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Bill Cosby’s Sexual Assault Trial Begins

The allegations of rape and sexual assault against famous comedian and actor Bill Cosby have been some of the most well publicized accusations in recent memory. With nearly 60 women coming forward with accusations of rape and sexual assault, usually involving situations where Mr. Cosby drugged them before sexual intercourse, the stories that came out were horrifying to say the least. However, despite all these accusations, the only civil case over the allegations was brought in 2004 and settled in 2006.

A large part of this is that a great deal of the accusations date back to the 70s and 80s, at least one goes all the way back to 1965. Unfortunately, rape and sexual assault often come along with statutes of limitations which limit the time period in which a claim can be brought. In California, where many of the attacks allegedly took place, this limitation was 10 years after the act occurs. Since the allegations against Mr. Cosby came to light, and many say in response to the allegations, California and many other states have removed the statutes of limitations for rape and sexual assault.

However, not all the accusations were based on actions from the 70s. One Ms. Andrea Constand alleges Mr. Cosby sexually assaulted her as recently as January of 2004. She went to the police with her accusations in 2005 but the local prosecutor decided not to press charges on her behalf against Mr. Cosby. However, as accusations outside of the statute of limitations continued to pile up in 2014 and onward, Ms. Constand’s criminal charges were brought in December of 2015-just a month before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations was set to expire.

The criminal case has just recently got underway, and just days ago the prosecution finished making their arguments against Mr. Cosby. The case, charging Mr. Cosby with criminal sexual assault as opposed to rape, has been the subject of extreme press scrutiny. In order to understand these charges, let’s take a look at what needs to be proven in a criminal sexual assault charge and the facts alleged against Mr. Cosby and in his defense.

Bill CosbyHow Does Criminal Sexual Assault Work?

Sexual assault, like all sexual crimes, are some of the most heinous our criminal justice system handles. Like almost all criminal law, exactly how sexual assault works varies depending on each state’s statute. It’s worth noting, however, that sexual assault and rape have some of the most substantial variations in how they are handled from state to state. In general, sexual assault is any nonconsensual touching of a sexual nature-in some cases statutes require that touching to be done by force, threat of force, or violence. Sexual touching is generally understood as the knowing and purposeful touching of an intimate or private part of another. Depending on the statute, this touching may include touching with objects, touching through the clothes, and may or may not require penetration. Often the touching need only be un-consented and offend a reasonable person. A lack of consent can generally exist where a person is unable to communicate consent due to physical helplessness including helplessness induced by alcohol or drugs.

In Pennsylvania, where the criminal charges are being brought, sexual assault is a class two felony defined as “sexual intercourse of deviate sexual intercourse with a compliant without the complainant’s consent.” Deviate sexual intercourse includes penetration, no matter how slight of the genitals or anus of another person with a foreign object for non-medical and non-law enforcement related procedures. Basically, this means that the charges require evidence of: 1) sexual intercourse or actual penetration of genitals or anus with a foreign object; 2) without consent. This is more strict than many other statutes in the nation, especially the requirement of actual penetration.

The charges carry an even higher penalty where they are committed either 1) when a victim is unconscious or the person charged knows the victim is unaware sexual intercourse is happening; or 2) where the person charged substantially impairs the victim, with drugs or otherwise, without their knowledge and for the purpose of preventing resistance.

The Charges Against Mr. Cosby

First and foremost, nobody is guilty until proven so by a jury of their peers. However, if true, the events told by Ms. Constand are gut-wrenching to say the least. One of the requirements of our legal system is that an accuser in a criminal case must testify. This is based on the premise that the accused has the right to confront their accuser. Often, victims of rape and sexual assault are hesitant to do this as confronting their rapist is, for obvious reasons, too mentally distressing. What’s more, while there are limitations on the type of questions that may be directed at a victim of rape or sexual assault known as rape-shield laws, consent is always at issue and the attorney for the defense will almost always bring up the sexual history of the victim to some extent in establishing whether the accuser consented. The defense’s attorney may, and usually will, make lines of questioning related to prior consensual sex between the defendant and the accuser, other potential sources of bodily fluids, evidence attacking the series of events the accuser describes, and situations that may show the rape was not committed by a defendant. These situations make sense, sexual assault and rape are very serious accusations. However, to say that testifying as a victim of a sex crime can be extremely difficult is a huge understatement. This was what Ms. Constand faced as she testified as part of the prosecution’s case this last week.

