Author Archive for Danielle Brown

Accidental Drowning or Purposeful Murder: The Hudson River Incident

Angelika Graswald, 35, is charged with the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of her late fiancé, Vincent Viafore, 46. She faces 25 years to life for the first charge and 15 years for the second. On April 19th, Graswald and Viafore took a kayaking trip on the Hudson River. Graswald is accused of tampering with Viafore’s kayak plug, causing the kayak to fill with water.

Angelika Graswald stands in court with Michael Archer a foresnsic scientist and her attorneys Jeffrey Chartier and Richard Portale ask for bail and to unseal the indictment against her at her bail hearing in Goshen, NY on May 13, 2015.  Ms. Graswald has b

Graswald’s Arrest
Graswald was charged with the death of Viafore 11 days after the incident. Police say that she was arrested based on the inconsistency of her statements that led investigators to be suspicious. Graswald reportedly made statements that implicated herself in the crime, which gave investigators probable cause to make an arrest.

Despite Graswald admitting to investigators “it felt good knowing he was going to die,” she is pleading not guilty. Part of her defense will center around an allegation that Viafore was intoxicated at the time of his death. Autopsy results are still pending.

Admissibility of Graswald’s statements
Graswald’s lawyer, Richard Portale, is skeptical about Graswald’s statements to investigators and will look into whether they were voluntary. If Graswald’s statements to police investigators were not made voluntarily, her Miranda rights may have been violated. Statements made orally or in writing in violation of a person’s Miranda rights must be suppressed and are inadmissible as evidence for trial. Graswald claims that after being read her Miranda rights, she made the mistake of continuing to speak to law enforcement officials and feels she was tricked into divulging information. Portale further claims Graswald, a Latvian native, still struggles with English and may not have understood her rights.

The right to remain silent during criminal interrogation is derived from the Fifth Amendment. A waiver of Miranda rights requires the act to be done knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. Portale is likely to argue that his client’s limited English prevented her from properly waiving her rights because she was unable to understand her rights and consequences of waiving them.

The prosecution is likely to call attention to Graswald’s possible motives and to her erratic use of social media following the death of her fiancé. Prosecutors allege Graswald’s motive for killing Viafore was “…her only way out,” and to collect from his $250,000 life insurance policy. Graswald’s social media use consisted of posting selfies, playing with her cat and visiting an animal shelter in the days after Viafore’s death.

Amtrak Crash Leads to Multiple Lawsuits

Amtrak Crash Leads to Multiple Lawsuits

The Amtrak crash just outside of Philadelphia on May 12 killed eight passengers and injured 200 others. The incident is considered one of the worst train crashes in American history. Traveling more than twice the speed limit at 106 mph, the train derailed at 9:21 p.m.

So far, two crew members and four passengers have filed lawsuits against Amtrak. The four passengers filed a federal lawsuit, requesting Amtrak pay for medical bills and lost wages. One of the passengers has undergone several surgeries to halt her arm from being amputated. Another crew member described a brain injury that occurred due to the crash.

One of the crew members, Emilio Fonseca, was operating the train at the time of the crash. He filed a civil complaint against the company, arguing he suffered “serious and permanent personal injuries” and should receive compensation under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act.          Amtrak Accident

In order to avoid bankruptcy, in 1997 Congress set a $200 million limit to compensation Amtrak can be held liable for. The mental and physical injuries of passengers and crew members were significant, but the limit will lessen compensation that can be rewarded to each victim of the accident.

The Federal Employers Liability Act

The FELA is a federal law that is specific to railroad workers. The act was created in 1908 to protect railroad workers by compensating them for injuries sustained while on the job. Workers are rewarded compensation only if they can prove the railroad company was at least partly responsible for injuries suffered.

FELA is similar to workers compensation, but FELA is a fault based system. Workers must prove the injury was caused by negligence of a railroad employee, its agent or contractor, or from a faulty piece of equipment. Also in contrast to worker compensation plaintiffs, railroad workers may sue in a state or federal court for damages if proof of liability of the railroad company exists.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the Amtrack accident. Time will tell whether the train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian, a mechanical issue, or an outside source will be held responsible for the crash.

Does the U.S. Have Legal Jurisdiction over the FIFA Officials?

Fourteen FIFA officials are being charged for allegations of racketeering, conspiracy, and corruption. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted all fourteen this past Wednesday and the officials were arrested at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. The arrests are a product of a three year investigation into the multi-billion dollar organization.

fifa briberyAccording to the 47-count indictment, the officials have immersed themselves into a 24-year long plot to self-benefit and grow richer. Four FIFA officials and 2 corporations plead guilty to similar charges years back.

Does the U.S. Have Legal Jurisdiction over the Officials?

Some FIFA officials have argued that the U.S. has no legal jurisdiction into the indictment of the non-USA officials. But, U.S. federal officials are allowed to charge foreigners abroad if there is a connection to the U.S., and in this case, there is.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch states that the indicted “abused the U.S. financial system and violated U.S. law.” Notably, the illegal payments were transacted through U.S. banks.

