Archive for the 'Criminal Law' Category

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.

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Failure to Disclose HIV Status Can Result in Life Behind Bars

The college wrestler Michael Johnson, also known as “Tiger Mandingo,” was found guilty of failure to disclose his HIV positive status to sexual partners and is facing life in prison. Specifically, Johnson was charged with six counts: transmitting HIV to two partners (Class A Felony), attempting to expose a partner to HIV (Class B Felony), and three charges of exposing three partners to HIV (Class B Felony).

hiv disclosureJohnson’s trial in May, 2015 lasted three days. At the trial, medical professional testified that they had informed Johnson about his medical issues. Johnson was well aware of the laws requiring him to tell partners about his condition.

Johnson testified and defended himself, saying he did disclose his status to partners and they were fully aware before they had consensual sex. Johnson was officially diagnosed with HIV in Missouri on January 7th, 2013. The very next day, he had his first sexual encounter with one of the accusers. During trial, prosecutors stated Johnson had also been diagnosed with HIV in Indiana in 2011. Johnson’s lawyer denied this allegation.

Missouri law mandates that all HIV positive people must disclose HIV positive status to partners before engaging in consensual sex, whether practicing safe sex or not.

Another aspect that makes the controversial case even more difficult is the area he lives in. The trial was held in St. Charles, Missouri; 91% of the population is white. In addition, only 13 of the 51 interviewed jurors believe homosexuality is not a sin. If this wasn’t enough, only one of the 12 jurors is black.

Johnson is up against a predominantly white jury in a largely Christian and Republican town. The big question is: did he disclose his HIV positive status to his partners, or did he fail to do so?

The answer to this vital question is up to the courts to decide. Johnson is facing a minimum of 10 years or a maximum of 30 to life in prison. Sentencing begins the morning of Friday the 15th.

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Is Lethal Injection a Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

The death penalty is a divisive issue and most people feel strongly about it. Capital punishment is reserved for the most serious crimes, such as the Boston Marathon bombings.

death penaltyCurrently, the death penalty is an acceptable punishment in 32 states. States, such as, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Missouri regularly execute convicted murders. There are many arguments for and against the death penalty. The most prevalent being:

Pros:

  • The death penalty provides victim’s families with closure.
  • Justice is served (i.e. “an eye for an eye”).
  • The death penalty is a deterrent for future criminals.

Cons:

  • The death penalty is barbaric and violates the Bill of Rights (the cruel and unusual punishment clause).
  • It is hypocritical to say that killing is wrong and to have the punishment for the crime be death.
  • The death penalty costs taxpayers more than a life sentence.

Although the verdict is still out on whether the death penalty should continue, many have agreed that the process should be quick and painless. Since 1976, the most common method used to carry out death penalty sentences is lethal injection. Recently, the Supreme Court heard a case about Oklahoma’s inmates and lethal injection.

In this case, the prisoners argued that the use of a certain drug combinations was unconstitutional because it caused pain and suffering that violated the cruel and unusual clause of the Bill of Rights. The specific drug in question is midazolam.

Traditionally, the following three drugs are used for lethal injections:

  • Sodium thiopental or pentobarbital- this would cause death by lack of breathing
  • Pancuronium bromide- this would cause death by asphyxiation
  • Potassium chloride- this would cause death by cardiac arrest

Before administering any of these drugs, the condemned inmate is given a sedative to induce unconsciousness. The traditional barbiturate drug that was used for the process is manufactured in Europe and the United States. The European and United States manufacturers have refused to sell the drug for executions. Due to the lack of supply, many states have resorted to using midazolam to induce unconsciousness.

The main arguments heard last week by the Supreme Court were concerning the effectiveness of the drug. The prisoners argued that previous death row inmates were not unconscious after they were given midazolam. The amount of time it took to execute these inmates ranged from 26 minutes to two hours—all were conscious and responsive during this period. Once again, the opponents of the death penalty are arguing that the process violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause.

Many are hoping that the Supreme Court’s decision will also address the need for standards and guidelines. Currently, there are no protocols in place for executions because the American Medical Association discourages doctors from partaking in human executions. To put this in perspective, the euthanasia of pets has stricter guidelines than the execution of inmates.

Here are a few key differences between the treatment of pets and death row inmates:

Pets:

  • A doctor is always involved when a pet is euthanized
  • Paralytics are not used because the veterinarian wants to know if the animal is feeling pain
  • There is a national medical association that provides guidelines about the procedure
  • Doctors and staff in every state receive the same training
  • The veterinarian is in the room when the pet is being euthanized

Inmates:

  • Most often it is the prison staff that carries out the execution
  • Paralytics are used during executions
  • There is no national association that creates guideline procedures
  • Doctors or staff members receive varying degrees of training because each state has its own procedure
  • Executioners are not always present when the drugs are being administered, sometimes the procedure is carried out by a machine

How the Supreme Court will rule on this case is still anyone’s guess. As a precaution though, many states are now reviving other execution methods, such as the electric chair, firing squad, and nitrogen gas as alternatives to lethal injections.