Ms. Constand’s testimony, nearly seven hours in length, described Mr. Cosby building a mentorship relationship with her while she worked as director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Mr. Cosby’s alma matter Temple University. She stated that Mr. Cosby never expressed clear interest in her, although she did rebuff his advances twice while she knew him. She describes considering him a mentor and not thinking twice about accepting his invitation to his house to discuss her future career. She also says that this trusting relationship led her to not question accepting and taking three pills he offered her for stress. This leads to the part Cosby has already admitted in a past deposition, that he gave Ms. Constand pills and had sexual contact with her while she was under their influence.

Mr. Cosby’s version of the story is a bit difference, and discusses the situation as a consensual sexual encounter. In his previous 2005 deposition, he had admitted giving Ms. Constand pills but had said that he still thought the encounter was consensual.  His defense attorney has pointed to 72 phone calls that occurred after Ms. Constand says Mr. Cosby assaulted her. Something that Constand describes as returning Mr. Cosby’s phone calls due to his position on Temple University’s board essentially necessitating due to her position with the school. While Mr. Cosby has previously admitted to giving woman quaaludes, a prescription sedative, he and his lawyers state that he instead gave Ms. Constand Benadryl-something Cosby says he considered a sleeping aid. They point to a15 minute session of “holding” in a casino hotel room, along with one or two alleged encounters of a more sexual nature, as proof that they had a previous romantic relationship. Ms. Constand says she rebuffed Mr. Cosby on all these occasions.

Trial is Still Ongoing

Mr. Cosby is being tried by a jury of his peers. While his admitted actions are beyond inappropriate, it would also be premature to speculate on his guilt before testimony is complete in this case. That the act itself occurred is not contested, this case will certainly come down to a matter of whether the act was consensual. Consent especially is a historically unpredictable thing in courts, often coming down to the opinion of a specific jury. This can often take some particularly unfortunate forms as laws meant to prevent somebody from defending themselves are used to inappropriately attack a victim’s credibility.

We will know soon enough whether the evidence is there for a jury to treat his actions as criminal. What Mr. Cosby has already admitted to, as a man in a position of power taking advantage of a woman under that power, certainly seems at least morally reprehensible if not criminal. As to potential enhancements under the Pennsylvania statue, they seem unlikely at this time as Ms. Constand was both conscious for the act and knowingly took the medication Mr. Cosby provided her. If found guilty Cosby will go to jail for up to 10 years as felony sexual assault is a second degree felony in Pennsylvania. Were the charges enhanced, he would have faced up to 20 years.

Uber Part 2: Is Levandowski Guilty of Stealing Trade Secrets?

Yesterday, we talked about Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber over the alleged theft of the secrets behind Waymo’s self-driving car technology. What we didn’t get a chance to get into is the criminal consequences for the man who allegedly stole the files in the first place-Anthony Levandowsky.

After years of working with Google and Waymo, Levandowsky allegedly quit with no notice; making off with upwards of 14,000 confidential files relating to Waymo’s self-driving car technology. He immediately started his own self-driving software firm named Otto. Then, mere weeks after Otto came into existence, Uber (in the process of designing its own self-driving technology named Lidar) bought the whole shebang for $680M.

This led to the lawsuit against Uber, which we discussed in a previous article. However, it also might lead to even more serious problems for Levandowski.  When Uber’s attorneys attempted to question Levandowski in an effort to gather evidence for their civil case, he invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. Pleading the 5th is asserting your right to not be forced to act as a witness against yourself in a criminal case but can be used to avoid testifying in either a criminal or a civil case so long as the answer to a question would tend to incriminate you. In a criminal trial, pleading the 5th can’t be used by a jury as evidence that somebody is guilty. This is not the case in a civil trial however, the jury is free to make any inferences they like when somebody pleads the right to avoid self-incrimination.

The judge in the case, Judge William Alsup, has certainly taken issue with Mr. Levandowsky’s actions. Taking into account both Levandowsky’s plea and apparently substantial evidence against him Judge Alsup has taken the rare step of reffering Mr. Levandowsky to the US Attorney’s Office for criminal charges.