In addition to the U.S. charges, the Office of the Swiss Attorney General opened a case on the suspicion that FIFA officials were participating in “criminal management” and “money laundering” regarding the location of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

All fourteen officials are facing either 10 to 20 years in prison, mandatory restitution, forfeiture, and fines.

Will Lawsuits Put an End to College Hazing Rituals?

A distraught family is suing Baruch College in New York City for $25 million after their son, Michael Deng, died in a fraternity hazing ritual. The lawsuit comes after Deng’s parents sued the fraternity Pi Delta Psi and multiple members for his 2013 death. The lawsuit states the school knew about the dangerous rituals the fraternity engaged in, and failed to intervene.

wrongful death college hazingThe ritual that ended in Deng’s death is called “The Gauntlet.” The fraternity went on a weekend retreat to a house in Pennsylvania in the middle of winter. New fraternities members were blindfolded and forced to carry a 20 pound backpack filled with sand across a snowy field while older members tackled and charged at them. Deng fell and hit his head after a member wrestled him to the ground, resulting in a serious brain injury.

Fellow fraternity members, too scared they would get in trouble themselves, called their organization’s president instead of 911. The president told the members to destroy all incriminating evidence, and members Googled Deng’s symptoms before finally driving him to the hospital. He died shortly after.

In response to the tragic death, Baruch College instituted a ban for three years on all Greek rush and pledge activities. Organizations must submit lists of their members to the Office of Student Life and organize all of their social activities on campus grounds. All the Greek houses must also participate in anti-hazing, anti-bullying, and sexual assault prevention training programs. Baruch also completely banned Pi Delta Psi, and the national fraternity revoked its affiliation with the chapter.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Hazing Rituals

Wrongful death lawsuits against fraternities is an ever growing problem. Since 2005, more than 60 people have died in incidents stemming from fraternities. In addition to wrongful death, multiple students in the Greek system suffer from assaults, serious injuries, and sexual crimes.

Joining the Greek system is a dream for a majority of high school students. Being in a fraternity or sorority is a huge part of the whole college experience. In movies, the Greek houses are fun, a great way to meet friends, and throw the biggest parties. For most chapters, all of this is true. What most movies do not show though, is the price you have to pay to join one.

In addition to physical torment, mental issues are also linked to the Greek system. Sorority girls are more likely to develop eating disorders and be victims of sexual assault. Fraternity men, due to the highly sexist atmosphere houses provide, are more likely to commit sexual assault. Greek members are also more likely to abuse prescription drugs.

Forty-four U.S. states currently have anti-hazing laws. Most of the time, these laws will not stop the Greek system from engaging in historic rituals. Due to the estimated $3 billion collective value of these houses, private owners and colleges won’t be demolishing any fraternity or sorority anytime soon. We can just hope more restricting hazing laws are implemented, and members will be more worried about their friends’ safety, instead of their own legal liability.

Boy Scouts Might Finally Revoke the Ban on Gay Leaders

Robert Gates, the former Defense Secretary and current president of the Boy Scouts, has called for the ban on gay Boy Scout leaders to be revoked. Although he’s not requesting that the policy be immediately changed, he made it clear that the policy should be revised during this time of social progress.

robert gates boy scouts gay rightsGates pointed out that legal issues could arise if the policy is not changed soon. He noted that a court order could change the policy, possibly in reaction to discrimination lawsuits that could occur.

Following Gates’ announcement, organizations can begin using their best judgment when hiring scout leaders. However, with 70% of the scout units sponsored by churches, it still seems unlikely that a significant number of gays will be hired for leadership positions.

How This Issue Extends Beyond the Boy Scouts

Discriminating laws continue to restrict the LGBT community from participating in certain activities. For example, this population is often limited in terms of adoption rights, marriage, and choosing which bathroom to use.

During the civil rights movement, Jim Crow laws discriminated the black population to no end. Seating on the bus, bathrooms, and water fountains were segregated-to name just a few. Discriminatory laws like these were deemed unconstitutional, and were eventually banned. But aren’t laws that restrict the LGBT community of the same caliber?

The ban on gay leaders in the Boy Scouts stems from the unprovoked myth that gay men are pedophiles. This ban only exemplifies this archaic view and directly contradicts Americans’ supposed view that every citizen is equal. Isn’t this also an employment discrimination violation? In every other organization or company, workers have the right to sue if they feel they are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation (in most states). Why should the Boy Scout organization be any different?

Putting the responsibility of hiring Boy Scout leaders on sponsoring organizations that mostly consist of churches creates a huge problem. Most Christian leaders have proven their distaste and disproval of the LGBT community. Putting them in charge of hiring leaders won’t change the existing policy. What will actually make a difference is putting a non-biased third party with no religious affiliation in charge of the hiring process. If Gates truly wanted to make a difference, he would demand that churches have no part in this decision.

The LGBT community is considered a second class group of people. Although our nation’s views have changed about the community, lawmakers are slow in the process of allowing them the same rights as every other citizen. These discriminatory policies are the Jim Crow laws of our time. The sooner lawmakers can see this and realize the need for change, the faster American citizens can live in harmony together.