Archive for the 'Criminal Law' CategoryPage 9 of 72

California Judge to Decide Whether Marijuana Should Still Be a Schedule I Drug

2015 could be the beginning of the end for the war on marijuana. Last year, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller agreed to hear five days of evidence and testimony about whether marijuana has any medical value. Judge Mueller will then rule whether marijuana should continue to be a Schedule I drug.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller

The case seemed ordinary on its face. In 2011, the California Highway Patrol arrested 15 suspects and uncovered a marijuana farm with more than 500 marijuana plants in a national park. The men faced 10-15 years in prison each. Defense attorneys argued that cultivation of marijuana should not warrant punishment because marijuana itself should not be classified as a drug with no medical value.

For those unfamiliar with federal drug laws, illegal drugs are regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA classifies drugs into five different groups known as schedules. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance. In the eyes of the federal government, Schedule I drugs: have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use, and lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Under the CSA, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, purchase, or possess Schedule I drugs. If marijuana were to be rescheduled as a different drug, the sentence could be reduced or marijuana could be decriminalized altogether.

Judge Mueller’s decision to hold the evidence hearing was extraordinary in itself. Defense lawyers have argued that marijuana is misclassified before, but this is first time in many decades that a judge has agreed to take such an argument seriously. It’s possible that Judge Mueller could rule that marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug. However, the fact Judge Mueller even bothered to spend five days on the issue indicates there is a real possibility that she may rule in favor of marijuana reclassification, at least in the case before her.

A judicial ruling that marijuana has been misclassified is a step in the right direction. However, this is only the first step. Congress should scrap and replace the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) altogether.

Even Fake Threats on Social Media Can Get You Arrested

Most people understand that social media posts can get you in trouble. Stories abound about how people have ruined friendships, lost jobs, and even gotten robbed from the information they post online. Here’s a reminder that writing threats on social media can also land you in jail.

social media threatRecently, a man was charged with threatening to kill Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He posted multiple statuses to Facebook, one of which stated he wanted to “give back those bullets to that…[Darren Wilson]” and if he can’t find him then he’ll “return them to his wife and if not her then to his children”. The man’s name is Jaleel Tariq Abdul-Jabbaar, a 46 year old Washington resident. He has been posting threatening Facebook statuses since the decision to not indict Wilson on November 24th. This included messages of an intent to buy an illegal firearm.

Of course, open discussion and debate are welcome in America. It is a part of what makes our country a democracy. Our first amendment allows us the power of freedom of speech. However, there are limits. According to Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes, when “violence or threats of violence that are intended to intimidate, and ultimately silence debate” occur, they are not tolerated and are considered crimes.

Abdul-Jabbaar is facing three counts of making interstate threats, and could face up to 15 years of jail time.

Another act of social media ignorance involves a 14 year old Dutch girl who posted what she thought was a silly prank onto Twitter. Her Twitter handle is @QueenDemetriax_, and on the account she goes by the name “Sarah”. On one clearly boring afternoon, she decided to tweet to American Airlines, for entertainment purposes. The tweet states “Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye”. The Airlines didn’t take this so lightly, immediately replying with “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” This in turn caused “Sarah” to send out multiple tweets explaining her innocence and how she is “just a girl”.

The Rotterdam Police Department arrested “Sarah” and she almost faced charges for posting a false or alarming announcement. Sarah was released, but still remained a suspect. Tinet de Jonge, a spokeswoman for the police department, said it was up to the Airlines whether or not she will face charges.

The real lesson here, is to just be careful about what you post. No matter how old you are, or where you live, any type of threatening social media post will always be taken seriously by law enforcement authorities. There’s nothing funny about facing jail time for what seemed like a silly prank.

“Family Man” Cosby May Finally End up Going to Trial

After over two dozen women claimed sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, this last accusation may finally land him in jail. Chloe Goins, a model, is pursuing charges against Cosby for sexually assaulting her in 2008 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. She pressed charges against him Wednesday morning with the Los Angeles Police Department.

cosby goins rape accusationShe claims she attended the party with a few friends, and received a drink from Cosby. Her memory immediately went fuzzy and blank, and woke up to a naked Cosby standing over her. He was allegedly licking her toes and masturbating, while she lay naked on the bed. She was 18 at the time.

Why is Cosby not already behind bars? In California, rape has a ten year statute of limitations. Every woman except Goins have made claims that exceed this limitation. The over two dozen women have accused Cosby of sexual assault that spans a 50 year time period. Goins may be the only woman in power to finally land Cosby in jail for his crimes.

Another factor that will contribute to the prosecution of Cosby, are the cameras in the Playboy Mansion. Unlike the other accusations against Cosby that took place in hotel or dressing rooms, video proof of the assault might exist. Kuvin has expressed his desire for the LAPD to obtain video records from that night.

Goins’ attorney, Spencer Kuvin, has not commented on the possible charges against Cosby. He stated the police will decide what the appropriate charges will entail. Meanwhile, Cosby’s legal counsel claims there is evidence Cosby was in New York at the time of the alleged sexual assault, so the accusation is completely false.

If Cosby is prosecuted and video footage proves Goin’s accusations to be true, he could be facing hard time behind bars.

49ers’ Player Stops Shoplifter with Punches – Could He Be Liable for Excessive Force?

On Thursday, January 8th, the 49ers offensive lineman Jonathan A. Martin, stopped a shoplifter by leveling him with multiple punches.