The US Attorney’s Office may or may not proceed on Judge Alsup’s recommendation. Even if they do, it’s no guarantee that Levandowski will be found guilty-criminal proceedings require a higher standard of evidence. Criminal trade secret law is also similar, but not identical to its civil counterpart. In order to figure out exactly how much trouble Levandowsky is in, let’s take a look at exactly how criminal trade secret charges work as well as when and how the US Attorney’s Office decides to bring charges.

UberCriminal Trade Secret Law

Trade secret theft is a white collar crime under both state and federal laws. In federal law, the type of law Levandowsky would be facing if charged, it is governed by the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA)

Under the EEA, it is illegal steal, take without permission, carry away or obtain a trade secret by deception. It is also illegal to copy, download, upload, alter, destroy, transmit, give away, or sell a trade secret without permission. The EEA also makes it a crime to receive, buy, or own a trade secret that you know was wrongly obtained. A trade secret is defined as information that is made more valuable by being secret where its owner has taken reasonable steps to make sure the information stays secret.

For those of you who have read the article describing Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber earlier this week, these elements will sound quite familiar. However, there are a few differences between the criminal and civil sides of trade secret. First, the EEA makes it a crime to attempt or conspire to commit trade secret theft. At civil law this is not the case. As mentioned above, the standard of evidence is substantially different. Civil law requires a preponderance of the evidence-fifty percently likelihood plus a feather-criminal requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the single most substantial difference between civil and criminal trade secret is that criminal trade secret always requires evidence of intent and knowledge-the intent to “convert a trade secret” and knowledge that the person was committing one of the acts that are illegal under the EEA. Evidence of an intent to covert means that it must be shown that a person acted with the intention of exerting control over somebody else’s property which is not authorized by the property’s owner.

The evidence from the Waymo case makes it seem pretty cut and dried that Levandowski, at a minimum, took the 14,000 confidential documents without permission. His employment agreement made it fairly clear that they were not his to take. This means a criminal case against him would likely hinge on intent and knowledge. For somebody Levandowski, this would likely require proof that, at the specific time he committed a crime under the EEA, he did so with the intent to either use them himself or share the secrets contained within the documents he downloaded. The evidence certainly points this way. Especially damning is alleged evidence of plans to sell Otto to Uber from before Levandowski even left Waymo. Knowledge would require evidence that Levandowsky knew he was not supposed to take the documents he did. As mentioned already, we know this is the case because his employment agreement clearly forbade him to take and share those documents.

Will Criminal Charges Be Brought?

You can see that there’s a pretty strong potential case here against Levandowski. It’s worth noting that it is by no means ironclad. Levandowsky certainly had access to the files, partially because of his position. However, how easily accessed those files are might impact whether Waymo took sufficient measures to protect their trade secrets. The issue of intent may also be muddied somewhat by the exact level of access to the files Levandowsky was allowed in his position. If he actually believed he was allowed to take the files then he would not have the necessary intent for a criminal conviction.

All of this will be taken into account when the US Attorney’s Office decides whether to prosecute the case. Due to how overextended the budget of the Attorney’s Office is, criminal charges under the EEA are moderately rare. They often come up in situations where the secrets are owned by the government and/or are taken by international agents-a situation that the EEA slaps with higher penalties. For instance, the very first (and potentially most famous) EEA trade secret case involved a Chinese national who stole trade secrets related to the US Space Shuttle Program from Boeing.

Levandowsky is certainly not on this level. However, he would be far from the first homegrown conviction. Nor would he be the first criminal conviction that didn’t deal with earth-shatteringly important secrets-space shuttles, military software, and the like. In fact, the US Attorney’s Office has a published policy for how it decides whether it should prosecute a violation under the EEA. This policy looks at a number of factors including : 1) how wide the scope of the criminal activity is and especially whether a foreign government is involved; 2) how bad the economic injuries are to whoever owns the trade secret; 3) what type of trade secret was stolen (military secrets are obviously way up there on the priority list); 4) how effective a civil remedy would be; and 5) the potential deterrent value of bringing criminal charges-how much it will scare off similar criminals.  The existence of a civil remedy doesn’t weigh that much against prosecution as that remedy will almost always exist.

