Nonviolent felonies the real culprit in voter suppression

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: What are the long term effects of being convicted of a crime?


The political battle over voting rights in North Carolina has focused in recent years on the issue of photo identification. One side of the political battle wants to require voters to produce valid, photo identification at polling places, while the other side contends that this requirement infringes upon the voting rights of citizens.

Jail Bars Charlotte Criminal Lawyer North Carolina felony AttorneyBoth sides appear to missing or downplaying a larger issue that affects the voting rights of millions of Americans: the suspension of voting rights as a result of nonviolent felony convictions.

It seems these days that nearly everywhere I go, I am asked to identify myself. It is not enough that I state my name; I must prove my identity by producing documentary evidence of my identity. It is never enough that this evidence includes my name and other identifying information; the evidence must include a photo.

The commonness of this production and the wide variety of contexts in which I am asked to prove my identity has struck me as ironic. In all these different places and contexts, I must produce a photo identification; but not to vote?

North Carolina has been a focus of political protests and even a lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Justice over what the Huffington Post called “an array of voting restrictions” passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013. Attorney General Eric Holder called the measures some “of the most restrictive voting measures passed since the civil rights era.”

The law requires voters to produce evidence of their identity in order to vote. That evidence—whether a driver’s license or a state identity card—must include a photo.

The debate over North Carolina’s voting laws can rage on without me. The point of my inquiry here is that the very outspoken critics of North Carolina’s voting laws are missing the forest because of the trees. North Carolina’s voting laws may or may not be suppressing people’s votes; North Carolina’s criminal laws certainly are.

In North Carolina, any person who has been found guilty of or pled guilty to a felony—whether the felony occurred in North Carolina or anywhere, with a few exceptions—is barred from voting. Voting rights can be restored, but felons must first seek to restore their citizenship rights—a sometimes costly and uncertain legal process.

Most people may agree with suspending the voting rights of a murderer, but thankfully our prisons are not filled with murderers. Instead, most persons confined to state and federal prisons—and most felons, for that matter—are nonviolent drug offenders. If you chose a poster child for the American felon, it would be the small-time pot dealer, not Charles Manson.

At least two United States Senators—Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada—share this sentiment. Sen. Paul announced last week that he and Sen. Reid were working on legislation “that would restore the voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences for nonviolent offenses,” according to

This is a step in the right direction. Those concerned with voting rights in North Carolina should petition our state legislature to pass similar legislation.

Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know needs the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828   or find additional resources here.



About the Author

jbradley.jpgBrad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.

Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.

In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.






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