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Hate Crime Laws: Helpful or Harmful?

The first hate crime laws were enacted in 1969, and this area of law has grown exponentially over the years. A hate crime occurs when the perpetrator of a crime selects their victim based on membership or affiliation with a group, religious belief, creed, lifestyle or immutable characteristics such as race and gender. Whether a crime is designated a hate crime or not is important for sentencing, because if a criminal act is classified as a hate-crime the accused will face an enhanced sentence. For example, if someone punches someone on the street for no reason, they will be charged with battery.Hate Crime

However, if someone punches someone on the street because they are Jewish, the attacker will be charged with battery and face a hate crime enhancement. This is significant, because a battery charge may only carry a sentence of 6 months, but the actions are classified as a hate-crime the sentence could be two years.

Hate crime laws are enacted with the best of intentions, because when situations like Matthew Shepard are brought to light, communities are infuriated. The tragic incident of Matthew Shepard, being tortured and murdered for no other reason than his sexual orientation, was a heart wrenching story. As details of what horrible people the murderers were, the nation became even more infuriated with the story.   These horrific acts eventually resulted in President Obama signing The Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law in 2009. This legislation increased the number of what groups protected by hate-crime laws, which include the addition of sexual orientation as a protected class.

Pros and Cons of Hate Crimes

Although, this legislation was passed with the best of intentions, there is controversy surrounding it. Three primary points of contention are:

1. Do hate crime laws prefer different groups of victims over others? Critics of hate-crime laws argue that the purpose of legislation is to treat everyone equally. Therefore, when someone is victimized by a crime they suffer harm, i.e. if someone is stabbed and robbed they have been injured and lost money. This harm is the same whether a white male robs a white male, a white male robs a black male, or a white gay male robs a black straight male, so on and so on. In summary, being the victim of a robbery is a horrific event in any victim’s life, and critics of the law ask why one victim is entitled to sympathy and protection than another?

The counterargument is that if an individual was victimized for nothing other than their race, the perpetrators conduct is even more reprehensible and should be punished more harshly. The controversy however, has been clearly decided by the legislature and hate-crime laws are in effect across the United States.

2. What groups are entitled to more protection under hate crime laws? If it is applied too liberally, will unfair sentences occur? The original hate-crime laws enacted in 1969 only applied to federally protected activity, such as voting. Furthermore, these laws were primarily enacted to protect African-Americans discrimination. However, as time progressed, more groups were included and protection applied to non-federally protected activity. The controversial aspect with these enactments are twofold:

(A) By identifying certain groups, others are excluded. Clearly, individuals belonging to the major religions such as Islam, Judaism and the like are protected. However, what about a Scientologist? Do these laws promote favoritism towards certain beliefs over others?

(B) Criminal activity happens and often involves people with different beliefs, but should all these be classified as hate-crimes?

Furthermore, something innocuous may be turned into a life-changing event, depending on whether it is labeled as a hate-crime or not. A hypothetical could be two college kids fighting over a girl at a bar. This would not be a good decision, but many college-aged kids make poor decisions. However, in that hypothetical if one of the parties is a Black-Christian and the other a Muslim, both could be charged with a hate-crime. Fighting over a girl at a bar is not a federally protected activity, which was the original intent of the law, but should that incident be considered a hate crime?

3. Do hate crime laws impact a Defendant’s right to fair trial? Does allowing the prosecution to introduce the inflammatory topics of race, religion and sexual orientation allow a criminal defendant to receive a fair trial? Another argument is that a prosecutor can impact an accused’s right to a fair trial. It is up to the prosecutor whether to charge someone with a hate-crime or not, and brining up difficult topics like race, religion, and sexual orientation would not typically be relevant to a whether someone committed a crime. However, hate-crime legislation allows these topics to be discussed at trial. Therefore, in the hypothetical bar fight between the Black Christian and Muslim, the incident could be a routine battery and self-defense case. Or it could be classified as a hate crime, resulting in the discussion of racial and religious biases. This could result in a number of unnecessary stones being overturned and impacting both parties right to a fair trial. However, proponents of hate-crime law can argue that if someone is vandalizing mosques based on an ignorant fear of Muslims, they might only be charged with vandalism. The sentence for vandalism may only be a few months. However, the prosecutor can add a Hate-Crime enhancement, which could result in a more appropriate sentence for that perpetrator.