Should Leaving Children in Cars Lead to Jail Time or Loss of Custody?

A lot can happen in five minutes. Consider this scenario: A toddler is sleeping in the back seat. Her mother runs off to the store for five minutes. The car is parked in the shade and it’s a cool day.

child neglect left in a carThe child wakes up and finds a small crowd gathered around the vehicle. Strange people are taking pictures with their phones. Mommy tries to save her, but a man in a blue uniform takes Mommy away. The toddler screams and cries as strangers open the car and kidnap her. The toddler is taken to offices and daycares. The little girl is frightened and just wants to go home with her mom.

Most good Samaritans who see children left alone in vehicles take down the license number, call the police, and drive away after the officer arrives. They usually don’t see what happens after the arrest is made and the child is taken. So let me fill in the blanks:

If the parent is charged with child neglect or one of the numerous variations, the parent will be in jail until bail is posted. Depending on the state and county, the case might be heard in juvenile or criminal court. The child is either taken home if there is a caretaker or to protective services. If the parent has the money, the parent can hire a criminal defense attorney. If not, the parent risks significant jail time and losing custody of the child.

Let that sink in for a second. Leaving your child in the car could result in losing custody of the child. Most comments online are along the lines of “Good. Doesn’t deserve to be a parent.” Obviously there isn’t a lot of sympathy for the parents of these children, but I urge readers to consider the children inside the system.

A young child doesn’t know anything about the risks of a hot car or abductions. The toddler is probably sleeping in the back seat or playing with a toy. The toddler only knows her parents were taken away. Removing a toddler from the custody of her parents will mentally and emotionally scar a child for life. Being dragged through the system, even briefly, can emotionally harm a child.

In some cases, removing a child from the custody of a parent is the correct answer. But those situations should be rare. In benign situations like leaving a child in a car, the process and the end game will psychologically damage the children. It is extremely ironic that we protect children from potential physical harm by inflicting emotional pain on them.

What’s Best for the Child Is What’s Best for Society

Leaving a child alone in a car can be dangerous. Children have died when left unattended in an overheated car. And there have been a few cases where parents intentionally leave their children in the car to die. It’s good that we live in a world where people are watching out for kids. However, sending all children and harmless parents through the criminal justice does not help the children. Like the “war on drugs,” society cannot use criminal sanctions to punish otherwise harmless behavior. The results will be horrifying and will have a long impact on society.

Children can be removed from the custody of parents if the parent leaves the child unattended in a car because of prosecutors’ discretion. Prosecutors have the authority to decide what type of crime they can charge defendants with. If a parent leaves a child in a car unattended, the prosecutor can bring a charge of child endangerment. In many states, child endangerment can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If the charge is a felony, the child can be removed from the defendant’s custody.

The problem is that that kind of punishment for a minor incident is absolutely absurd. A small fine or an order to attend parenting classes should be sufficient. There should be enough punishment to send a message that children can die if left unattended, but not so severe that the family itself is threatened. Children can and do die if left unattended in a car. However, going over the speed limit could also potentially put the child’s life in danger. Yet nobody in their right mind would approve of removing child custody over a speeding ticket.

If hardened criminals deserve proportional justice, then new parents should also have punishments that fit the crime. Instead of treating these cases like child molestation, these cases should be at the level of traffic tickets.

Body Cameras on Cops: Who Controls the Footage?

After the fatal death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has announced all police officers will have body cameras by 2016. President Obama also supports the use of body cameras and has proposed $263 million for police body cameras and training.

police body camMandatory body cameras on cops is a good start to easing the tensions between the police and the public. But a lot of legislative issues arise with this topic, including: 1) Who has access to the recordings and, and 2) How are public record requests handled?

Should the Video Footage Be in Public Records?

Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills that exempt footage of police encounters from state public records or to limit what the public has access to. These lawmakers state their motive is to protect the Fourth Amendment right of privacy to the civilians in the videos.

It seems reasonable to wonder if these lawmakers are just afraid that even more police departments will come under investigation of the DOJ, like the Baltimore Police Department?

Who Controls the Footage?

For the most part, police currently have full control over video footage captured by the body cameras. They also have control over public access to the videos.

The skeptic in me is concerned that the police are not going to voluntarily release a video that makes them look even worse than they already do. What’s to stop the police from selectively only releasing videos that show them to be innocent?

Some lawmakers have proposed that a third party should be responsible for releasing the footage to the public. In my opinion, this is the best possible option. The public shouldn’t necessarily have full control over the body camera footage, but the police shouldn’t have exclusive access either. A third party regulating the release to the public or access to the footage is the best option.