authorities—will need to consider these complex legal voting issues. This case not only challenges Florida’s electoral laws but also sparks broader discussions about redemption, civil rights, and electoral participation for those who have served their sentences.

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