Hate-crime laws present difficult questions, which have strong arguments on both sides. For now the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act have been enacted, which has resulted in the legislature indicating a desire to increase the prosecution of hate-crimes. For now only time can answer the question of whether hate-crime laws are helpful or harmful.

Hawaii’s Marijuana Dispensary Law Faces Legal Ethics Challenge

Last week, the Disciplinary Board of Hawaii’s Supreme Court issued an opinion that limits the role that lawyers can play in the bourgeoning medical marijuana dispensary industry. The opinion states that a lawyer can advise a client on the legality of marijuana production and distribution under state and federal law. A lawyer may also choose to advocate for changes in state and federal law on this subject. However, a lawyer may not provide legal services to help create or operate a medical marijuana business, as it is illegal under federal law. In other words, Hawaiians who wish to open a marijuana-related business cannot consult with a lawyer as part of the process.  Marijuana Scales

As states experiment with the legalization of marijuana, each will have to make a decision about how the legal profession will play a role, and how to navigate the conflict between state and federal law. Hawaii’s decision is the latest in a long line of marijuana-friendly states’ interpretations of professional ethics rules.

Marijuana in Hawaii

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana some 15 years ago, but only recently enacted a law that would license marijuana dispensaries for patients. The new law is fairly limited. It will set up a state-wide dispensary system with a total of up to 16 dispensaries. These dispensaries are not inexpensive ventures; the new law will require potential licensing candidates to have at least $1.2 million in the bank. The dispensaries will be resupplied with support from production centers around the state.

Under the latest Disciplinary Board opinion, individuals who wish to set up dispensaries or production centers are not entitled to legal advice or assistance beyond counseling on the validity, scope, and meaning of the new law.

Reasons for the Hawaii Disciplinary Board Decision

Hawaii’s Disciplinary Board cites two main reasons for its decision:

First, the Board is concerned by the fact that Congress has not amended federal law; nationally, marijuana is still illegal. The Ethics Board recognizes that the Department of Justice and Congress have both allowed the enforcement of marijuana-related laws to decline. However, the opinion also notes that this is not a permanent federal stance.

Second, the Board observes that the Hawaii Supreme Court has not amended the rule of professional conduct that applies to client conduct that is illegal under federal law. The rule currently states that “a lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, and meaning of the law.” This type of rule exists in all states. However, the rule has been modified in some states to account for conflicts between state and federal law over marijuana.

Legal Ethics in Other Marijuana-Friendly States

Hawaii is not the only state in which medical marijuana laws have caused ethical conflicts. The Maine Professional Ethics Commission has also restricted the role of attorneys in marijuana law. In Maine, the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys distinguish between “presenting an analysis of the legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity.” Maine lawyers are thus prohibited from assisting clients in forming medical marijuana enterprises.

Other states have also wrestled with the conflict between the public need for good, reliable legal advice and the furtherance of illegal activities. The Colorado and Nevada Bars have amended their ethics rules with a comment that allows lawyers to provide advice and services so long as they also advise about federal laws (making it clear that marijuana is not completely legal). The Washington Bar has allowed lawyers to provide services “at least until” the federal enforcement policies change.

What Will Happen in Hawaii?

Unfortunately, the public suffers when legal assistance is not available on topics of state law. A lack of legal counseling will not prevent individuals from setting up marijuana dispensaries or grow houses. The absence of legal counsel, however, prevents marijuana dispensaries from making some educated legal decisions that conform to the letter of Hawaiian law. It may also make the process of applying for a state license more difficult and time-consuming than it would otherwise be.

It is also possible that the Hawaiian Supreme Court will take a hint from this opinion and change their legal ethics rule to allow more attorney participation in marijuana law. This would be following in the footsteps of most other states that have partially legalized marijuana.

Update on Proposed Fines for California Drought Water Usage

California Lawmakers Crack Down in the Face of a Monstrous Drought

For the past four years, the state of California has suffered through one of the worst droughts in history. A historic and unprecedented lack of rain has created the need for some very immediate and systemic changes regarding water usage.

