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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. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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