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Justices rule man not disenfranchised under the Infamous Crimes Clause

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The Indiana Supreme Court hesitantly answered Thursday a certified question from the federal court as to whether misdemeanor battery is an “infamous crime” under Article II, Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution.

In David R. Snyder v. J. Bradley King and Trent Deckard, in their Official Capacities as Co-Directors of the Indiana Election Division; and Linda Silcott and Pam Brunette, No. 94S00-1101-CQ-50, David Snyder filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Indiana, alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act and other federal laws, as well as the Infamous Crimes Clause of the Indiana Constitution, which gives the General Assembly power to disenfranchise anyone convicted of an “infamous crime.” Snyder was convicted of Class A misdemeanor battery and informed by the St. Joseph County Board of Voter Registration that his registration had been canceled in accordance with state law. The General Assembly has enacted statutes under which a person convicted of a crime and sentenced to an executed term of imprisonment cannot vote while incarcerated. After his release, he never attempted to re-register as he is allowed and instead filed a lawsuit.

The justices took U.S. Judge William Lawrence’s certified question and reframed it as whether misdemeanor battery is an “infamous crime” under Article II, Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution, and if not, whether cancellation of Snyder’s voter registration violated the Indiana Constitution.

In the 30-page opinion, Justice Frank Sullivan explored the history of infamous crimes and previous caselaw to determine that Snyder’s conviction isn’t considered “infamous” under the Infamous Crimes Clause. The justices determined that whether a crime is infamous for purposes of the clause depends not on the nature of the punishment, but on the nature of the crime itself. They refused to make a bright-line rule that all misdemeanors would not fall under the Infamous Crimes Clause.

“We hold that an infamous crime is one involving an affront to democratic governance or the public administration of justice such that there is a reasonable probability that a person convicted of such a crime poses a threat to the integrity of elections,” wrote Sullivan. “An infamous crime may include some felonies and some misdemeanors, but crimes marked by gross moral turpitude alone are not sufficient to render a crime infamous for purposes of the Infamous Crimes Clause.”

The justices held that the Indiana Constitution wasn’t violated when Snyder was not allowed to vote during his incarceration.

“We hold that the Indiana General Assembly has authority under its general police power to disenfranchise persons incarcerated upon conviction of a crime, so long as the disenfranchisement lasts only for the duration of incarceration. That the statute cites the Infamous Crimes Clause as the basis for its enactment, instead of the general police power, does not render it invalid. This language in no way affects the purpose or effect of the statute, and we will not invalidate an otherwise constitutional statute merely because it includes an unnecessary statement of authority,” he wrote.

Sullivan also noted that the “troubling posture” of the case warranted further comment about addressing an issue of state constitutional law in the context of a certified question. He pointed out that Snyder filed his Section 1983 claim in federal court, which depends in large part on an alleged violation of state constitutional law. State courts have concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts over these claims, but by filing in the federal court and asking that Lawrence certify the question to the Indiana Supreme Court, Snyder has “successfully circumvented the normal course of litigation in Indiana courts,” wrote Sullivan.

The high court cautioned future litigants to be aware of the pitfalls of certified questions when deciding whether to proceed in state court or in federal court.
 

 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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