Friday, December 19, 2014

Fighting for Justice in Ferguson: The Role of Attorneys During National Protests

With the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, the controversial issues of systematic racism and police brutality have captivated American citizens. In a time when the public outrage and qualms not only about police officers, but also the legal system that seems to protect those who fail to “protect and serve” citizens is at an all time high, people are calling for justice. Attorneys from across the nation have traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to take their place within the heated protests to provide legal assistance to protesters who have been arrested, to monitor and document police behavior, and to provide legal assistance to those who may not be able to afford representation. As citizens fight for justice surrounding the incidents in Ferguson, attorneys have been there on the ground to aid in the fight.     

Friday, December 12, 2014

Riley v. California: The Pandora’s Box in A Digital Age Restructuring of Fourth Amendment Law

This summer, the United States Supreme Court made a huge leap in upholding the people’s right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment in the unanimous decision, Riley v. California.  Riley created a bright-line rule, curbing police discretion, that cell phones (not only smart phones) are not reasonably subject to a search incident to arrest unless an extenuating circumstance is present. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

California’s Criminal Immigration Reform

As of January 2015, a new Californian law will reduce the maximum possible sentence for a misdemeanor from 365 to 364 days. The single day reduction will remain a seemingly inconsequential change for United States citizens; however, the law, S.B. 1310, will have a drastic impact on the lives of noncitizens convicted of misdemeanor offenses.

Under the previous law, many misdemeanors were punishable by up to one year in prison. “That one year sentence, or even the possibility of a one year sentence,” can have a significant impact on a noncitizen’s immigration status. This is because the basis of deportation is not the actual length of the sentence, but rather is contingent on whether an offense is "punishable by a year or more."  Because sentences of exactly one year created this one-day overlap in definitions, many California misdemeanors were deportable offenses under the prior version of the law, even if they are relatively minor and resulted in little or no jail time.

Friday, December 5, 2014

“I-Witness” Testimony: The Problem of Remembering What Happened in Ferguson

*Author’s Note:  First and foremost, I extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Michael Brown.  Regardless of the circumstances, it does not change the fact that a young life was lost; a mother yearns for the warm embrace of her son; a family mourns the loss of a loved-one; a community struggles to understand and heal; and a nation is confronted with an opportunity to define its legacy. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dealing with Juries Full of “Experts”

The CSI Effect. If you practice law, no doubt you’ve had firsthand experience with this phenomenon, as ubiquitous as it is. For the rest of you, you may not even be aware that there is a problem in the first place. Even if you haven’t watched the show or its many spinoffs, you probably know what it’s about: people solving crimes with the power of forensic science. There are a dozen or so shows on TV right now with this central theme. Millions of people watch CSI, with 8.59 million last week alone. At one point, it was the most watched show in the world and with CSI: Cyber premiering mid-season, it’s clear that these shows are popular and not going anywhere.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Grand Juries: A Balancing Act

No matter your opinion on the ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri, it is safe to say that this week’s grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson has thrust the topic and function of the grand jury into the national spotlight.  While the purpose and function of a grand jury is nothing new to those practicing criminal law, especially those prosecutors tasked with handling grand jury presentations, it never hurts to review some basic strategies of grand jury presentation.  For while a good prosecutor might be able to indict a ham sandwich, it is also possible to make mistakes that could cost an indictment.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How a Murderer Becomes a Terrorist: Eric Frein and Domestic Terrorism

Although the 48-day manhunt for suspected murderer Eric Frein came to a close last month, new charges against the fugitive were just released last week.  The charges, two counts of terrorism, were derived from a letter that Frein allegedly wrote to his parents last year, and which he edited as recently as October of this year.  Frein is charged with attacking two Pennsylvania State Troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks this past September.  One trooper was killed and the other was wounded in the sniper attack.  Accordingly, Frein is also charged with, among other things, first degree murder and attempted murder.  Based on the response to the charges in various media outlets, adding the two counts of terrorism to Frein’s list of charges may seem counterintuitive.  This new development certainly raises a number of questions:  What is required for an individual to be charged with terrorism and how does Frein’s letter relate to these charges?  What other domestic terrorists can Frein be compared to?

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Need to Seize the Abuse: Civil Asset Forfeitures and the Efforts at Reform

At a time when the public is becoming more aware and informed of law enforcement related abuse, some have begun to take note of one of the most common, and most profitable, forms of abuse: civil asset forfeitures.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the federal government encouraged state and local police departments to play a more active role in searching for both suspicious people and suspicious activity. This encouragement, reinforced with millions of dollars on training and education, has resulted in an environment in which police officers routinely confiscate money and property from individuals who have not been, nor are, accused of a crime. The government need only show by preponderance of the evidence that the property was being used for illegal purposes.