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Does Double Jeopardy Apply to Ray Rice?

Earlier this month, Baltimore Raven’s running back Ray Rice was accused of knocking out his fiancé inside a casino elevator after partial footage of the couple was caught on the casino cameras. The former running back pleaded not guilty to assault charges that was filed against him by New Jersey prosecutors and also applied for New Jersey’s pretrial intervention program, which offered him no jail time since he had no prior criminal record. The pretrial intervention program also offers first time offenders to have the charges that were filed against them be dismissed if they complete the program and meet certain conditions.

ray riceAfter Ray Rice agreed to participate in the pretrial intervention program, New Jersey prosecutors agreed to dismiss the assault charges that were filed against him if he completes the year long, supervised rehabilitation program. However, the prosecutors made this dismissal prior to the new footage that was made public on September 8, 2014.

The new video released by TMZ shows the NFL running back punching his fiancé in the head against a rail, which results in her becoming unconscious. When prosecutors first agreed to dismiss the charges, the only video evidence that they had seen was Ray Rice dragging his fiancé out of the elevator.

The question is whether the prosecutors can reinforce a new case against Ray Rice and retract their earlier dismissal since the new video shows clear cut evidence of domestic violence. Alternatively, would double jeopardy apply? Double jeopardy protects defendants from being charged for the same offense after there already has been a conviction or acquittal.

Since Ray Rice’s charges were dismissed as a part of the first offender program, the state cannot retry him or change his sentence. The NFL however decided to modify his punishment of a two-game suspension to an indefinite suspension after the video of the incident inside the elevator has emerged.

Commentators have argued that since the NFL made their decision on Rice’s punishment, they cannot retract it because it will be a violation of the double jeopardy laws. However, the NFL has its own system and does not have to follow the court system when making decisions. If there is no double jeopardy clause in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the NFL as an employer can modify Ray Rice’s suspension to anything they want.

It is difficult to say what would happen next for Ray Rice, but Ray Rice’s charges for domestic violent and assault has been dismissed and will likely stay dismissed.

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Is Fantasy Football Illegal?

As football season gets underway, so do many “fantasy” leagues. Fantasy leagues allow average, everyday fans to undertake the role of owner and general manager as they draft a team, select a roster, and watch the chaos ensue on game day. As millions of virtual managers watch their virtual team hit the field, specifically those who have paid money or bet on their team, chances are very few stop to ask an important question: Is this legal?

fantasy footballIt may be that most assume it is, or that they are not playing for money. However, if money is involved, this question is vital.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 is legislation that greatly diminished the prevalence of online gambling. However, it also carved out an exception for fantasy sports, provided they meet three requirements:

  1. Prize value is not determined by the number of participants or the value of fees
  2. Winning reflects skill of participants and their knowledge of real-world statistics
  3. Winning is not based on the final score of a real-world game, or the single game performance of a single real-world athlete or team.

Based on these criteria, many traditional fantasy leagues are perfectly legal under federal law.

However, as the popularity of these leagues grows, the variety and type of games also grows: where there are daily, by game payouts, or pay-to-enter “survivor pools” are concerned, the exception laid out above slowly disappears, leaving no federal protection from illegal gambling charges. In fact, any game that is not structured to meet these three requirements may in fact be violating several federal laws.

Moreover, even where fantasy football is legal under federal law, it still faces state review.

Curiously, and unnervingly, while the federal government has, subject to the definition above, deemed fantasy sports games of skill, many states define them as games as “chance.” Moreover, in some states, even if the fantasy football is acknowledged as predominantly a game of skill, it may nonetheless still be illegal if it involves any element of chance.

Even more frustrating are states where fantasy sports have not received much attention at all. For instance, in 1991, Florida’s Attorney General issued an advisory opinion (which means it has little legal authority, but is nonetheless indicative of how the state may treat something) questioning the legality of fantasy sports. Under state law, unless the fantasy sport is a game of “chance” (which would ironically make it illegal under federal law), it is a misdemeanor to wager money on the game. Fortunately, to date, Florida has yet to take any legal action against fantasy leagues or their participants. However, that may cold comfort for those who will continue to play under a constant reminder that what they are doing may one day be taken out of the grey area and deemed to be illegal.

