Tag Archives: felons

Lawsuit contends TN election officials wrongfully failing to restore felon voting rights

A lawsuit contends that Tennessee election officials are ignoring court orders to restore voting rights for former felons, reports The Huffington Post.

Nashville-area attorney Elizabeth R. McClellan filed the suit in March against the State Election Commission and its elections coordinator, Mark Goins, on behalf of one former felon, Robert O’Neal, and others who may have been affected by the discord between the courts and the commission. McClellan filed the suit as class-action litigation, although a judge has not yet certified it as such.

…Tennessee is one of just 11 states that permanently disenfranchise citizens from voting. People in the state convicted of murder, treason, rape, voter fraud or sexual offenses can’t petition to have their voting rights restored once they finish their sentence and parole. Any other convicted felons who have paid restitution and outstanding child support may apply to the state Election Commission to have their voting rights restored. Alternatively, they may ask a circuit court judge to hear their case to have their full citizenship rights restored, including voting rights. The state may object on any grounds relevant to character during the court proceedings.

In a 2014 report, the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights estimated that more than 160,000 former felons are currently disenfranchised in the state, with African-Americans disproportionately affected by the state’s voting rights ban.

McClellan’s suit argues that Goins is incorrectly interpreting state law to subvert a judicial order dictating that O’Neal’s citizenship rights be restored.

“They’re holding his right to vote hostage,” she told The Huffington Post. “They seem to believe that they have every right to not enforce the order that my client and similarly situated people like him obtained through the Tennessee judicial citizenship rights statute because those orders are not lawful.”

“In their opinion, the sole person who gets to decide who is eligible to have their voting rights restored is the state coordinator of elections and his office, with no due process, no oversight, no administrative hearing and no appeal,” she continued. “They’re simply allowed to receive orders and conduct their own special investigation, and if they think [the restoration applicants] don’t pass muster, they simply refuse to enforce [the orders].”

The suit asks for mandatory enforcement of orders like the one to restore O’Neal’s rights. It also calls for a determination as to whether the Election Commission has the power to override court orders. McClellan has filed a motion for a default judgment in favor of her case, while the state attorney general’s office has filed a motion to dismiss the suit. A hearing will be held May 22 on the motion to dismiss.

…Goins, who formerly served in the state legislature and now represents Tennessee on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Standards Board, said in 2009 that while the restoration of voting rights may take some time, “it’s not a complicated process.” His office said it could not comment on ongoing litigation.

Politifact Finds Congressman Duncan’s Claim ‘Mostly False’

U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan’s assertion that 90 percent of felonies are committed by people who grew up in fatherless homes has been given a “mostly false” rating by Politifact.
The national fact-checking group looked at a comment the Knoxville Republican congressman made in a letter to a constituent: “Well over 90 percent of felony cases, all over the nation, are committed by defendants who grew up in father-absent households.”
A Duncan spokesman told Politifact that the assertion was based on “knowledge obtained from nearly eight years as a criminal court judge dealing with mostly felony cases.” And Gary Tullock, chief probation counselor, told him the figure was actually 98 percent.
Politifact looked at three studies on the issue, which pegged the number at around 60 percent.
An excerpt:
Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia, said that even if Duncan’s statistic were true, “it would be misleading and incomplete,” because it does not address how many people grew up in father-absent households and did not commit felonies.
“We could point out that 99 percent of felony offenders drank milk as a child, too, but it is easy to see the fallacy here because we have no preconceptions about milk the way we do about father absence,” he said. “Father absence is surely an important concern, but it is only one of a number of risk factors for felony criminal behavior.”
…The data we found supports Duncan’s impression that growing up in a fatherless home is one of the factors that contributes to eventual incarceration. But the quantitative research does not show the near-certain link between felonies and fatherlessness that Duncan portrays. We rate the claim Mostly False.

The full Politifact article is HERE.

Job Fair for Felons Draws 3,000 in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A job fair in Memphis geared toward helping ex-felons get back into the work force has attracted about 3,000 people.
The event on Saturday at the Healing Center church was put together by state Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, as a way to help former felons find jobs.
Camper told The Commercial Appeal that the event was about removing barriers for those who have served time behind bars. She says the turnout was higher than expected “but it shows a need.”
The resumes that were turned in will be evaluated on Oct. 1 by a band of employers who receive tax breaks for hiring ex-felons.

