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Will realignment affect some voting rights in California?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Santa Cruz criminal defense lawyers know that realignment has allowed many people who have been convicted of a low level felony in California to serve time in a county jail instead of state prison. The League of Women Voters have filed a civil lawsuit in the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco that seeks to allow citizens who serve their time at the county level to retain their right to vote.

Generally, California law bars convicted felons from voting while they are incarcerated. Traditionally, people held in county jails in California are not prohibited from voting. The California constitution prohibits voting by those citizens "imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony."

The recent lawsuit essentially says that people sent to jail are not "imprisoned" and therefore the California Constitution does not prohibit their right to vote. Similarly, under realignment inmates sent to county jail for low-level felony offenses are generally released into a program called "post-release community supervision, and are therefore not released on parole.

The California Secretary of State's office recently issued a memo that reportedly states the government will not allow people sentenced to county jail, or who are on supervision under realignment will be ineligible to vote under California election law. The memo reportedly states, despite the plain language in the Constitution, that for the purposes of voting rights it should not matter where people convicted of a felony "serve their felony sentences in county jail instead of state prison or ... their release from prison is labeled something other than 'parole."'

The same appeals court ruled in 2006 that California law prohibits voting only by those "imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony," under the plain language of the state Constitution.

Source: Associated Press via Press-Telegram, "Case urges state to let prisoners cast votes," Don Thompson, March 7, 2012

Tagged in: felonies
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