Author Archive for Erin Chan-AdamsPage 2 of 11

Twitter Assault: Can a Tweet Be Used For “Assault with Deadly Weapon”

Social media has sure come a long way. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for people to use the internet for just about everything. Want some food delivered to your door? You can do that with a click of a button. Want to read the latest New York Times article? You can easily find it in their archives.

But now social media is being used for things far more sinister. People distribute and look at child pornography so easily on the internet. Cyber bullying has caused kids to take their own lives.

And now in Texas, a Grand Jury found an animated GIF tweet an “assault with a deadly weapon.”


Twenty-nine year old Maryland man John Rivello tweeted an animated flashing GIF to journalist Kurt Eichenwald last year. Eichenwald had been critical of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, and Rivello, a Trump supporter, knew Eichenwald suffered from epilepsy. With the intent to cause Eichenwald a seizure, he tweeted the animated flashing GIF and messaged another Twitter user saying “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and “let’s see if he dies.” He later altered Eichenwald’s Wikipedia page to show a fake date of death of the date he send the GIF.

twitter assaultHow Does a Grand Jury Work?

In general, grand jury proceedings are much more relaxed than jury trials. A grand jury proceeding has no judge present and often times does not even have any attorneys except for the prosecutor. The prosecutor explains the law to the jury and works with the jury to gather evidence and hear testimony. Unlike a jury trial, a grand jury has broad power to see and hear almost anything they would like. These proceedings are also held in strict confidence, which has the effect of encouraging witnesses to speak freely and protecting the defendant’s reputation in case the jury doesn’t decide to indict. If the grand jury find there’s enough evidence to indict, the case goes to trial. All that is necessary is a finding that the accused person probably committed the crime.

Grand juries only need a simple majority of two-thirds or three-fourths agreement for indictment, depending on the jurisdiction.

Why an Indictment?

The evidence showed the following: Eichenwald was a journalist with 318,000 followers on Twitter and had been critical of Donald Trump throughout his presidential campaign. On December 15, 2016, he saw that @jew_goldstein had replied to one of his Twitter post with a GIF. When Eichenwald clicked on the file, a strobe light triggered a seizure. Eichenwald fell to the ground and was incapacitated for several days, lost feeling in his left hand and had trouble speaking for several weeks.

Assault with a deadly weapon is a felony offense. In order to prove assault with a deadly weapon, the state must show that a defendant used  a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. Many states consider guns or firearms deadly weapons. Nevertheless, a variety of instruments can be considered deadly weapons. Assault can include knowing, intentional, or even reckless conduct.

Here, the evidence demonstrated the defendant had an intent to cause Eichenwald harm. Rivello knew that Eichenwald suffered from epilepsy and bragged to another Twitter user that he hoped Eichenwald would suffer a seizure and die. While a GIF is not generally considered a “deadly weapon,” to someone who suffers from epilepsy, a strobe light is as dangerous as a tangible weapon. What’s more, it’s a well-known trigger to cause epileptic seizures. In this way, the grand jury considered the disability of the victim, the intent of the defendant, and the use of the GIF to cause the defendant’s desired result.

Now the case will go to trial to see whether a jury of Rivello’s peers will convict him of assault with a deadly weapon.

Treason: Is It the Future for President Trump?

It’s hard to believe that President Trump has been in office for less than 100 days.  While Trump’s ties to Russia paint an incomplete picture, we are starting to see that there’s more than merely circumstantial evidence of a connection to Russia. The word “treason” is being thrown around in the same breath as Trump’s young presidency.

What is Treason?

In the most basic sense, treason is the crime of betraying one’s country. Under Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, any person who levies war against the United States or adheres to its enemies by giving them Aid and Comfort has committed treason within the meaning of the Constitution.

treasonHow is Someone Convicted of Treason?

There are two ways to commit treason, by either levying war against the government or providing and or comfort to the enemy.

