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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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