Florida does not stand alone in opposing fantasy sports on the books. Recently, the Kansas Gaming & Racing Commission updated their website, indicating that many types of fantasy sports are most likely illegal. This update may add the Sunflower State to a shortlist where participants are forbidden from participating in the larger, “for cash” online fantasy leagues. Other states include Arizona, Louisiana, Iowa, Montana, and Washington.

As the season unfolds, participants would be wise to brush up on the laws of their state. After all, educating oneself in the legality of fantasy sports is the best way to avoid a reality check later.

The Law of Burning Man

For those unfamiliar with Burning Man, it is a gathering in “Black Rock City” in the middle of the Nevada desert. The event focuses on fostering principals of love, creativity, self-reliance, community, and being in the moment. As such, it is hard to imagine that the long-arm of the law has anything to do with the event.

burning manHowever, as a 5-square-mile pop-up metropolis, law enforcement is absolutely, and understandably, present. Moreover, the land where Burning Man awakens every year is federally owned, meaning the event and event-goers (“Burners”) are subject to both federal and state law.

What Is the Law of Burning Man?

It’s important to mention that the law governing this five-day (up to ten-day, for some) desert soirée is incredibly vast. From a Burner’s perspective, the law of Burning Man is likely akin to “be nice, be safe, have fun.”

However, from the perspective of the Federal Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Highway Patrol, and a handful of Nevada Sheriff’s Officers and law enforcement bodies, the law is the black letter, on-the-books law of the Nevada, and, to top it off, any applicable federal law.

Here’s a simple breakdown of relevant criminal laws that may affect Burners:

  1. Speeding – While entering the event, the speed is a strict 10 m.p.h., and while in Black Rock City, the speed is 5 m.p.h. While Burner’s are generally strictly prohibited from driving once they arrive at their campsite, arriving at and leaving from could land speeders with a hefty moving violation.
  2. DUI – Similarly, driving under the influence is just as serious of an offense in Black Rock City as it is anywhere else in the country. Again, while Burner’s are typically not driving around during the festival, it’s possible to get a vehicle permitted to do so. Additionally, certain types of vehicles, such as electric bicycles or other devices that are not solely human powered may fall within the ambit of Nevada’s DUI laws.
  3. Contraband – This is potentially the biggest overlap with federal law the event faces, and consequently the one with the most potential for serious legal issues. Since the event is on federal land, and marijuana is illegal under federal law, any marijuana—even medicinal marijuana—is strictly forbidden.

It’s also worth noting that dog sniffs of vehicles do not constitute a search. There is an argument to be made that a camp has a higher expectation of privacy; however, that argument wouldn’t have an audience until after a search based on probable cause and potential arrest, thus ruining an otherwise fun party.

How Else Could the Law Affect the Party?

Wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits all have a quiet potential at Burning Man. Sadly, this year a young woman was killed by a bus transporting participants. This is the first tragedy of this sort in 7 years, but it is a universal truth that accidents happen. Additionally, the back of the Burning Man ticket may attempt to waive liability for such accidents.

However, courts frequently disregard such waivers. Meaning quite simply that if the surviving family is so inclined, they may be entitled to seek compensation for their untimely loss.

Is Burning Man Just Filled with Eager Police?

Each year, there is roughly 1 police officer per 1,000 participants. While that seems low, consider that New York City has roughly 4 police officers per 1,000 residents. And, remembering that New York City is a city of over 8,000,000 compared to Burning Man’s 50,000-70,000, that figure becomes pretty staggering.

Still, arrests are rare for an event of this size and duration. From 2010 to 2013, only 38 participants were arrested of the 227,248 who attended. However, drug citations are remarkably higher, creeping in at just under 1,000 issued during that same time frame.

These numbers provide a pretty clear message: come for the fun, but if you break the law or bring drugs, don’t be surprised if you get burned.

New York Man Acquitted of Murder after Courts Invalidate False Confession

“If you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide.”