Levandowsky, if guilty, has immeasurably damage Waymo in their quest to be first to market in the burgeoning self-driving technology field. However, his single act of theft from a private company who is already suing in civil court might just be too small fry for the US Attorney’s Office to bother with.

What Does Levandowsky Potentially Face?

We’ll have to see if the US Attorney’s Office chooses to pursue a case against Mr. Levandowski. It’s unlikely Judge Alsup would have recommended charges if the case against Levandowski was not particularly strong. If they do chose to come after him, he’ll be facing up half a million in fines and a decade in prison.

Even with just the civil case leveled against him, Levandowski is in hot water. Criminal charges would take that water to boiling. However, even if the US Attorney’s Office does bring charges they are unlikely to do so particularly soon. For now, Levandowsky will just have to stew and hope.

20-Week Abortion Ban From Tennessee Means Big Changes for Pregnant Women

The governor of Tennessee recently signed a bill into law, effective July 1, which further regulates abortion in the state. Under this newly enacted measure, called the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act,” doctors are subject to criminal liability if they perform an abortion on a viable fetus and fail to show it was necessary to prevent the death or substantial and irreversible harm to the pregnant woman’s major bodily functions. A doctor may face license suspension and imprisonment for failing to comply with the act.

What Constitutes a “Viable” Fetus?

Under the act, once a fetus is viable, abortion is prohibited. “Viable” is defined as the stage of fetal development when an unborn child is able to survive outside the womb, with or without medical intervention. In Tennessee, there is a “rebuttable presumption” of viability at the gestational age of 24 weeks. (Gestational age is calculated from the first day of a pregnant woman’s last menstrual period.)

Though the act is often termed the “20-week abortion ban,” proponents of the act argue it merely requires doctors to assess fetal viability at the 20-week point in gestational age, if there is no medical emergency warranting a physician to immediately induce or perform an abortion. A physician’s good faith medical judgment that the fetus is not viable is an affirmative defense under the act.

What Medical Conditions Fall Under the Act?

If a physician determines the fetus is viable, the other affirmative defense is the abortion was necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life or prevent “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” There are certain medical conditions which can complicate pregnancy and potentially cause death or “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Examples include, but are not limited to, pre-eclampsia, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. However, any condition relating to a pregnant woman’s mental health, regardless of the reason, does not fall within the purview of the act. In addition, the act does not include cases in which a woman’s own conduct results in substantial bodily harm or her death.

abortion banThe Impact of the Act on Pregnant Women in Tennessee

Among the potential obstacles for pregnant women in Tennessee are the narrow exceptions provided for an abortion to be permitted under the act. The prevention of death or substantial harm to a woman’s health are the only exceptions. Circumstances of rape or sexual abuse which can result in pregnancy are not exceptions under the act. This is particularly problematic if a woman does not know she got pregnant as a result of the abuse until later in her pregnancy. Additionally, what if the ultrasound routinely performed at 20 weeks reveals a serious abnormality with the fetus? Due to the narrow exceptions under the act, a pregnant woman receiving such news would automatically be prevented from making the right, albeit difficult, decisions for her and her family.

Further, if the woman’s physician determines an abortion is necessary to save her life or prevent substantial harm to her health, this conclusion is not enough. Under the act, a second physician, who is not professionally related to the first physician, must make the same determination and certify it in writing. This requirement can delay a woman’s ability to receive the necessary medical treatment for a potentially life threatening condition. As long as her condition is not an emergency (the need for an abortion is not immediate), she must get the second opinion. In addition, access to the second physician might be problematic. Per the act, the two physicians cannot be professionally connected, which means the pregnant woman, already in a fragile state, might need to travel in order to receive the second opinion. In the meantime, during such delays, family members—partners, spouses, young children—who depend on the pregnant woman will be negatively affected. Also, as mentioned above, the act does not allow conditions relating to mental health to come under the exception. However, such conditions can still have a detrimental impact on a pregnant woman and her loved ones.

