Restoring Civil Rights for Convicted Felons

Convicted felons lose more than their freedom; they lose many civil rights as well. Serving time in prison for a felony is not the only punishment for those convicted. Rights that are granted to each U.S. citizen may be withheld from convicted felons while they serve prison time or for the rest of their lives.

Photo by: Kelley Minars

Photo by: Kelley Minars

Right to Vote

The right to vote is something that every U.S. citizen is granted as soon as they turn 18 years of age. Being convicted of a felony will suspend this right temporarily in most states. According the Title 20A Chapter 2 Section 101.5 of the Utah State Code, “Each convicted felon’s right to register to vote and to vote in an election is restored when:
(a) the felon is sentenced to probation;
(b) the felon is granted parole; or
(c) the felon has successfully completed the term of incarceration to which the felon was sentenced. “

Hence, as long as you’ve served your time or been released, your right to vote will be restored.

Right to Hold Office

Watch yourself Mr. Mayor, cross your “t’s” and dot your “i’s” city council members. Getting a felony charge loses the convicted person’s right to hold office. In order for someone to hold office again, they not only have to serve the time given them for their crimes, they either have to have their record expunged or wait a decade to run for office again. This doesn’t apply in every case however. According to Utah State Code, “ an individual who has been convicted of a grievous sexual offence,[…] against a child, may not hold the office of State Board of Education member or local school board member.”

Right to Serve on a Jury

While many U.S. citizens detest getting a jury summons in the mail, a convicted felon that has been at the mercy of a jury before may wish to have that right later in life. Maybe they were displeased with the way the jury handled the case and evidence and wish to be a better juror for someone else if given the chance. Perhaps they were satisfied with the jury system and wish to be a part of it themselves someday. Unfortunately, the majority of states exclude convicted felons for life from participating in a jury. Fortunately, in the state of Utah, convicted felons are restored their right to serve on a jury if they’ve had their record expunged.

Photo by: Richard Loyal French

Photo by: Richard Loyal French

Right to Bear Arms

In 18 U.S. Code § 922 it states “It shall be unlawful for any person […] who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year; […] to possess […] any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition […]
If a convicted felon disobeys this law by being in possession of a firearm is looking at an additional 10 years behind bars. Although this law sounds absolute, there are ways for convicts to restore their gun rights. The only way for a convicted felon to go about this is to have their record expunged. Unfortunately, as gun laws tighten, restoring gun rights to convicted felons tighten as well. For instance, there are times when records can be expunged for those wishing to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury, but there is will be an exception with restoring the right to bear arms. This is most common with violent crimes. Capital crimes, sex crimes against children, first and second degree forcible felonies, as well as repeat felons or those who have already had their records expunged before.

Seek Legal Counsel

If you or are a convicted felon who has finished serving the required time for your crimes and has waited to allotted amount of time for “cleansing”, speak with an attorney about restoring your civil rights and returning to society with the equal rights given to all U.S. citizens.

