Felons Shouldn’t Vote and Everyone is a FelonSeptember 6th, 2012
As the voting controversy shuffles forward I thought I’d ask a new question of our voting readers. Do you believe felons should have the right to vote? Some kind of felony disenfranchisement law exists in every State in America. Except Maine and Vermont, every state prohibits felons from voting while in prison. Most have some process whereby a felon’s voting privileges can be restored after a period of probation or parole. Only Kentucky and Virginia impose a lifelong denial of the right to vote to all felons, baring intervention by the Governor. The Supreme Court has upheld felon disenfranchisement statutes based on Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which ordains that States may not deny the vote to citizens, except on the basis of “participation of rebellion, or other crime.” Currently, over 5.3 million otherwise eligible people are denied the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement.
Many of our readers are already participants in rebellion, myself included, but what if I told you that you are already a felon, whether you know it or not? What if I told you that the laws on the books have become so numerous, and so vague, that everyone is technically a felon many times over, even if they haven’t been prosecuted? Well that’s precisely the claim being made in Harvey A. Silverglate’s book “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.”
Harvey A. Silverglate received law degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He is a practicing civil-liberties attorney, specializing in criminal defense and academic freedom. He is also a journalist and writer. His book Three Felonies a Day details the expansion of vague federal laws into many everyday activities that would not normally be seen as criminal. He tells the stories of doctors, accountants, businessmen, political activists, and others who have been targets of federal prosecutions, despite showing no criminal intent, and harming to victim. He exposes how even the most intelligent and informed legal minds cannot reasonably predict which ordinary activities might be construed as felonies. Silverglate estimates that the average person unknowingly commits three criminal offenses per day. Think it’s not possible? Consider these examples from his book.
Diane Huang owned a small business supplying restaurants with imported sea food. Lobsters were usually delivered in cardboard boxes, but one shipment arrived in clear plastic. Thinking little of it, she accepted the package unaware that in Honduras it was illegal to ship lobsters in clear plastic. Diane was convicted of violating the US Lacey Act which makes it criminal for an importer to violate “any foreign law.”
Philip Russell is an attorney who was consulted by a church after they found images of child pornography on one of their computers. Not knowing how the images got there, Russell reasoned that it was illegal to even possess the contraband, and arguably criminal not to destroy them. He decided to destroy the images in the best interest of his client. For this, he was charged with obstruction of justice, but he pleaded it down to a lesser offense.
Lori Drew allegedly impersonated a teenage boy to taunt a young woman on MySpace. The Federal prosecutors charged Lori with violating the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. After the young woman committed suicide the case was used to trumpet anti-cyber bullying legislation defining “cyber bullying” as “any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means.” Silverglate testified that the bill would threaten the expression of almost every blogger, journalist, and publisher on the internet.
In other words forum Trolls might be felons, deleting comments from forum Trolls could be a felony, and not deleting comments from forum Trolls could be a felony.
Silverglate is primarily focused on the zealotus over-reaching of the Department of Justice and the dangers of prosecutors abandoning the common law principle that there can’t be a crime without criminal intent. But for me this contributes an important point to the ongoing debate between voting and non-voting activists about whether or not the democratic process is a legitimate avenue of social change.
If you think felons shouldn’t have the right to vote, do you think you should still have the right to vote? Why? Are you going to seriously argue that only those felons who get caught should lose the right to vote? I’ve never been convicted of anything, and I’m not about to make any confessions, but let’s just say I have absolutely done things which, if caught, would have cost me the right to vote. I am a felon at large. So, should I still vote? Or should I voluntarily abandon that right, being the dangerous criminal I apparently am. Wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me? Isn’t it hypocritical of you?
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