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"Reason of Insanity" Men Get Voting Rights Back. Right Idea?

"Reason of Insanity" Men Get Voting Rights Back. Right Idea?

The Rhode Island Board of Elections has reinstated the voting rights of two men who had them taken away last year. The men were found two decades ago to be not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. However, they now live in a psychiatric center and neither man had ever been released from mental care custody.

Rhode Island law says both convicted felons and those “lawfully adjudicated to be non compos mentis” — or sane — aren't allowed to vote. Lawyers for the men appealed for their right to ballot on the grounds that the finding of insanity applied only to “a brief period of time” and that “since it covers a brief period of time, it didn’t seem to persuade the Board of Elections that the men should lose their right to vote.” Let's remember that the "brief period of time" was long enough to let them escape being charged with murder, though they killed four people between them.

The subject of felons getting to vote came up when we were all watching Recount — the Florida felon list played heavily into the plot. Is the right to vote something that should be taken away permanently? Do we need a more nuanced system where those convicted of federal felonies could re-earn voting rights? Or should we be even more selective as to who gets to pick our leaders? Was Rhode Island right to reinstate the rights of the mentally ill men?


snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
Loose Tenon- You said, "Should they get to vote, hell, no they shouldn't. Mentally ill people confined to an institution struggle to exist." This is really a 1950's school of thought where people were locked up in institutions with little chance of rehabilitation. Now, most of the people (not counting criminals like these men) are sent there to be treated, and yes, return to society when they are more stable. They are not in fact medicated only in order to placate the staff (please for the love of god tell me you don't work in a hospital...) It is not an easy process. If I seem a little sensitive, yes, it's because it is a personal issue, my mother has been institutionalized three times over the last 25 years, and has spent the last seven years out in the world, working and volunteering. This is the longest she has been stable. The longest she spent in a psychiatric ward was a year. I think of her now as being in remission, like you would think of a cancer patient being cancer-free, though the illness can return. I also interned with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to raise awareness, but it definitely seems like people will never be educated about this issue. In law school I have learned that people who use the defense of "not guilty by reason of insanity" are almost NEVER successful, and it is extremely rare that a defense attorney would even attempt this defense. Also, the law is really at odds with how to deal with mentally ill criminals, nothing is clear cut, which is why I am really wondering how these men were found competent enough to stand trial, yet were institutionalized. Sure, as far as voting goes I think that as a society we can agree in VERY limited cases that some people, such as felons should lose that right. We are already depriving them of the right to liberty, so it would be strange to argue that they must have all of the same rights that the average citizen would have. What is especially confusing in the case of mentally ill criminals is that they may not get the typical 20 year sentence for murder that a normal criminal would get. When that felon would be released, he would regain the right to vote. If you were indefinitely institutionalized after you committed your crime, what would be the time period in which you'd regain your vote? Also, I obviously got very offended by any sentiment that "teh crazies shouldn't vote!!" anyway. Whew...that was a book....
CitizenSugar CitizenSugar 9 years
Hi Snowbunny11, You're absolutely right, the story is complicated--I just gave a taste of this specific case here because it caught my attention and made me think about who, and for what reason, deny the right to vote. It's definitely a topic broader even than just this story of the two men in Rhode Island.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Oh, and Snowbunny, you are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too sensitive. CS was not calling anyone crazy and as for biased reporting you've got to be kidding. This site and its commenters are some of the most unbiased writing I've come across on the internet. I think it's okay to disagree, but don't shoot the messenger.
Brendelwoman Brendelwoman 9 years
Oh boy.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
And the people who voted for Ron Paul were sane? Please, if you're sane enough to find the polling place, I say you're sane enough to vote.
Loose-Tenon Loose-Tenon 9 years
Did I miss something? I didn't see where they were called crazy!! Should they get to vote, hell, no they shouldn't. Mentally ill people confined to an institution struggle to exist. Most are medicated in order to live with other patients and staff. Why in the world would we offer them the chance to vote when the probably don't even know what it entails
Jazz-Z Jazz-Z 9 years
[Snow] that was good. I'll have to get more saavy on whether the political figures who serve five days in prison for killing their wives or secretaries are allowed to vote when they get out...I may be exaggerating a bit(I hope), but one has to wonder, are they afraid these two men are going to vote Democrat or Republican? If Democrat, maybe they should let the whole asylum vote. To think I ended my 15-year moretorium on voting after 9-11 to vote for what I thought was the lesser of two idiots. Now I can only question my own sanity.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
Yeah, Jazz, there are plenty of white women out there who could vote for me if I didn't vote. I'm sure we all vote the same. Just like crazy people all vote the same. Or better yet, I could get my husband to vote for me! Citizen sugar- your mocking tone in this post was not at all appreciated. I really would have expected a lot more professional reaction to this Times article, which might be why people read the Times for more unbiased news that won't refer to mentally ill people as "crazy." This story is a lot more complex than you are making it seem. When you are found not guilty by reason of insanity, and you are taken to a mental institution you are not punished in the same way that a normal felon is. Normal felons get sentences, people who plead not guilty on the basis of insanity are using an affirmative defense, basically, this is not "getting away with murder" it's admitting to the crime, but also saying there were mitigating circumstances, such as self-defense, or insanity. If you have a mental illness and you have plead not guilty by reason of insanity, you may not even get a trial, you are sent to a psychiatric ward indefinitely. I am really surprised that these men were found competent enough to stand trial, but still sent to a psychiatric ward. There is something missing in the Times article that would explain how that works. I don't think your voting rights should be on a case by case basis. I think it's okay if you deny voting to a class of people, such as felons, but then you need a reasonable, consistent process in order to allow them to gain their right back in a certain amount of time. Also, mentally ill people should certainly be allowed to vote, because many people control their illnesses with medication, and like people who treat their cancer with radiation they should still be considered people. I am all for letting people with cancer vote too.
stephley stephley 9 years
Because of the murder element of this story, I feel uncomfortable yeah, forgive them, but generally, I think it should be on a case by case basis for felonies and insanity. Sometimes people straighten themselves out and society should be willing to forgive and acknowledge the change and move on. But it should also have the option of saying no.
Jazz-Z Jazz-Z 9 years
I'm sure their two votes will dictate the winning candidate. When you get down to it there are plenty of crazy people out there who are not incarcerated who choose not to vote, so they could just stand in for them if others feel they shouldn't be allowed to stand for themselves.
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