High Schooler Tweet, Suspension Raises First Amendment Issues

The case of a Minnesota high school student who is suing his former school as the result of a suspension has come back into the light at the online site of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. While the Twitter incident which led to the student suspension occurred at the beginning of 2014, the circumstances surrounding the incident raise important questions about not only the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but also about how to approach behavior from a legal standpoint in what is still the relatively new world of social media. The Power of Just Two Words In January of 2014, Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn was on the last leg of his high school career. As a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 G.P.A., captain of both the football and basketball teams at his high school, and a student who had already received his letter of acceptance to North Dakota State University, the future was looking bright for Sagehorn. Then he made a mistake common to many high school students—and adults for that matter. He made a joke online which was both false and potentially damaging to another party, raising questions of the bounds of the First Amendment. In an online confession group which Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the school didn’t even know existed, Sagehorn posted a two word response when someone asked if he had ever “made out” a 28-year-old female gym teacher. Sagehorn’s response was “actually, yeah.” According to the Star Tribune, even though Sagehorn admitted this was just a joke, approximately a week after the incident, he was called into the principal’s office and suspended for five days. Principal Pierskalla told Sagehorn’s mother that Reid was suspended because he “damaged a teacher’s reputation.” The five days turned to a ten day suspension, which turned into a nearly two-month suspension. This additional suspension was justified by saying that Sagehorn was guilty of “threatening, intimidating, or assault of a teacher, administrator, or other staff member.” Additionally, the Rogers police chief, Jeff Beahen, said they were looking into potential felony charges of defamation; however, within a few days, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said there would be no charges. In June, after graduating from another high school, Sagehorn filed the suit against the Elk River School District and Police Chief Beahen, as well as Superintendent Bezek, Principal Pierskalla, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, and police liason Stephen Sarazin. The 31-page suit claims that Sagehorn’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and that his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’” Sagehorn’s suit seeks monetary damages, policy changes to protect other students, and expungement of Sagehorn’s suspension from his record. Is a Tweet Cause for Suspension or a Case for the First Amendment? Several questions arise, primarily brought up by Sagehorn’s attorneys when it comes to this case. Even though Sagehorn publicly apologized and admonished himself for the actions—stating that “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter … Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”—intentions don’t always come into play when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. However, attorneys for Sagehorn believe the school and law enforcement reactions when it came to the actions of a minor are very important. Regarding their justification of Sagehorn’s actions being “threatening” and “disrupting,” Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment, was quoted in a KARE 11 article as saying, “The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here … [T]he only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.” The lawsuit also takes issue with Police Chief Beahan’s claim that Sagehorn’s conduct was like “crying or yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying, ‘I got a bomb,’ on a plane,” two instances where the protections of the First Amendment are questioned. However, the suit goes on to say that Sagehorn’s comments couldn’t be compared to those examples, and that in addition to a violation of the First Amendment, his privacy was invaded considering the actions occurred outside of school hours, off school property, and on his personal computer. When Superintendent Bezek found out about the lawsuit, he was surprised. However, he went on record with the Star Tribune as saying that he believed it’s hard to keep up with the technological world. “Kids are living in a world without consequences and boundaries,” Bezek said. Bezek went on to say that he had just returned from a superintendent’s convention when he found about the lawsuit. The primary topic of the convention was “staying out of trouble with social media.” Bezek said he wasn’t sure if the rules in place today were appropriate for the “game” kids were playing with technology. Professor Levine would agree with Bezek in this instance, saying that cases like Sagehorn’s were occurring across the country. “I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at the cases again because there hasn’t been any kind [of] definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” Levine said. According to Sagehorn’s attorneys, as of December, the Elk River School District and Rogers Police Department had answered the complaint and filed motions to dismiss.

Photo: Steindy/Wikimedia Commons

The case of a Minnesota high school student who is suing his former school as the result of a suspension has come back into the light at the online site of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. While the Twitter incident which led to the student suspension occurred at the beginning of 2014, the circumstances surrounding the incident raise important questions about not only the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but also about how to approach behavior from a legal standpoint in what is still the relatively new world of social media.

The Power of Just Two Words

In January of 2014, Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn was on the last leg of his high school career. As a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 G.P.A., captain of both the football and basketball teams at his high school, and a student who had already received his letter of acceptance to North Dakota State University, the future was looking bright for Sagehorn.

Then he made a mistake common to many high school students—and adults for that matter. He made a joke online which was both false and potentially damaging to another party, raising questions of the bounds of the First Amendment.

In an online confession group which Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the school didn’t even know existed, Sagehorn posted a two word response when someone asked if he had ever “made out” a 28-year-old female gym teacher. Sagehorn’s response was “actually, yeah.”

According to the Star Tribune, even though Sagehorn admitted this was just a joke, approximately a week after the incident, he was called into the principal’s office and suspended for five days. Principal Pierskalla told Sagehorn’s mother that Reid was suspended because he “damaged a teacher’s reputation.”

The five days turned to a ten day suspension, which turned into a nearly two-month suspension. This additional suspension was justified by saying that Sagehorn was guilty of “threatening, intimidating, or assault of a teacher, administrator, or other staff member.” Additionally, the Rogers police chief, Jeff Beahen, said they were looking into potential felony charges of defamation; however, within a few days, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said there would be no charges.

In June, after graduating from another high school, Sagehorn filed the suit against the Elk River School District and Police Chief Beahen, as well as Superintendent Bezek, Principal Pierskalla, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, and police liason Stephen Sarazin. The 31-page suit claims that Sagehorn’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and that his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’”

Sagehorn’s suit seeks monetary damages, policy changes to protect other students, and expungement of Sagehorn’s suspension from his record.

Is a Tweet Cause for Suspension or a Case for the First Amendment?

Several questions arise, primarily brought up by Sagehorn’s attorneys when it comes to this case.

Even though Sagehorn publicly apologized and admonished himself for the actions—stating that “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter … Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”—intentions don’t always come into play when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. However, attorneys for Sagehorn believe the school and law enforcement reactions when it came to the actions of a minor are very important.

Regarding their justification of Sagehorn’s actions being “threatening” and “disrupting,” Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment, was quoted in a KARE 11 article as saying, “The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here … [T]he only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.”

The lawsuit also takes issue with Police Chief Beahan’s claim that Sagehorn’s conduct was like “crying or yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying, ‘I got a bomb,’ on a plane,” two instances where the protections of the First Amendment are questioned. However, the suit goes on to say that Sagehorn’s comments couldn’t be compared to those examples, and that in addition to a violation of the First Amendment, his privacy was invaded considering the actions occurred outside of school hours, off school property, and on his personal computer.