With Ferguson in the news, the public’s attention is on what police are doing in the streets. However, police conduct in interrogation rooms shouldn’t be ignored. Police interrogators often engage in tactics that involve wear downing down and even outright lying to suspects to obtain confessions. The problem is that such confessions are often false and lead to innocent people being imprisoned or placed on death row.

Court Invalidates False ConfessionThis problem has long been ignored by judges. Until recently, judges shared the common assumption that suspects do not confess to crimes unless they are guilty. Of course, history has shown that this assumption is wrong. The Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, and Red Scare, among many other political disasters in history, have demonstrated that people can be “persuaded” into confessing crimes they didn’t commit. Even without physical abuse, suspects can be pressured into making false statements against themselves.

For instance, in 2008, a man in Rensselaer County, New York, was arrested for the death of his four month old son. The man, Adrian Thomas, allegedly threw his infant son, Matthew Thomas, onto a bed in frustration. Prosecution believed that Thomas’s actions caused trauma and the subsequent death of the boy. After Thomas was arrested, police allegedly told Thomas that his baby would die if he didn’t explain how Matthew hit his head and that the mother could be arrested as well. Unknown to Thomas, his son was already brain dead.

Thomas was sentenced to 25 years after a jury watched his video confession. However, in February 2014, New York’s highest court overturned the guilty verdict and suppressed the video confession because police tactics were too coercive. In June 2014, a second jury, who weren’t shown the confession, acquitted Thomas of the second degree murder of his son.

Police Interrogation Is More Likely to Ensnare the Innocent than the Guilty

Recent studies have shown that current police interrogation tactics often produce false confessions more than real confessions. Police will often tell suspects that unless they talk, there will be consequences. Police say they need information to save a victim’s life even though the victim is already dead. Alternatively, police will threaten to arrest someone else if the suspect doesn’t talk. Of course, if the police had probable cause to arrest someone they would have done so without the suspect’s help. In either case, suspects like Adrian Thomas will be pressured, or coerced, into confessing.

This raises the question as to why suspects confess to crimes they haven’t committed. Some defendants, like Thomas, feel it is necessary to save or help someone else. Other suspects are told that the police already have evidence linking the suspect to the crime. Studies reveal that these suspects will often confess after being told there is evidence, even though the suspect is innocent. The innocent assume that the evidence will eventually prove their innocence and that the false confession will get them home earlier. In most cases though, juries give the false confession more weight than physical evidence.

Work the System So the System Will Work

So what can you do to avoid being falsely imprisoned? Always exercise your Miranda rights. Remain silent except to demand an attorney. Cooperating with interrogators will not prove your innocence because many interrogators have already decided that the suspect is guilty. Most questions will be designed to make the defendant look guilty, regardless of how the defendant answers.

More importantly, you should not assume that the criminal justice system will eventually reveal your innocence. Although the legal system is designed to produce answers, it will only do so if the parties disagree about what those answers are. The best way for a criminal defendant to avoid giving a false confession is to disagree with the police. Innocent people who stand up for their rights will have their innocence vindicated. Innocent people who confess to crimes they didn’t commit will be punished to fullest extent of the law.

Militarized Police Forces Cause More Problems than They Solve

A few years ago, the Occupy movement was alive and kicking. It meant a lot of things to a lot of people. But one thing that it gave to nearly everyone was a glimpse into militarization of modern police forces. Stories of protesters being hospitalized after being shot with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets in Oakland may have initially conjured images of extreme violence by hordes of unruly citizens in the streets.

militarized police forcesQuite to the contrary, reports told of peaceful protesters being the target of these attacks. In any event, amounts of unruly protesters are almost irrelevant; law enforcement is not allowed to shower unsuspecting families in chemical weapons because of one house on the corner nearby is causing problems.

The recent demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent militarized call to action by law enforcement, has catapulted an important question into the headlines: why do police increasingly resemble soldiers?

Where Are These Weapons Coming From?

As our armed conflicts abroad are winding down, the federal government is finding itself with a surplus of military equipment. Under a program referred to as “war-fighter to crime-fighter,” over $4 billion dollars of wartime equipment has been re-purposed to local law enforcement. In addition to assault rifles, armored vehicles and personnel carriers are among the most common to be cruising the mean streets of Anytown, USA.

