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According to current political legal doctrine, there is no rule that states being in prison disqualifies a US politician from performing their legally required duties, and in fact there are even rules that state an elected official must be allowed to leave prison to participate in floor debates and votes. Because of that, there is speculation that in the case where Donald Trump gets convicted and imprisoned for the crimes he was indicted for today, he would still be able to be elected President.

My question is: has a situation like that occurred, whether in the USA or in another country? Specifically wondering about any of the following:

  • presidents, kings, dictators and emperors;
  • prime ministers, ministers, secretaries and party leaders;
  • Members of the legislature;
  • Regional and local equivalents of the above.

Whether these people are democratically elected or landed into power through another means, like a coup, being appointed by the head of government like most members of cabinet or elected by a non-democratic body (like Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the past 4 UK Prime Ministers, who were all elected by Conservative Party members and not the general public) is not important for the question. I also want to exclude cases where the imprisonment was as Prisoner of War or as part of an abduction or coup.

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  • Note: I do not know if there are any tags that are better suited for the question than the current ones. Feel free to edit the question if you are aware of any.
    – Nzall
    Jun 9, 2023 at 7:44
  • Whether these people are democratically elected or landed into power through another means is not important for the question. I think this is important, because in non-democratic situation they usually have means to change the law or otherwise invalidate their prison sentence. E.g., it is very common for political prisoners to become presidents after a revolution/coup/regime overthrow. It is ultimately the separation of powers that creates a situation where a person convicted by judicial power, may still serve as a member of legislative or executive ones. Jun 9, 2023 at 7:52
  • 2
    @Nzall not to get into a comments debate, but the UK PM is the head of government, not the head of state - and of course, your examples were democratically elected by their constituents as the UK has a Parliamentary system, not a Presidential. On the subject of the question, would you count cases of politicians who participated in the legislature subject to conditional release from prison on probation having served a period of their full term of imprisonment?
    – CDJB
    Jun 9, 2023 at 8:41
  • 6
    I feel that declaring the inner workings of the Parliamentary system to be "not democratic" isn't a good lens for understanding it, simply because it's not presidential
    – pjc50
    Jun 9, 2023 at 10:09
  • 1
    @mtraceur which is why, in the US constitution, at least, the rule is established for legislators only.
    – phoog
    Jun 12, 2023 at 21:59

5 Answers 5

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Fiona Onasanya was elected in 2017 as the Labour MP for Peterborough, but was convicted of perverting the course of justice in December 2018 after lying about who was driving her car when it was recorded speeding. She was sentenced to three months imprisonment on January 29th, but was released on licence after serving 28 days of her sentence.

During her supervised release, which was subject to licence conditions including a curfew and the wearing of an electronic tag, she attended the House of Commons (sitting as an Independent) and voted in 38 divisions before she was removed from Parliament after a successful recall petition was held in her constituency.

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Bobby Sands MP

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Sands

While on hunger strike in the notorious "Maze" prison for political prisoners in Northern Ireland, Bobby Sands was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He died of his hunger strike a month later. It was not possible for him to perform any duties; not only was he physically unable to take his seat, as a member of the IRA he would never have taken the required loyalty oath.

The UK changed the rules to prevent this from happening again.

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    I don’t think this answers the question. He didn’t perform his duties which is what the question asks. And what rules were changed to stop what happening again? Prisoners being elected?
    – lx07
    Jun 9, 2023 at 19:48
  • @lx07 - Refusing to take the oath is a punishable offence; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Valorum
    Jun 9, 2023 at 23:48
  • @lx07 - And the Representation of the People Act (1981) prevents anyone serving a sentence of over 1 year from holding a seat in Parliament; web.archive.org/web/20060321002524/http://www.parliament.uk/…
    – Valorum
    Jun 9, 2023 at 23:50
  • @Valorum: Why doesn't that cause problems for Sinn Féin MPs?
    – Kevin
    Jun 11, 2023 at 17:39
  • 3
    @Kevin - They don't refuse to take the oath in parliament. They just don't go at all
    – Valorum
    Jun 11, 2023 at 20:06
7

Spain

After the referendum held in October 2017 for the independence of Catalonia from Spain, the regional parliament was dissolved and elections anounced for December.

In these elections, the separatist parties Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya presented candidates that at the time were indicted by the Spanish Attorney General for rebellion, sedition and embezelment and sought with an arrest warrant. Several were elected, but some of them (most prominently former regional President Carles Puigdemont) evaded arrest by fleeing the country.

Three were arrested and at the day of the election in December 2017 were remanded in custody: Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sanchez and Oriol Junqueras. The magistrate at the Supreme court in charge of investigating the case denied them leaving prison for taking part in proceedings, citing fears of "serious public confrontations" on occasion of their transfer. But he permitted them to delegate their votes to other members of parliament:

Se reconoce a estos la posibilidad de delegar su voto, teniendo que administrarse su ejercicio por Mesa del Parlamento.

The latter shall have the right to delegate their vote, the exercise of which shall be administered by the Board of the Parliament.

Despite initial reservations, the Board of the Parliament decided to allow this procedure.

Joaquim Forn resigned from parliament in January 2018. In 2019, he stood for the Barcelona city council elections and took office in June.

Josep Rull and Carme Forcadell were elected to the parliament and free at the time of the election, but were remanded in custody in March 2018 together with a few other former members of the Puigdemont government.

The imprisoned members of the parliament were banned from participating by an order of the Spanish Supreme Court in Juli 2018, when the case was admissed to court.

Several attempts were necessary to find a new President of the Catalan region. First, Carlos Puigdemont was ruled by the Supreme Court to not be able take office from abroad. Then, it ruled Jordi Sanchez would not be released from jail to attend his investiture ceremony. Jordi Turull stood for a first vote by the regional parliament, but did not gain a majority. Only days later, he was also remanded in custody. Finally in May, Quim Torra (not indicted) was elected.

Jordi Sanchez and Josep Rull were elected in 2019 to the Spanish Congress of Deputies, Raül Romeva, another jailed politician, to the Senate, and were sworn in as members, but their respective membership was suspended by the Board of the Congress after a recommendation by the Spanish Supreme Court.

The trial took place in 2019, and the separatists were sentenced to several years in jail. They remained there until they were pardoned by the Spanish government in 2021.

According to one press article, 2023 the crime of rebellion was withdrawn from the Spanish Penal code. But it is still present in official versions.

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Patrick Balkany, French mayor of Levallois-Perret from 1983 to 1995, and from 2001 to 2020. He was removed from office on March 6 2020 for corruption and blanchiment de fraude fiscale. He was briefly incarcerated from September 13 2019 (article dated of the 14, after his first night in jail) to February 12 2020, while he was still mayor.

He has been a member of parliament and president of the département Hauts-de-Seine in the past, but he wasn't at the time of his stay in prison.

Despite being only a mayor, this was very high-profile. The Balkanys (Patrick and his wife and occasional deputy mayor Isabelle) have been a household name of the right-wing party (currently known as Les Républicains), widely known in popular culture as either comically corrupt, or injustly persecuted by a politically-motivated justice system. It wasn't their first guilty verdict, but it was the first time Patrick went to jail.

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Yes. From the New Zealand Herald 13 Jun, 2006

Two Solomon Islands MPs jailed on charges of inciting riots have been sacked as ministers by new Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Charles Dausabea and Nelson Ne'e had been appointed ministers last month while in jail. (Italics mine)

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  • 1
    is there any indication that they preformed their duties whilst in jail? Jun 12, 2023 at 7:08

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