When Superintendent Bezek found out about the lawsuit, he was surprised. However, he went on record with the Star Tribune as saying that he believed it’s hard to keep up with the technological world.

“Kids are living in a world without consequences and boundaries,” Bezek said.

Bezek went on to say that he had just returned from a superintendent’s convention when he found about the lawsuit. The primary topic of the convention was “staying out of trouble with social media.” Bezek said he wasn’t sure if the rules in place today were appropriate for the “game” kids were playing with technology.

Professor Levine would agree with Bezek in this instance, saying that cases like Sagehorn’s were occurring across the country.

“I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at the cases again because there hasn’t been any kind [of] definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” Levine said.

According to Sagehorn’s attorneys, as of December, the Elk River School District and Rogers Police Department had answered the complaint and filed motions to dismiss.

Questionable DNA Evidence Gathering Upheld by Supreme Court

Questionable DNA evidence gathering upheld

Photo: Public Domain Pictures

Most people know that if a crime has been committed and fingerprints are left behind, detectives can inspect those fingerprints to determine if you are a match and therefore committed the crime. Other evidence commonly gathered may be blood, saliva, or semen. However, a recent case in Maryland brought the issue of DNA evidence gathering under the spotlight. In the case, after a suspect voluntarily came into a police station for questioning on a rape case, the police swabbed the armrests of the chair he was sitting in for skin cells to test DNA, leading to his conviction. The man took his case to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction. He appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), but they denied the request for review.

The Case was Closed, but was it Lawful?

According to an article in ARS Technica, in 2006 a Maryland woman was raped in home. Police interviewed approximately 20 suspects over the course of two years in an attempt to locate the perpetrator. Each of the suspects voluntarily provided DNA samples to the police, but none of them matched the genetic material from the crime scene.

However, Glenn Raynor, a former classmate of the victim and man who matched the physical description of the suspect, refused to provide a sample of his DNA. However, he did voluntarily come into the police station, spoke with police, and stated that he was not the rapist.

After Raynor left, police swabbed the armrests of the chair where he had been sitting. They were able to gather skin cell DNA evidence which they used to link Raynor to the crime scene. In his trial, Raynor moved to suppress the DNA evidence, claiming it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant. In order to obtain a warrant, there must be probable cause, and Raynor claimed they didn’t have the probable cause necessary.

The DNA evidence was allowed in the case, and Raynor was sentenced to life in prison. He took the case to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction on a 4-3 vote, and on Monday, March 2, without any comment, SCOTUS refused to review the case.

Concerns Regarding Questionable DNA Evidence Gathering

In addition to Raynor taking his case to the Supreme Court, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also filed an amicus [friend of the court] brief, urging the Supreme Court to accept the case.

According to an article on the EFF website, they are claiming that DNA evidence used in cases like Raynor v. Maryland are violating people’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy regarding their personal genetic material.

“As human beings, we shed hundreds of thousands of skin and hair cells daily, with each cell containing information about who we are, where we come from, and who we will be,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch said. “The court must recognize that allowing police the limitless ability to collect and search genetic material will usher in a future where DNA may be collected from any person at any time, entered into and checked against DNA databases, and used to conduct pervasive surveillance.”

They went on to say that just because the cost of DNA evidence analysis technology is dropping doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be used more. They pointed to the fact that in some cases, DNA “can allow police to identify a person’s relatives, turning family members into inadvertent ‘genetic informants’ on each other.”

In 2013, in a similar case from Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that police may take a DNA sample from someone who has been arrested without the need for warrant. However, Raynor’s attorney, Byron Warnken, said the same shouldn’t apply to his client because Raynor was not under arrest at the time.

In the Maryland Court of Appeals, the dissenting judges said the case of Raynor v. Maryland set a dangerous precedent.

“The Majority’s approval of such police procedure means, in essence, that a person desiring to keep her DNA profile private, must conduct her public affairs in a hermetically sealed hazmat suit. Moreover, the Majority opinion will likely have the consequence that many people will be reluctant to go to the police station to voluntarily provide information about crimes for fear that they, too, will be added to the CODIS database…. The Majority’s holding means that a person can no longer vote, participate in a jury, or obtain a driver’s license, without opening up his genetic material for state collection and codification. Unlike DNA left in the park or a restaurant, these are all instances where the person has identified himself to the government authority.”

However, the majority for the alluded to the concept that leaving behind DNA is like leaving behind a fingerprint and is therefore fair game.

“In the end, we hold that DNA testing of the 13 identifying junk loci within genetic material, not obtained by means of a physical intrusion into the person’s body, is no more a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, than is the testing of fingerprints, or the observation of any other identifying feature revealed to the public—visage, apparent age, body type, skin color.”