Levying war against the U.S. includes forcibly opposing the law. Planning to overthrow the government alone isn’t considered levying war. There must be an assemblage of people who intend to use force to overthrow the government. In this way, no person acting along could be guilty of levying war.

Providing aid or comfort to the enemy can include a wide array of actions, from providing financial assistance to harboring an enemy soldier. Any intentional act that helps weaken the United States or aides an enemy’s hostile design can be considered treason.

It’s important to note that the Treason Clause only applies to disloyal acts committed during times of war. If an act of disloyalty is committed during peacetime, they are not considered treasonous under the Constitution.

What Acts Have Been Found Treasonous in the Past?

Iva Toguri d’Aquino, a Japanese-American radio host who was better known as “Tokyo Rose,” was convicted of treason. Born to Japanese parents in America, she visited Japan in the early 1940s when war broke out and she became stuck in Japan. She took a job as a wartime DJ for Radio Tokyo, playing popular American music and engaged in banter that was considered a means to undermine the morale of U.S. troops. Although most later believed that her banter did not undermine U.S. troops morale, there was public outcry when Tokyo Rose asked to return to the U.S. after the war. She was tried and found guilty of one count of treason for “[speaking] into a microphone concerning the loss of ships,” per the FBI. She served over six years of a 10-year sentence.

And you’ve probably heard of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were the first American civilians executed in the electric chair under the Espionage Act in 1953. Julius and Ethel were arrested in July 1950 for heading a spy ring that passed top-secret information concerning the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They were sentenced to death after a short trial. However, they were not charged with treason because the Soviets were not considered at war with the U.S. at the time.

No one has been convicted of treason in the United States in nearly 70 years.

Can Trump be Charged with Treason?

The short answer is “no.” Treason is only found if a country or entity has declared war or is in a state of open war. While Russia is generally a foreign adversary, we are not at war with Russia. It is much more likely that if the FBI could prove Trump’s ties to Russia, Trump could be charged under the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act is commonly used to prosecute leakers and bans the conveyance of information meant to interfere with the operation of the United States Armed Forces or promote the success of America’s enemies.

Treason Punishment

One could argue that we are at cyber war with Russia. In that case, what could Trump’s punishment be if convicted of treason?

According to the Constitution, a person who is found guilty of treason in the U.S. “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined…not less than $10,000; and is incapable of holding any office under the United States.” In other words, Trump would be stripped of his Presidency and likely imprisoned and fined.

Trump and Russia: FBI Director Confirms Investigation into Possible Ties

March 20th was a big day. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey revealed two bombshells during a special hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. First, he confirmed that there is no evidence to corroborate Trump’s claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump during the election. Second, Comey announced that the FBI is investigating whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. The investigation continues on despite Trump’s insistence that the Russia story is “fake news”. The revelation is certainly unusual given the FBI discloses its investigations only in rare circumstances when it is in the public interest.

What does the FBI Investigate?

The FBI is tasked with many things, including but not limited to terrorism, public corruption, cyber crimes, and counterintelligence. Since 1917, the FBI is responsible for “identifying and neutralizing ongoing national security threats from foreign intelligence services.” They are designed to identify security breaches, spies and compromised officials. In general, counterintelligence investigations are among the FBI’s most difficult and time-consuming cases.  They rarely lead to criminal charges.

What has the FBI Found?

In short, we don’t know. Comey made sure not to reveal anything because of the ongoing investigation. According to Comey, he doesn’t want to undermine an ongoing investigation. He did, however, confirm that an investigation of Trump’s possible ties to Russia is underway, and whether Trump helped undermine the Presidential election. According to Comey, the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Trump associates and Russia since late July 2016.

Trump and RussiaTrump’s Possible Russian Ties

To date, there are five identified people affiliated with the Trump administration that has ties to Russia. The people that got the most media attention for Russian ties are attorney general Jeff Sessions and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn went so far as to have had an undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador back in December. As a result, Flynn resigned from his post.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current senior adviser, also had a meeting at Trump Tower with Flynn and the Russian ambassador during campaign season. The extent and frequency of any of Trump’s inner circle to Russia remains unclear.