What’s the Big Deal?

Undoubtedly, there are those who may not see this as a problem. Some may even go as far as to imply if it weren’t for the unruly few alluded to earlier, police would not need to resort to such extreme measures. The problem with these positions is they miss the point entirely. Here are four of the biggest issues with police militarization.

1) Poor Police Tactics – First and foremost, bulking up law enforcement with instruments of destruction doesn’t neutralize what is most likely a constitutionally protected assembly and exercise of free speech. However, it does neutralize communication between the demonstrators and the police. Since the tragedies surrounding protests in 1960s, many police forces have made efforts to make communication and transparency with activists a priority.

Police know – or should know – that their first priority is to protect the community. This also includes protecting the Constitution. It is well settled that the best way to do so is to foster civility. Militarization only mounts tensions, and time and time again has all but guaranteed overreactions and incidents of violence.

2) Threatens Constitutional Principals - Similar to above, but much more ominous, is the likelihood that the First Amendment will not be respected. Scholars debate that the First Amendment, specifically the freedom of expression, was first priority to our founding fathers because it sits at the foundation of every other amendment. Meaning, quite simply, without it, the rest of the Constitution is remarkably toothless.

Sadly, where a police force is militarized, history has shown that any number of specific lawbreakers are not silenced exclusively, but rather tear gas, riot gear, and rubber bullets are used to just shut the entire event down. Otherwise lawful assemblies are declared, rightly or wrongly, unlawful, and chaos ensues.

As a result, citizens who were engaged in lawful political speech are violently and abruptly silenced. Frequently, journalists, who are not engaged in the demonstration at all, are arrested. The result is otherwise protected speech is crushed under the heel of a combat boot.

3) Excessive Force – A helpful illustration of how valuable our nation views the First Amendment is the $4.5 million settlement the city of Oakland reached with documentary photographer Scott Olson. The settlement is to compensate him for his injuries; both from the fractures to his skull as a result of being struck by a lead-filled bean bag bullet, as well as to the deprivation of his constitutional rights.

Olson is no stranger to the dangers of a militarized police force, and as an ex-marine and war veteran, to conflict as a whole. However, his incident is not an isolated one. The Oakland Police Department’s approach to the Occupy protests lead to several other lawsuits and federal oversight. The situation is not looking much better in Ferguson, where the Missouri Highway Patrol has largely replaced the police force, and the federal government has similarly issued staunched warnings over excessive force.

4) Lawsuits – As an overarching theme of all of the above issues are the slew of lawsuits that will inevitably follow. Far from frivolous, these suits are designed to make victims of over-policing whole again. At the risk of repetition, these lawsuits, while necessary to protect victims, ultimately weaken the local community. Money that could have gone to improving safety training for officers or upgrading more important equipment, like jail cells and squad cars – or even pay salaries – will be diverted to compensate victims.

What’s the Solution?

Often times, there is no clear answer to legal dilemmas. Fortunately, when it comes to a militarized police force, the answer seems plain and simple: stop. Just stop. Don’t do it.

Proponents may insist militarization helps taxpayers by reducing federal government waste, and how proper military training may actually be beneficial in the future and thus militarization just needs to be given a chance. Finally, some may argue that armored cars and assault weapons help keep officers safer.

However, the reality is that whatever benefit to tax payers simply cannot outweigh local communities suffering as excessive force lawsuits stack up, let alone at the peril of long held constitutional principals. Additionally, proper training clearly needs to be implemented, but not with respect to combat weapons in the streets of suburbia. In no scenario should an assault rifle mounted to a tri-pod atop of an armored vehicle – and pointed at protesters with their hands up – be tolerated. Moreover, in the rare occasion a hostile situation calls for more force, departments should all already have highly trained SWAT teams to efficiently diffuse the event.

Finally, with respect to safety, police are already armed with deadly weapons they carry during the course of their daily duty, as well as crowd control gear and tactics. Further adding to their deadliness does not necessarily make them safer. It only makes innocent citizens markedly less safe.

As a result, not only is the Constitution put at risk; life itself is as well.