As Governor Brown and state officials urge California residents to cut back, local county and city governments have begun passing ordinances that restrict water usage. These restrictions often ban residents from washing their cars and doing other activities involving water. Some neighborhoods are prohibited from watering their lawns while other neighborhoods have placed residents on a schedule, permitting sprinkler usage on only one day a week.  Droughtful

Thankfully, these restrictions, as well as awareness of the issue, have led to an impressive 35% cut in California’s water usage.

Celebrities Among the Most Egregious Offenders

Many California residents have allowed their lawns to go brown in order to conserve water while others have transformed their yards using zeroscaping. Unfortunately, many of Hollywood’s elite have eschewed the water restrictions and have continued to operate their sprinklers, enjoying lush, rolling lawns while their surrounding neighbors have dead grass.

Each individual water district is responsible for policing its residents. As such, uniform policies have failed to develop. For instance, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District is patrolling wealthy Calabasas neighborhoods for violators and has issued many violation letters to famous residents. Some of these individuals were fined.

However, it appears many water districts are not being vigilant about the issue. In Los Angeles, only 9 people were fined despite thousands of warning letters for violations. In Beverly Hills, where some of the more outrageous violations have occurred (and where the largest yards exist), no fines have been levied yet.

California Spring Usage Limited During Drought

California is home to many natural springs. Water bottle companies like Nestle and Sugar Pine contract with the California government to pump water from the springs for bottling and resale. In January of 2014, the governor announced a state of emergency. In response, the California Water Resources Control Board ordered Sugar Pine Spring Water Company to stop diverting water from the Sierra Nevada spring to its bottling facility. Despite this order and numerous warnings, Sugar Pine continued to divert water and was recently slapped with a whopping $225,000 fine.

Dangers of Flying Drones in Public Places

A University of Kentucky law student, Payton Wilson, allegedly crashed a drone equipped with a high-powered camera, into a stadium suite. The incident occurred during the UK season football opener against Louisiana-Lafayette in early September 2011. Wilson is charged with wanton endangerment. Endangerment is the act of exposing someone or something to danger, harm, or peril.

In Kentucky, an individual is guilty of this crime in the first degree when showing an extreme indifference to human life. The conduct may cause substantial death or serious injury to someone. Wanton endangerment is a second degree charge when the individual’s conduct creates substantial danger of physical injury.  Drone

Wilson allegedly endangered the lives of military parachutist delivering American flags and a game ball to the pre-game show. The University of Kentucky’s police chief claimed it was very dangerous to operate a remote-controlled, non-piloted aircraft where there’s a lot of people. Wilson faces up to one year in jail.

A recent LegalMatch blog discussed drone technology and privacy issues. The task of determining whether or not a person could use a drone is currently left up to local jurisdictions.

Sports Injury is Any Injury Occurring at a Sporting Event

The criminal act of flying a drone in a stadium and having it crash into a suite poses another legal issue. If the drone had caused serious injury to someone sitting in the suite, would the injured bystander be allowed to sue?

In tort law, often referred to as personal injury law, an individual can sue a company or another person because harm or injury suffered. The defendant in this situation could be University of Kentucky and/ or Wilson.

A plaintiff’s injury caused by a drone crashing into a stadium suite is considered a spectator sports injury. This type of injury arises out of:

  • An inherent hazard or risk of watching a sport
  • Actions of a third party, sports team employee, or another spectator
  • Hazardous defects to the equipment or arena that is unrelated to the sports event

Most spectator sports injuries aren’t successful because of assumption of risk. Assumption of the risk occurs when a person knows of the risks and dangers involved in a particular activity and voluntarily accepts those risks and dangers. For instance, a baseball player hits a foul ball. The ball travels into the stands and hits a spectator, breaking his nose. The spectator is liable for his own injuries. He knew there was a possibility of getting hit by a foul ball. He accepted the risks and went to see the game.

A drone crashing into a suite isn’t something a spectator would expect to occur while at a game. If one of the suite spectators was injured by the drone, he would have a legal claim to sue UK. He didn’t assume the risk of a drone injury.

Negligence is the Failure to Use Care an Ordinary Person would Use in Similar Circumstance

An individual injured by a flying drone would have a personal injury claim based on negligence. Negligence is the failure to use the amount of care an ordinary person would use in the same or similar situation. The standard of care can be based on an ordinary person, reasonable prudent person, or one with special skills. The exact “person” used to determine negligence depends on the circumstances. For instance, a doctor would be someone with special skills.