It’s certainly alarming that so many people close to the President have ties to Russia. Remembering what Trump has repeatedly said throughout his campaign, we know that he admires Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s actions show us that he respects Putin more than his predecessor President Obama. Why?

Some believe Russia is blackmailing President Trump. They theorize that Trump borrowed money from Russia to keep his personal businesses afloat in the early 90s after a string of bankruptcies, which could explain why Trump refused to release his tax returns. They further believe Russia has some sort of incriminating information about Trump.

What Would Happen if Trump has Ties to Russia?

If Trump is in fact working with the Russian government to compromise our own, two things will happen. First, he will be impeached. Second, he will be tried criminally for treason.

Impeachment is an accusation of wrongdoing committed by the sitting President. The House of Representatives can vote to impeach, or kick a President out of office, and the Senate tries the case. A simple majority of the House of Representatives (at least 218 votes) is required to impeach, followed by two-thirds majority vote in the Senate (at least 67 votes).

Under Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, any person who levies war against the United States or adheres to its enemies by giving them aid and comfort has committed treason. From the looks of things, there seems to be plenty of circumstantial evidence suggesting Trump and Russia are in cahoots. News outlets are now reporting there’s more than just circumstantial evidence proving a Trump and Russian connection.

Stay tuned.

Wiretapping: FBI Says Trump’s Claims are Unsubstantiated

When President Trump was elected to office, he visited with President Obama. The meeting went well enough with numerous photos of the two shaking hands, smiling and seemingly enjoying each other’s company. We can assume that cordial relationship is no longer.

President Trump tweeted an accusation against President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower prior to the election. When pressed about his source, Trump claimed he read in a January 20th New York Times article about President Obama’s wiretapping.

Trump’s Source

Although the New York Times article Trump cites as proof of Obama’s order to wiretap Trump Tower did contain the word “wiretap,” nowhere does it mention that the Obama administration ordered wiretapping. Instead, the article discussed an FBI investigation of possible links between unnamed Russian officials and Trump associates. Ironically, Trump has time and time again taken issue with the New York Times’ reporting, calling them “failing news.”

Why We Should All Be Worried About Trump’s Accusation

Trump’s assertion is alarming for several reasons. First, why is Trump relying on new media outlets, especially ones that he claims are “failing,” for intelligence reports? The president has various intelligence agencies at his disposal with tools that are more comprehensive than any news outlet. And why is he glued to the TV when he should be running the country?

It is also worrisome because we have to question his reading comprehension. If he interpreted an article discussing possible FBI investigation of Trump aides to mean that Obama himself ordered wiretapping, there is a clear disconnect between what he read, what it really means and what he interpreted.

Trump’s interpretation calls into question his understanding of Presidential Powers. Is it possible that Trump believes the F.B.I. serves at the instruction of the President and he therefore believed Obama ordered government surveillance of him and his aides? As the acting President of the United States, one would hope he knows what he can and cannot do.

Finally, does Trump really believe Obama wiretapped Trump Tower? If so, we have to question his mental sanity. He’s acting paranoid, not at all like a President.


The Proof is in the Pudding, and there is No Pudding

The New York Times denied ever writing any article that had the effect of claiming the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower. Numerous news outlets and government leaders have also questioned Trump as he points to absolutely no evidence to support his claims.

On Monday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey revealed that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department have found any information to corroborate Trump’s outlandish claims.

The “fake news” has been coming from President Trump all along.

A Lie is a Lie, but What Happens Next?

This isn’t the first lie Trump has been caught in, and it probably won’t be the last. But will he face any consequences for his lie?

The truth of the matter is that his lie could have serious consequences for former President Obama. Trump supporters believe whatever Trump says. What if one of them tried to harm Obama as retribution? Would that make Trump’s lie criminal?