Some Imprisoned Felons Still Legally Voting, Candidate Discovers

Thanks to a foulup by the state Legislature decades ago, nine felony inmates were able to legally vote in Metro Nashville’s elections on Aug. 4, reports Michael Cass in an article that provides background on the quirk in state law that got the attention of a losing City Council candidate.
For one eight-year, four-month period some 30 years ago, criminals could do anything they wanted in the state of Tennessee without losing at least one freedom: the right to vote. That fact now haunts Mary Carolyn Roberts, a candidate for a Metro Council seat representing the West Nashville district where three state prisons are located.
“It’s just unsettling to see nine felons … deciding who our elected officials are,” Roberts said.
Roberts lost to Councilman Buddy Baker by 46 votes last month, but Baker received just nine more votes than he needed to avoid a runoff in the three-candidate District 20 race. Roberts later filed an election challenge, citing votes by nine prisoners — including six who aren’t even incarcerated in Nashville — and by 14 other people who allegedly don’t live in the district.
But Roberts, who said a bench trial in Davidson County Chancery Court has been set for Oct. 3-5, might have to rest most of her hopes on the 14 free voters rather than the nine who were behind bars in prisons from Tiptonville to Mountain City.
Until Jan. 15, 1973, people found guilty of “infamous” crimes in Tennessee forfeited their voting rights. The definition of “infamous” was quirky to the point of ridiculousness: Someone convicted of abusing a female child would be banned from the ballot box, but nothing was said about abusing a male child.
David Collins, the state’s election coordinator from 1977 to 1987, said the legislature inadvertently repealed the law in 1972, effective the following Jan. 15. Starting on that date, no crime would result in disenfranchisement.
…The General Assembly closed the loophole ….effective May 18, 1981
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Bill Would Raise Penalties for Felons With Guns (but it won’t pass)

The Tennessean reports that crimes with guns appear on the increase, leading to a push in the Legislature for increased penalties for use of firearms during commission felonies. The story notes that federal law already provides much longer sentences for use of guns in crimes.
But only a fraction of gun cases, typically no more than 100 or so, makes it to federal court in Middle Tennessee in a given year. Martin said his office has limited resources and tries to focus on the worst offenders and gang cases.
To that end, the proposed state legislation pushed by police and prosecutors would increase sentences in state court of felons found with guns by a year or two in prison for most offenders to two to four years for drug felons and three to six years for violent felons.

Note: The article doesn’t give a bill number or a sponsor, but is apparently referring to SB692/HB1226 by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect. The bill was introduced in February and has never been put on notice for a hearing. Ergo, it’s dead for the year. The first step toward passage would be in the House Judiciary Subcommittee, which is closed for the year.

Stories on Bills You May Not Have Noticed… Welfare Felons, Bicycles & Drug Switching

Welfare Felons
A bill that, as introduced, would have prohibited anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving welfare benefits has passed the Senate in a somewhat softened form.
As amended and approved 32-0 last week, SB96 would allow benefits to continue so long as the felon in question has enrolled in or completed a drug abuse counseling program.
“This bill gives these individuals notice that our charity is extended as long as they enroll and successfully complete treatment,” said sponsor Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville. “The bill, however, puts a stop to endless payments to those who continue to ignore our drug laws and who continue to abuse the system for public assistance.”
The bill is up for a final House vote Monday night with approval expected.
(Note: this post was clipped from an item in a recent ‘legislative notebook’ by yours truly. Bill summary from legislative website (as introduced) is HERE.
Bicycle Safety Bill
Last week, lawmakers approved a bill to require higher standards of due care when driving and to enhance penalties when bicyclists and pedestrians are hurt or killed in crashes involving motor vehicles, reports Richard Locker.
The bill was sought by Bike Walk Tennessee, a statewide advocacy group founded in 2009 to improve conditions and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
(Note: It’s SB1171. Bill summary page from legislative website HERE.)
Drug Switching
Amid the Tennessee legislature’s attempts this year to rein in prescription drug use is a bill regulating so-called “therapeutic substitutions” of medications. The National Consumers League (NCL) calls the practice “drug switching,” reports Hank Hayes.
NCL says the practice involves replacing a patient’s prescription drugs with chemically different drugs expected to have the same clinical effect. But problems with the practice arise in patient groups using antidepressants, and cardiovascular, epileptic and stomach medications, according to NCL.
(Note: The bill is HB716, which has been sent to ‘summer study,’ according to the legislature’s website. Bill summary HERE.