Negligence assumes an ordinary person like Wilson would use an amount of care to prevent harm when flying a drone. The plaintiff would have to show the defendant had a duty not to cause any injury while flying the drone.

Once a plaintiff can show a duty, the next element is breach of duty. Breach of duty refers to a person violating his duty not to cause harm. The person is in violation of his duty because he knows he’s putting another individual at risk or foreseen there was a risk in his activity. An individual injured after the drone crashed into the stadium suite is an example of a breach of duty to keep people safe.

For an act to be negligent, there must be a cause-in-fact, or cause of the accident. A plaintiff can show the defendant is liable in two ways:

  • Indirect, or proximate cause
  • Direct, or actual cause

If Wilson was sued, he’d be the direct cause of the accident because of the “but-for” test. But for Wilson, the plaintiff would have never been injured.

Once a plaintiff can successfully show those three elements, he’d have to prove damages. To receive money, the plaintiff must have incurred some damage or loss as the result of the defendant’s failure to exercise care. Damages include physical injury and/or financial loss.

It’s not know whether drone that hit the stadium suite caused injuries or not. Any individual injured by a drone would have to consult a lawyer to determine if the other person was liable for any injuries suffered.

Expansion of Paternity Leave

In August of 2015, Netflix and Microsoft announced changes to their paternity leave policies. Netflix announced it will provide unlimited paternity and maternity leave to its employees. The unlimited paternity and maternity leave is for the first year of the child’s life. It applies to births and adoptions.

Microsoft will offer its employees 12 weeks paid paternity leave for mothers and fathers starting in November 2015. Birth mothers will receive an additional eight weeks of maternity leave for a total of 20 weeks.

Fathers Generally Use a Combination of Sick and Vacation Time to Spend with Newborn

Maternity leave, also called pregnancy leave, is typically applies to female employees. Maternity leave is limited time off from work to take care of a newborn child. Paternity leave is also limited time from work, but fathers receive the time to care for a newborn child. Both paternity and maternity leave can be paid or unpaid time off from work. Many fathers who aren’t offered paternity leave at work often use a combination of sick and vacation time to spend with their newborn.

No Federal Policies for Fathers wanting Paternity Leave

Federal law doesn’t require private sector employers to offer paternity or maternity leave. Many companies offer maternity leave, but not paternity leave. Fathers wanting to take time away from work to care for their biological or adopted newborns may have other options. For instance, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, allows an employee to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for reasons such as the birth of a child or care for a seriously ill family. A new father wanting to use FMLA can do so in a variety of ways:

  • Parental Leave: The leave can be taken during the first year of the child’s life.
  • Intermittent Parental Leave: It can be taken sporadically and with the permission of the employer for the first year of the child’s life. For example, a new father can work part-time for a specific period. This way a new dad can take some time off immediately and leave some or a bulk of it for late.

FMLA Eligible Depends on Number of Employees and Time Worked

FMLA applies to local, state, and federal governments and private employers with more than 50 employees. The employees must work within 75 miles of the company. An employee must work at least 12 months for the employer and work at least 1,200 hours during the prior year.

An employer can’t deny a new father paid leave unless he is in the 10 percent of highest paid wage earners at the company. Another exception occurs if both parents work for the same company. The company is allowed to combine the maternity and paternity leaves. Instead of having up to 24 weeks unpaid leave, the couple has 12 weeks unpaid leave.

State FMLA May Be an Option

For new fathers who aren’t eligible for federal FMLA, the state FMLA may be helpful in getting paternity leave. Only a number of states provide paid paternity leave to new fathers. For instance, new dads in California may receive up to six weeks of paid leave.

State FMLA often differ its federal counterpart. Connecticut FMLA law only requires an employee to work 1,000 hours over a 12-month period to be eligible for unpaid leave. It allows an employee to receive 16 weeks of unpaid leave per 24 months worked. Under Minnesota FMLA law, an employee may receive up to six week leave. It does allow employers and employees to negotiate longer periods on paternity leave.

An employee should check with human resources regarding parental leave. If the company doesn’t offer parental leave, check into both the state and federal FMLA to determine which applies.