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Can Convicted Felons Run For Political Office In Michigan?

 

On March 24, 2008, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was charged with eight felony counts (including perjury, misconduct in office and obstruction of justice) by state authorities.  He resigned from office on September 19, 2008 following his guilty plea to two counts of obstruction of justice.  As a result of his plea, Mr. Kilpatrick was ordered to pay restitution to the city of Detroit in the amount of one million dollars, lose his pension, serve four months in the Wayne County jail, serve five years probation, and surrender his law license.  After violating the terms of his probation by missing required restitution payments, he was resentenced by the judge on May 25, 2010 to serve 18 months to 5 years in state prison.  He was eventually released on parole on August 2, 2011.

However, his legal troubles did not end there.  On December 14, 2010, federal prosecutors indicted Mr. Kilpatrick on a 38-count complaint alleging new corruption charges related to his service as mayor.  He was eventually found guilty by a jury on two dozen of those counts including racketeering, extortion, mail fraud and tax evasion.  On October 10, 2013, he was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.  There is no parole in the federal system so, with time off for good behavior, his earliest released date would have been August 1, 2037 at 67 years of age.

Before Kilpatrick left office in 2008, he famously said, “I want to tell you, Detroit, that you’ve done set me up for a comeback.”  This possibility seemed more and more remote after receiving his federal sentence.  In August 2015, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his convictions but ordered his restitution owed be recalculated.  In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeal and seemingly put an end to his legal options.  The comeback he predicted would seem to not come to pass.

Enter Donald J. Trump.  The embattled president spent his last three months in office contesting the results of the 2016 presidential election in various federal and state courts.  After his Save America rally on January 6, 2021 ended with a disastrous riot at the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Trump began to lay low and seemingly disappeared from the public light.  However, his final days would not be uneventful.  With less than 12 hours left in his presidential term, Mr. Trump issued a flurry of pardons and commutations to friends, allies and supporters.  Among those, the president granted clemency to Kwame Kilpatrick on January 20, 2021 and commuted his 28-year sentence to time served after having spent approximately 7 years in custody.  Mr. Kilpatrick was released immediately from prison with 20 years shaved off of his time, although the commutation left in place the $4.8 million in restitution and the 3-year probation order.  The commutation, however, did not vacate the conviction and Mr. Kilpatrick remains a felon in the eyes of the law.

Now that Mr. Kilpatrick is released, can he make his comeback?  Can he run for public office again in the State of Michigan?

Not right now.  Only certain felony convictions will disqualify someone from running for public office.  On November 2, 2010, Michigan voters approved an amendment to the Michigan Constitution of 1963 that provides as follows:

  • “A person is ineligible for election or appointment to any state or local elective office of this state and ineligible to hold a position in public employment in this state that is policy-making or that has discretionary authority over public assets if, within the immediately preceding 20 years, the person was convicted of a felony involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or a breach of the public trust and the conviction was related to the person’s official capacity while the person was holding any elective office or position of employment in local, state, or federal government. This requirement is in addition to any other qualification required under this constitution or by law. The legislature shall prescribe by law for the implementation of this section.”  Const. of 1963, art. XI, § 8.

Mr. Kilpatrick’s convictions for racketeering and extortion in federal court while serving as Mayor of Detroit would satisfy this requirement, meaning that he could not run for public office in Michigan until 2033.  Only a conviction for a public officer accepting a bribe under state law would bar someone from running for office permanently. The anti-bribery statute provides as follows:

  • “Any executive, legislative or judicial officer who shall corruptly accept any gift or gratuity, or any promise to make any gift, or to do any act beneficial to such officer, under an agreement, or with an understanding that his vote, opinion or judgment shall be given in any particular manner, or upon a particular side of any question, cause or proceeding, which is or may be by law brought before him in his official capacity, or that in such capacity, he shall make any particular nomination or appointment, shall forfeit his office, and be forever disqualified to hold any public office, trust or appointment under the constitution or laws of this state, and shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 10 years, or by fine of not more than 5,000 dollars.” MCL 750.118.

Absent certain malfeasance while previously serving in public office, convicted felons are generally not barred from running for election in Michigan.  It is possible to make a fresh start and serve your community despite your possible criminal past.

If you have further questions about Michigan election law or need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.

 

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