Criminal Convictions & Voting Rights

There is always some confusion when I talk to people about the loss of voting rights after a felony conviction. The Mississippi Constitution, Article 12, Section 241 sets out a list of crimes that automatically causes a person to lose their right to vote in State or certain Federal elections upon a conviction. These crimes are murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretenses, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy. Because some of the definitions are not clear the Mississippi Attorney General has issued a legal opinion adding other crimes to the list that take away your voting rights, these are: extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, larceny, receiving stolen property, robbery, timber larceny, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rape and car jacking.

The list of crimes above are the only ones that should prohibit you from registering and voting. If you have a drug possession conviction, or any other crime, including all misdemeanors, you have the right to vote. If you are being denied that right you should seek legal counsel. If you register and vote and you have one of the prohibited convictions listed above, then you can be convicted of another felony and given jail time and a fine.

Many States are moving to change their laws by restoring people the right to vote automatically after they have paid for their crime in the terms demanded by the law. For example, if you got a conviction, served your jail time, and finished probation, some states allow you the right to vote again. The idea that the right to vote should be permanently taken away is old and outdated. I have always advocated that in the majority of criminal cases we should stop stigmatizing people so much. This idea that the felony conviction “brands you for life” was a feudal concept brought over from England and it has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any usefulness. There are certain crimes that deserve special treatment,special punishment, and that require special supervision of the person convicted for the protection of our communities. The vast majority of crimes do not need this treatment and we should learn a new approach to dealing with people in this country. I suspect there is not a person who reads this Blog Post who doesn’t know a friend, relative, neighbor, or someone else who made a mistake and got a conviction. Remember that “good people can make bad choices but that does not make them bad people.”

If you get one of the convictions that stops you from voting it is not easy to get your rights restored. This can only be done by a Governor’s Pardon, a Governor’s Executive Order Restoring Civil Rights, or by asking the Mississippi Legislature to pass a bill of suffrage restoring the civil rights. This just seems a little bit too much these days. I sure there are plenty of people who at some point in their life picked up a felony bad check or shoplifting while they were young. It makes no sense to have a law that deprives them of the right to vote forever.

I would like to know what my readers think? There are many collateral consequences of convictions. Many do not make sense. People make mistakes. Isn’t a major point of the Christian religion centered on forgiveness. Shouldn’t that extend to every aspect of a person’s life. Think about this and let me hear from you.

Merrida Coxwell is managing partner of Coxwell & Associates, a Mississippi law firm that focuses on criminal defense, serious person injury, and financial fraud. In the past attorneys at Coxwell & Assocaites have handled complex injury cases and obtained millions in verdicts and settlements for injured and people who were defrauded. The attorneys have also handled almost every type of criminal offense, representing the past Mayor of Jackson, a Miss. Supreme Court Judge, and hundreds of other citizens.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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