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infamous-crimesVoters are hearing the words “infamous crimes” thrown around a lot lately. Why should voters care? Just what are infamous crimes, anyway? Why are infamous crimes part of Issue 1 on our ballot?

“Infamous crimes” can be defined many ways, but Arkansas state law and the state Constitution, of course, govern how state courts handle the topic. Voters should care because, according to our Arkansas state Constitution, individuals guilty of infamous crimes are not eligible to serve in public office.

Unfortunately, the state Constitution doesn’t contain a sufficiently clear definition of the term, leading to some ambiguity at the state Supreme Court level as more and more cases of various “infamous crimes” are landing in court.

Dan Greenberg of The Arkansas Institute explained:

Under the state Constitution, someone who is found to have committed an “infamous crime” is banned for lifetime from holding public office. The constitutional provision covers those who have been found guilty of “embezzlement of public money, bribery, forgery, or other infamous crime.”

The [state Supreme] Court has found that what makes a crime an “infamous crime” is that it contains elements of “deceit or dishonesty,” so that the public trust might be violated if someone with a record of deceit or dishonesty continues to serve.

In recent cases, the state Supreme Court has defined “infamous crimes” to include those that have an effect on the integrity of office and impact a person’s ability to serve as an elected official, so Issue 1 includes this specific definition of “infamous crimes”:

A felony offense; Abuse of office as defined under Arkansas law; Tampering as defined under Arkansas law; A misdemeanor offense involving an act of deceit, fraud or false statement, including misdemeanor offenses related to the election process

As Defined in State Law

This piece of the proposed Constitutional amendment (Issue 1) is a second recent attempt by Arkansas lawmakers to clarify the specifics of “infamous crimes.” Recognizing the problem in 2013, legislators passed Act 784, which defined infamous crimes in state law as:

A felony offense; a misdemeanor theft of property offense; abuse of office; tampering; or a misdemeanor offense in which the finder of fact was required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud, or false statement

Act 784 was essentially a failure because the state Supreme Court found the Court (not the Legislature) is the only governmental entity that can interpret the Constitutional prohibition regarding infamous crimes. Because of the state Supreme Court’s over-extensive past decisions — such as denying one defendant the lifetime right to hold office because he once stole a political yard sign — lawmakers say the Supreme Court has been too broad in its interpretation of the existing Constitutional prohibition against infamous crimes.

The definition of “infamous crimes” is only a part of Issue 1, which covers other issues governing elected officials (specifically, changes current 2-year terms to 4 years), so — as always — voters should educate themselves on all the details before going to the polls on November 8.