Regardless of where one stands in this debate, the act will undoubtedly impact pregnant women in Tennessee who seek an abortion for various reasons. Proponents of the act question how a doctor or pregnant woman could proceed with a late term abortion, especially when it is proven the fetus could thrive as a human being outside the womb. On the other hand, the act’s opponents argue it infringes on a woman’s constitutional right to decide what is right for her and her body, as well as impedes her ability to do what is best for her family and work with her doctors regarding her health and well-being.

What Your FitBit Can Say About You… In Court

Every day we share a tremendous amount of data without even knowing it, our wearable technology is no exception. In a recent Connecticut case, one man found this out the hard way after his deceased wife’s FitBit busted his alibi wide open and left him facing murder charges and $1M bail.

Richard and Connie Dabate lived in the small town of Ellington. After Connie was found shot to death in their basement, Richard told the police a story of how a masked man broke into their house. He claimed that after a vicious fight with the intruder, the man zip-tied him to a chair, stole his wallet and credit cards, slashed him across the face, then went down to the basement and murdered his wife.

However, Connie’s FitBit told a very different story. After looking at the data recorded on the device, the GPS data tracked by Ms. Dabate’s FitBit showed that during the time Mr. Dabate claimed he was struggling with the masked intruder Ms. Dabate had casually strolled 1,217 feet all throughout the house.

This evidence, along with a few other inconsistencies, harpooned Mr. Dabate’s alibi.  It also represents one of the earlier cases in something we will likely see much more of in the future–wearable technology testifying for or against its wearer.

FitBitWhat is a FitBit?

So first and foremost, for those unfamiliar let’s explain exactly what FitBits and wearable technology is.  A FitBit is a worn device which records your heartbeats, sleep schedules, location, distance traveled, and more.  It then transfers all this information to a cloud and organizes the information into digestible trends and data points for you to log into an account and track your health and progress.  You

They are the tip of the iceberg in a trend of wearable technology (a catch-all term for data enabled devices you wear on your body) from Google Glass and Google Watch to other fitness devices similar to the FitBit such as Garmin’s Vivofit.

Your FitBit Used Against You

You can see how the information stored in a FitBit, where you are, when you were there, how high your heart rate was, whether or not you were asleep, could be relevant evidence in either a criminal or a civil case.  It could kill an alibi or make it ironclad.

Mr. Dabate’s case is one of the earliest to use a FitBit in such a manner, but not the only recent case to take advantage of the data stored on a wearable.  In Pennsylvania, a Ms. Jeannine Risley got in trouble after her FitBit disproved a claim she made to the police that she had been raped.  Ms. Risley told authorities that an unknown man had pulled her from her bed and raped her in her bathroom. However, after the FitBit she claimed was lost in the attack was found in her room it revealed that she had been walking around the house the entire night. This, along with other evidence, lead to criminal false reporting charges  being brought against her. It’s worth noting here that, while this is an example of a FitBit being used as evidence, false reporting of rape is an incredibly rare occurrence as opposed to instances of genuine rape and sexual assault.

In Canada, a FitBit has also been used to establish how much less active a plaintiff in a personal injury case was after their injury than before. While this case is not out of the U.S., the data on a FitBit could easily be used in a similar manner here.

So you see how important this sort of information could be in any number of cases. Wearable devices like Google Glass collect even more information such as the internet searches you perform.  Where this data is relevant to a case, you could certainly be required to produce your FitBit or other wearable to the other side.

Similarly, the data constantly stored in cloud services could also be subpoenaed from the companies storing that data. Google receives countless data subpoenas every year. FitBit’s privacy policy, like nearly every privacy policy on the internet, states that it well release your data as “necessary to comply with a law, regulation, or valid legal process.”

This being said, there are a number of legal obstacles to using this data against you–although none of them are anywhere near foolproof. Many companies, such as Google, are resistant to data subpoenas as they undermine the public’s faith in their services. These companies will occasionally fight such a subpoena in court.

What’s more, this type of data’s relevance–something necessary to establish before the data or device may be required to be produced–can be undermined by challenging the accuracy of the data recorded or whether it was you using the device in the first place. There are also privacy considerations which may protect you against disclosing the data on a wearable device or device itself depending on how important the evidence on it may be to a case against you and which state you live in.

The truth is that the information stored on wearables, especially GPS location information, has so many potential applications in a lawsuit that it is only a matter of time until the use of such information becomes commonplace in both criminal and civil litigation. While you can delete much of the information stored through a FitBit if you wish, it’s more important to understand exactly what data you create and share about yourself on a daily basis. Any day now, that data could be your best friend or your worst enemy in a court case.

