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Voting rights: Tennessee Man Convicted of Murder No Longer Infamous

by Ed Lyon

Tennessee places a great deal of reverence on voting rights. The state’s citizens do not automatically lose their voting rights upon conviction of a felony unless that crime is among those on a list qualifying the convictee "infamous" or ineligible to vote.

Randy L. May was convicted in a Tennessee court of first-degree murder and assault intending to commit first-degree murder. The court declared May infamous, resulting from his murder conviction.

Only after May’s conviction did Tennessee’s legislature include first-degree murder as an infamous crime.

He sought relief via Tennessee’s habeas corpus jurisprudence. Both the district and appeal courts denied May relief, the latter holding that retroactive application of infamy was permissible.

Tennessee’s Supreme Court granted review and disagreed, reversing the appeal and district court’s holdings and restoring May’s voting rights. “The right to vote ... qualifies today as a fundamental liberty ... and, when illegally abridged, should be restored through the 'Great Writ.’" The court also held that a statute that retroactively declares “all felonies infamous crimes” is not permissible and may not be retroactively applied.

See: May v. Carlton, 245 S.W.3d 340 (Tenn. 2008)

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Related legal case

May v. Carlton