Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Trend to Disregard Immigration Detainers

Immigration detention is a topic of growing concern to Americans because of the current surge in undocumented immigrants coming to and residing in the United States. National news coverage is full of stories about the dilemma of having too many detainees and not enough beds. Undocumented immigrants can be put in detention while they are waiting for their cases to be heard. This is true for people who come to the border and ask for asylum, as well as hardened criminals who are in deportation proceedings because of their criminal convictions. The numbers are increasing, and finding resources to keep up is proving difficult.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Privileges vs. Rights in a Defendant’s Struggle to “Prove” Innocence

Evidentiary privileges purport to safeguard interests and relationships.  They arise from the rules of evidence and can bar certain pieces of evidence from being used in a trial or other judicial proceedings.  The most common and well-known privilege is the attorney-client privilege where an attorney cannot testify to the relationship between him and his client, encouraging an open and honest dialogue with clients and their attorneys.  Another example of these privileges is the marital privilege where, in the interest of keeping the marriage tranquil and conflict-free, a husband cannot testify against his wife and vice versa (although the intricacies of how exactly this works varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction).  In general, these privileges can help defendants exclude evidence arising from relationships where society has deemed communications to be private.  Understandably, these forms of evidence should be excluded at judicial proceedings, but what happens in a jurisdiction where these privileges exclude evidence that could help, or even exculpate, a defendant?  Doesn’t that defendant have the right to a fair trial and due process under the Sixth Amendment? Can privileges created under evidentiary rules really circumvent a defendant’s constitutional rights?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

3D Gun Printing: The End of Gun Control in the United States?

File:Mojo 3D Printer.pngThe recent shootings at the University of California, Santa Barbara and in Las Vegas have brought about the age-old question of gun control in the United States.  While the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution has its supporters and critics, the federal government has enacted regulations intent on securing the safety of society by requiring citizens who purchase firearms to register them and hold the necessary licensure.  However, recent events are changing how we obtain weapons.  What if citizens did not need a license to purchase a firearm at a store, but could instead acquire them with just a computer, a block of plastic, and a 3D printer?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

PREA in Action: Eliminating Prison Rape

Despite the prevalence of jokes about it in the media and society at large, prison rape is no laughing matter.  As many as 4% of state and federal prison inmates, 3.2% of jail inmates, and 1.8% of juveniles ages 16 to 17 have reported sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in recent reports.  From the assaults, the inmates have reported not only physical abuse but also mental abuse, often at the hands of prison guards who took advantage of their positions of power to engage in sexual activity with inmates.  As a result, with millions currently incarcerated, hundreds of thousands of American citizens have entered the criminal justice system to serve their time, only to become victims themselves.  Often a population that is overlooked, a large portion of the population believes that a prisoner is just a prisoner, and there is almost a tacit consent to sexual misconduct in prisons where people view prison rape as inherent to jail time.  Fortunately, in the interest of preserving human rights, civil liberties, and a constitutional commitment to preventing cruel and unusual punishment, in 2003 the United States passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to address the rights of a population often overlooked. With this effort on behalf of the government, one question remains:  is it enough?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Snitches: The Government's Overreliance on Informants in the War on Drugs

In recent decades the United States has entered into multiple unconventional wars where it seems that victory will not be obtained until the enemy is eradicated.  One such war is the war on drugs.  It is unclear what a “win” in the war on drugs would look like, and the ambiguity leads to an ongoing fight, but the fight has become a dog eat dog battle of survival of the fittest.

The war on drugs began in the 1980’s as a response to the public opinion that Democrats were soft on crime.  To avoid this public perception before the 1986 election, Democrats came out strongly against drugs.  They introduced the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988.  Because both parties were anxious to appear strong on this issue, the legislation was passed quickly and without much scrutiny.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mental Health Laws After the Death of Kelly Thomas and the Isla Vista Massacre

File:Green ribbon.svgScott Thorpe, an individual suffering from schizophrenia, shot and killed Laura Wilcox at a mental healthclinic over a decade ago.  Shortly thereafter, a law passed in the State of California, named “Laura’s Law.”  It allowed for family members, mental health professionals, and officers to petition the court to order “assisted outpatient treatment” for those who have a severe mental disability.[1]  Laura’s Law is optional for counties to implement.  Until recently, only one county (Nevada County, CA) has the law in place.  After the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man beaten to death in a struggle with Fullerton police, Orange County also implemented the law.  On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, five Orange County supervisors voted unanimously to adopt Laura’s Law.  The law will go into effect in October 2014, and will apply only to severely mentally ill adults who have had two psychiatric hospitalizations or incarcerations in the past two years and who have engaged in violence or attempted violence over the last four years.  Los Angeles County also has a similar pilot project that was set to expire in 2013 but has recently been extended to 2017.[2]

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Police Worn Cameras: Technology Gift or Privacy Curse?

File:Lapel cameras (9816063276).jpgIn an era where virtually everyone has the capacity to record video, it comes as no surprise that some police forces have decided to equip officers with body-worn cameras to wear during traffic stops and investigations.  The use of technology raises many questions concerning privacy rights of both citizens and officers and the public perception of police officers while using cameras.  The effect still remains to be seen, but some interesting statistics have been offered in support of use by a new report studying the success of programs which implement police-worn camera devices.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Burrage v. United States and Punishment of Drug Overdose in the United States

It’s no secret how the United States government feels about drug crimes.  With one of the largest drug consuming populations in the world waging one of the longest wars on drugs, the United States government punishes drug dealers and users harshly for their respective contributions to the illicit business.  In order to deter the dealers and users from continuing to transact deals, the federal government enacted 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(b)(1)(C) in 2010 to increase sentencing minimums for dealers whose drugs caused a user to overdose.