Sessions Wants to Go After Marijuana, But Congress Isn’t Interested

The legal house of cards on which the marijuana industry has built itself–legal at a state level but illegal federally–is one which has garnered much discussion. Built on promises of a hands-off policy from the Obama administration, the business of medical and recreational marijuana has exploded in states across the nation. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states as well as the District of Columbia. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in 8 states. All of these laws have led to booming industries which have one thing in common, the federal government could swoop in at any moment and shut them down with criminal charges.

The 2013 memo from the Obama administration, making it clear they would not prosecute marijuana offenses which were legal under state law, opened the door for this industry. By the same token, the policies of the Trump administration and its Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions could slam that door shut. The industry has rightly feared how Jeff Sessions would approach such laws due to his history of extreme opposition to marijuana as a whole. He has been quoted saying that”good people don’t smoke marijuana,” said that marijuana is nearly as bad as heroin, and even is on record as saying that he thought the KKK were good people until he “learned they smoked pot.”

The position implied by these statements has been mirrored in his behavior as AG. In February he warned that “states, they can pass the laws they choose…I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.” In a more recent policy memorandum, Sessions required all of his federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”  This memo means that prosecutors must seek approval from a superior before seeking anything but the most serious charges available–even for low-level crimes.

To build on this, Sessions’ memo clarifies that the policy requires federal prosecutors to pursue whatever charges will yield the longest sentences–especially charges that have mandatory minimum sentences. This position is directly opposed to the policies of AG Eric Holder under the Obama administration–they had a policy of avoiding mandatory minimums with nonviolent drug offenses. Holder, and many others, have  strongly criticized the new position.  Holder specifically described it as “dumb on crime;” emphasizing the ineffectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences when it comes to achieving fair outcomes or improving public safety.

Holder is not alone in his criticisms of how Sessions has been handling drug offenses and marijuana specifically. Congress has made this abundantly clear in the last several weeks as they have made moves to shut down Jeff Sessions’ ability to pursue either his attacks on state law or mandatory minimums.

SessionsNo Money, No Problem

Every year, Congress prepares a budget which basically determines what the government will provide monetary support to. This year, targeting state laws on medical marijuana is not on the list.

Section 537 of Congress’ 1,665-page spending bill specifically forbids Sessions and the Department of Justice from using any funds whatsoever to prevent states from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” These sort of sections aren’t really targeting Sessions specifically, there’s been a similar section in the budget every year since 2014.  However, this year it’s likely to have more impact than ever before.

The section specifically lists which states are off Jeff Sessions target list. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico are all free to follow their own laws when it comes to medical marijuana. The list of states is important partially because of who it does not include.  Indiana and North Dakota have passed new medical marijuana legislation in the past weeks and months respectively.  It is notable that neither of them are on list.

No funding basically hamstrings Sessions when it comes to targeting medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized–with the exception of North Dakota and Indiana. This leaves businesses built around medical marijuana safe from criminal charges in most states. However, it does nothing to keep Sessions from going after businesses built around the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Legislation May Target Heightened Sentencing As Well

In more recent news, the last few days have seen a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress.  This new bill sets its sights on mandatory minimums.  Introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul, Republican Representative Thomas Massie, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, and Democratic Representative Bobby Scott, the bill is a reintroduction of the Justice Safety Valve Act. First introduced in 2013, the law allows judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentences where there are mitigating factors to support that choice.

Those introducing the bill have specifically called out Sessions approach to mandatory minimums. Senator Paul has been quoted saying that “mandatory minimum sentences disproportionally affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies. As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws.” This is a position mirrored in statements from those introducing the law alongside Paul.

Congress has shown that they are not interested in supporting Sessions in a crackdown on marijuana laws–either through legislation or sentencing. However, the industry is far from out of the reach of the Department of Justice.  What’s more, Sessions has made clear that drug offenses will be a priority for the DoJ under his watch. As long as marijuana remains federally illegal, any business built on state law promises will be at the whims of the federal government. Only time will tell if the industry will be able to reach true stability.