The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

High Court Dodges Cases on Felony Voting, Police Interrogations

by Brendan Coyne

Nov. 17, 2005 – The Supreme Court Monday opted to stay out of two civil-liberties-related criminal cases. The justices decided not to hear a felon-voting-rights case, and they dismissed without comment Maryland’s challenge to a lower court ruling about statements made during interrogation. Both decisions left lower court rulings intact.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the latter case, Maryland v Blake, which came about after a lower court found that Annapolis, Maryland police acted improperly in encouraging a murder suspect to answer questions after he had requested an attorney. Stating only that the state’s challenge was "improvidently granted," the court dismissed the case.

The ruling leaves open the question of exactly how arresting officers should act when a suspect speaks after declaring a desire for legal counsel – a question which the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) sought an answer to in papers filed in the case.

In a separate action, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal to a Florida law that permanently bans felony convicts from voting. The law is opposed by a number of civil liberties groups, lawyers’ associations and voting rights supporters.

The Florida arm of the American Civil Liberties Union strongly condemned the court’s action on the case, Johnson v Bush, charging that the denial "leaves in place – for now – a system that has brought about the most severe crisis in civil and voting rights in our state."

While nine other states permanently bar some felons from voting without individualized government intervention, only Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia share the distinction of permanently stripping the right from all convicted felons without specific action in individual cases, according to data compiled by the Right to Vote Campaign to End Felony Disenfranchisement. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack recently issued an executive order restoring the prerogative to vote upon completion of a felon’s sentence.

The Brennan Center, a progressive legal resource center, represented over 600,000 Floridians in the case, arguing that the 160-year-old state law violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act and both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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