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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jailing Lolita: Juveniles as Defendants in Prostitution Cases

“Imagine you’re a teenager . . . and you’re having your worst day, a day when you feel sad or ugly . . . and an older man comes up to you and tells you, with sincerity and warmth ‘you’re so beautiful’ or ‘you’re so amazing.’”  According to Alameda County officials, that’s how countless girls as young as twelve or thirteen are ensnared into juvenile prostitution networks.  Over the last three years, juvenile prostitution has proven to be a burgeoning problem in America’s urban environments.  According to the Department of Justice, over forty percent of all human trafficking cases are related to the trafficking of children for the sex trade.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Whitfield v. United States: De Minimis Movements

Whitfield v. United States
Docket No. 13-9026
Argument Date: Dec 2, 2014

On December 2, 2014, the Supreme Court of United States will decide whether 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e), which applies to a bank robber who forces another person to accompany him while in flight from the crime scene, requires proof of more than a de minimis movement of the victim.  § 2113(e) states: “whoever, in committing any offense defined in this section [bank robbery], … forces any person to accompany him without the consent of such person, shall be imprisoned not less than ten years, or if death results shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.”  Federal circuit courts differ on how to interpret the words “to accompany him.”  The Fifth and Tenth Circuits have held force-accompaniment only happens upon a showing of substantial movement of a victim as compared to what usually happens during a bank robbery.  However, the Fourth Circuit held that this section applies to all forced movements no matter how insubstantial.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Federal Supervised Release System: Kicking an Offender Down When He Is Trying to Get Back Up

In 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act abolished the Federal Parole System and replaced it with the Federal Supervised Release System. Though the Federal Supervised Release System was supposed to serve the same rehabilitative function for offenders as the parole system, supervised release has led to many negative consequences for offenders. Instead of serving as a system promoting offender rehabilitation as Congress intended, the supervised release system has actually served as more of a leash, pulling offenders right back into prison.
Under the previous parole system, a defendant would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment and after serving the minimum sentence for his prison term, a parole board would determine whether the defendant was ready for release. When the inmate was released from jail on parole, a parole officer would then monitor him or her in the community. The effect of the parole system was that the individual was serving a portion of his or her jail time out in the community under supervision. It seemed reasonable that if one were let out of jail early, that there would be some type of supervision of the individual while out in the community completing his sentence.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How Real is a Facebook Threat?

The Supreme Court agreed in June 2014 to hear the case of Elonis v. United States, an important First Amendment challenge that will attempt to clarify after years of ambiguity and split decisions in the lower courts the question of when threats, specifically internet threats, should be taken seriously by the law.  The case will be heard on December 1st of this year, and will clarify whether threats of violence made on social media sites such as Facebook, should be judged by (1) whether the speaker intended to harm anyone, or (2) whether the recipient was genuinely afraid of being harmed.  Essentially, it is a decision that will decide whether the crime should be judged by the actor’s subjective intent or the target’s subjective belief.

Online death threats are becoming all too common.  Recent examples include an 11-year-old who faced death threats through Facebook over his love of hunting, a mayor whose life was threatened by his paper boy, and hundreds of Harvard students who received emails from a sender who threatened to “shoot all of you” and “kill you individually.”