The First Amendment of the Constitution affords people the right to free speech without government censorship. Nevertheless, constitutional law has its limits. Free speech does not give one the right to incite actions that could harm others. The classic example is falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. The mayhem that could ensue may harm numerous people as people stampede toward the exit.

What about falsely accusing his predecessor of wiretapping him, causing one of his supporters to stage an attack? Probably not. The only way “incitement” would be found is if the speech is substantially likely of causing some illegal activity and the speech is directed to causing it. Hypothetically if President Trump encouraged or asked his supporters to harm his predecessor, he could be prosecuted for incitement. But he didn’t.

There doesn’t seem to be any recourse for Trump’s incessant lying. Perhaps Congress may discuss impeachment, but that seems unlikely. Here’s to hoping he’s impeached on some other grounds and soon.

Trumpcare: Who Will Suffer Under the New Plan?

For the past several years, the GOP has vocalized their opposition to Obamacare. Now that they have control of Congress and the Executive branches, they’re finally doing something about it.

The American Health Care Act, coined “Trumpcare,” is the Republicans’ response to the “failed” Obamacare.

Why Repeal Obamacare?

According to the GOP, Obamacare is collapsing, and it must be repealed in order to protect Americans. They point to health insurance premiums that were created by the law that increased markedly this year. Why? Insurers didn’t anticipate so many medical claims would be filed by their consumers. If you believe the GOP’s argument, Obamacare is unsustainable and will eventually leave millions without health care. According to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, it is an “act of mercy” introducing a new health care bill.

But the proposed Trumpcare would actually leave millions more uninsured. Under Obamacare, most people are still able to get health plans for less than $100 due to subsidies provided under the plan, which taxes the wealthy in order to provide health insurance plans to the masses. Trumpcare no longer will tax the wealthy to help subsidize health care for those who struggle to pay for health insurance.

Who Will Suffer Under Trumpcare?Trumpcare

Trumpcare will leave millions of people without health insurance. It will potentially leave 14 million Americans uninsured under the new health care bill than under Obamacare in 2018, rising to 24 million by 2026.

There are also specific groups of people who will be most negatively impacted by Trumpcare.

Low-income Elderly

According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”), the American Health Care Act would be devastating to older Americans who obtain their insurance from the individual market. While the proposed bill will lower overall premiums in the individual market by 10 percent by 2026 as compared to Obamacare, the premium amounts depend on age and income. Specifically, a younger and presumably healthy person could pay less in premiums than an elderly person with many ailments.

The CBO gave this example: a person with an annual income of $26,500 that is 21 years would pay on average $1,700 in premiums for insurance on Obamacare, but on Trumpcare, that same person would pay $1,450. Sounds great, right?

But if that person is 64 years old with the same annual income of $26,500, he would still pay $1,700 in premiums under Obamacare, but pay a whopping $14,600 in premiums under Trumpcare. That’s more than half of his income toward medical premiums. For most, that is prohibitively expensive.

Women on Medicaid

The amount of women on Medicaid who seeks contraceptive care will lose that care in enormous numbers. The Trumpcare proposal plans to defund Planned Parenthood for one year. It will prohibit patients from using their Medicaid coverage at Planned Parenthood. Medicaid is a government program that helps low-income people obtain medical coverage.

Defunding Planned Parenthood will affect services that help women avert pregnancies. Moreover, there are few health care clinics or medical practitioners that are willing to serve the low-income population. Restricting access to contraceptive care can lead to several thousand more births to children that will eventually be on Medicaid themselves. Ultimately, this could cost as much as $21 million in 2017.

Trump Supporters

Ironically, Trumpcare will severely hurt many of those that voted for him. Research shows that the Trump voter does better under Obamacare than Trumpcare. How can this be? Most of the people who voted for Trump were older, lower-income citizens. It appears that despite all his promises regarding health care to his voters, Obama did more for them than Trump. When confronted with this reality in an interview, President Trump responded, “Oh, I know.” Go figure.