Oct 3, 2008

defining felons in the Nov/Dec LD resolution

When it comes to the Nov/Dec LD resolution, defining "felons" is, of course, vital to the way the debate runs. Since the resolution is focused on "democratic societies," and not on the United States in particular, it's important to note that the definition must apply outside an American legal framework. Still, since the U.S. has the most comprehensive disenfranchisement among modern democracies, we can examine the multiple ways felons lose the franchise in different states.

In "Lock Them up and Throw away the Vote," found in the winter 2005 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law, Robin Nunn delineates at least four potential ways felons are disenfranchised.
Maine and Vermont are the only states without some form of felon disenfranchisement. The remaining forty-eight states can be divided into one of four disenfranchisement practices: (1) disenfranchise prison inmates, (2) disenfranchise felon offenders who are incarcerated or on parole, (3) disenfranchise felon offenders serving any type of sentence (incarcerated, on parole, or probation), or (4) disenfranchise felon offenders after completion of sentence. Specifically, in the fourth category, fourteen states mandate that exoffenders who have fully served their sentences remain disenfranchised for a certain period of time, usually a minimum of five years after they are released. Seven of these states deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders who have completed their sentences. As a result, nearly three-quarters of this disenfranchised population is not in prison. Rather, these individuals are on probation or parole or have completed their sentences.
Though this list concerns the system in the United States, the affirmative can argue that the negative has to defend at least the first three categories, which are found in some form all over the globe. (Regarding the fourth, the United States is unique in disenfranchising ex-felons.)

Negatives should watch out for affirmatives using a dictionary definition that includes no time limit, and doesn't presume ex-felon status. Consider, for example, dictionary.com:
1. Law. a person who has committed a felony.
An affirmative using this all-inclusive definition would try to pin the fourth category (above) on the negative, and make disenfranchisement permanent, which is much more difficult for the negative to defend.

Even Black's Law (eight edition) merely defines a felon as "a person who has been convicted of a felony." Without an expiration date, the negative is in trouble.

The key, then, for the Neg, is to differentiate felons and ex-felons, and declare category four out-of-bounds in the debate.

The Neg needs to have a reasonable definition of "felony," too, in order to stave off any potential Aff argument that felonies vary too widely in different democratic societies, making disenfranchisement unjust.

Any other definitions worth considering? Post them in the comments.


Sexy Beast said...

Hey Jim, could the aff define felons so that its people who've already served their time, and/or make an this observation?

I would like to observe that criminals who are in prison are completely stripped of their freedoms and are facing retribution. Every state besides Vermont and Maine deny felons the right to vote while in prison, so my burden in this round is to prove that once criminals return to society as felons, they ought to retain the right to vote.

...Or something like that. What do you think? Is it convincing, or is it conditionally affirming? Thanks.

Jim Anderson said...

It's an interesting take, but I don't think that'll work; the other side'll say your definition is abusive, conditionally affirming in the light of the clear definition they'll offer in exchange. If a currently imprisoned person isn't a felon, no one is.

Anonymous said...

How could the neg define felon so that it
a) has a time limit

and b) is a definite thing [e.g. not "convicted" b/c this could leave some doubt as to whether the person is actually a felon]
thx a lot

would it work to say something like:
felon: an imprisoned person who committed a felony
and justify it by saying that linguistically we have the word felon and ex-felon because they are two different concepts and that if the framers had intended the res. to include ex-felons they would have said so?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, good question. I think the focus should be on the word "retain." It allows for a simple explanation.

1. A person incarcerated for a felony is a felon.
2. To "retain" is to keep.
3. Therefore, if a felon is to retain the right to vote, a person incarcerated for a felony will keep the right to vote.

Thus, the Neg can point out that the affirmative must include prisoners, and not just ex-felons. Otherwise, the Aff is conditionally affirming, which should be an automatic Neg ballot.

aloha92 said...

Hey Jim, for my neg, I want to write my case around the theme that felons on parole, probation, released from jail, etc. can vote, and simply that felons in jail should not. If the affirmative defines "felon" as a broad term, like you have from Black's Law, would my negative case work?

Jim Anderson said...

aloha92, I don't know if you'd want to make that the *only* theme of your case, but it's certainly worth including in your arguments. You should acquire an article or two (from valid legal sources) to point out a distinction between felons and ex-felons, and to defeat any overly broad definitions offered by the Aff.

aloha92 said...

Thanks. Do you have any suggestions for some sites/sources to find that info?

Jim Anderson said...

ProQuest--or even Googling "ex-felon" brings up several academic / legal sources that draw a distinction.

F. Ivie said...

Hey, Jim, I greatly appreciate this, very helpful. I need a few examples of the ambivalence of the term "felony," i.e. a trivial matter that may be considered a felony in one state and not in another state. Where could I find these?

Jim Anderson said...

F. Ivie, there's a quote by Kenneth Starr in oral argument before the Supreme Court [Nixon v. U.S.]: "Senator Mathias in some reflections in the mid-1980's said there are some strange felonies on the books. In Idaho, it is a felony to poison a neighbor's cat." (Apparently the same is true in Texas.

I'm sure there are many other examples out there.

JV Joe said...

On a similar note, and although I know that it is a bit late:

Florida: 2 hands on a manatee is felony, 1 hand is not

California: Mow Lawn without Landscaping Permit

Washington: 3 misdemeanors=1 felony