Jonathan MartinThere were two men involved in the shop lifting spree at a Versace Collection Store. The security guard tried to stop one while the other almost escaped. Martin saw the crime taking place and ran over. He punched the shoplifter “five to eight” times, according to Martin, who said in an interview that he wanted to do enough to subdue the suspect until the security officer could arrest him. Right after the incident, Martin tweeted: “Just took a dude out trying to rob a Versace store #CivicDuty”.

Was This Martin’s Civic Duty? Or Could He Face Assault Charges?

Police officers and private citizens do have the right to use force when arresting a suspect. However, private citizens have far less protections than police officers. For example, a police officer can use deadly force if he has probable reason to believe the suspect committed or will commit a dangerous felony.

Private citizens can only use deadly force if the suspect already committed a dangerous felony. Citizens are not protected in the justice system if they use deadly force on a suspect based on reasonable belief they committed a felony.

How to Protect Yourself When Making a Citizen’s Arrest

Every private citizen has the right to make an arrest on a suspect if the suspect has indeed committed a felony. The citizen must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is taking place in order to legally make the arrest. If the suspect was innocent or only committed a misdemeanor, then the citizen making the arrest could be liable for criminal or civil charges.

Citizen’s arrests do not require the same constitutional requirements as law enforcement arrests do. But when an officer asks a citizen to make an arrest, the citizen must uphold the same constitutional standards as a police officer.

When making an arrest, a citizen must only use the minimal amount of force needed to stop the suspect from committing the crime. Each state has different requirements for the use of deadly force. Overall, deadly force may only be used on a suspect if there is immediate physical danger to the arresting citizen or those around the area. If deadly force is used and does not meet the state’s requirements, the citizen may face manslaughter charges, murder charges, or a wrongful death lawsuit.

What about Breach of the Peace?

If Martin is charged with assault or battery, he could defend himself with the common law notion of “breach of the peace”. A citizen may use non-deadly force in arresting a suspect to prevent a crime from taking place or stop a crime that is taking place. Martin’s citizen’s arrest can be protected by breach of the peace, even if the crime was a misdemeanor, because he witnessed it taking place, and it would’ve ensued if he did not stop it.

His use of force, however, is not protected. If this incident went to trial, Martin’s use of force could easily be deemed unnecessary and too rough. The use of force in making a citizen’s arrest must be the minimum amount in order to stop the citizen from making the crime or getting away.

Since the price amount of the attempted stolen merchandise is unknown, we do not know if the suspect was committing a felony. Versace purses tend to be expensive, as everyone knows. The minimum price of stolen merchandise to be considered a felony is $500. The purses could have exceeded this number. If the purses were between $500 and $50,000, the suspect could face third-degree grand theft charges. But if the merchandise was under the minimum amount, the suspect did not commit a felony and Martin’s use of force will not be as protected.

Did Martin Use Deadly Force?

Martin is a trained professional athlete who could cause serious physical damage. Was his use of force necessary to stop a shop lifter at a retail store? At the moment, it looks like Martin will not be facing any charges, and his citizen’s arrest is legally justified based on the breach of the peace clause.

Should Cursing around a Child Constitute Child Neglect?

In New Jersey, there exists a 70-year-old law that states “a parent, guardian, or person in charge of a minor could be guilty of a fourth-degree crime of child neglect if he or she habitually uses profane, indecent, or obscene language in front of the minor because it could be detrimental to the minor’s morals.” N.J.S.A 9:6-3.

profanity child neglectThe New Jersey Supreme Court is rethinking whether the law should be upheld or struck down, in light of the recent case of a man who was found guilty of violating the law, which is part of the state’s child abuse statutes. In 2009, the man faced an accusation of committing the crime of sexual assault on his foster son, who was 13 years old at the time. He was charged with a number of crimes, but accepted a plea bargain to a less serious offense.

Prior to accepting the plea bargain, he had served three years, and he completed his prison term. He made previous attempts to have his plea withdrawn, and now, he and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are filing a lawsuit to withdraw his plea. Their lawsuit is based on the First Amendment.

The issue before the judges is: “Did defendant’s admission during his plea allocution to cursing and using off-color language in such a way as to debauch a child’s morals provide an adequate factual basis to establish child neglect under N.J.S.A. 9:6-3?”

His attorneys maintain that the statute was unconstitutional in that the use of profane words does not amount to a crime. In response, one of the jurists said that acceptance of such an argument would be the equivalent of the court stating that it’s allowable for parents or guardians to curse frequently in front of minors.

The prosecutor mentioned to the court that the defendant’s guilty plea should be considered within the context of the charges from which he plea bargained. Those charges could have caused him to be in prison for 20 years.

Another issue noted by one of the jurists is that the defendant didn’t specify the type of offensive language he used when he pleaded guilty to the less serious offense. According to the statute, you have violated the law if you use “profane, indecent, or obscene language” in front of children. If the obscenities appeal to “prurient interests,” then they are not protected by the First Amendment.

Profane language, however, is protected by the First Amendment. But it cannot include “fighting words” that incite someone to violence, or that instigates a riot. Profane language can include words that are believed to be offensive, including those that have vulgar, racist, or sexual overtones. Indecent language is also protected by the First Amendment because not everyone finds such language to be offensive.

I am inclined to agree with the court when it says that making the statute unconstitutional would be tantamount to stating that it is permissible for parents to curse often in front of children. Although profanity may seem harmless, overexposure to vulgarities could have an adverse effect on a child’s morals, ethics, and behavior.