Tag Archive for 'cases'

Why Is It so Hard to Indict Cops?

With so many recent cases of white cop vs. black man, the country has erupted into protests demanding change. The George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, Tamir Rice, and the Eric Garner case, have thrown the U.S. into a racial tailspin. These cases have all exemplified the complicated process of indicting cops.

why is it so hard to indict cops?Why is it so hard for a grand jury to indict cops? When 90% of cases end in indictment, why do the majority of cop vs. citizen cases end in non-prosecution of the cop?

What Law Does the Grand Jury See?

Indicting a police officer is a far more complicated process than indicting a citizen. The primary reason is that the law is very generous in giving cops the authority to use deadly force.

For example, in the Ferguson case, Missouri law gives officers the right to use deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” if the officer reasonably believes the deadly force is necessary to “effect the arrest” and also he “reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony…or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.”

What Protects Cops from Indictment?

Major criminal cases use police investigators and detectives, which poses an extreme conflict of interest in cop cases. Police officers can also serve as eye witnesses, since they were often the only people there (or the only people who lived to testify about it). This massive conflict of interest can affect a prosecutor’s expectations of the cop’s involvement.

Cops enter into the law enforcement field knowing they need to protect their fellow colleagues at any cost. This is exemplified in the field, as well as the court.

Police also have an extensive amount of specific legal protection. Each state has guidelines for what protects its police, but the laws that allow the use of force are backed by the Supreme Court. Police can use force when resisted against, and will extend their use of force if the criminal does the same.

It’s crucial to remember that police officers must make immediate, instinctive decisions to stay alive. This fact that influence a grand jury’s determination as to whether the officer acted reasonably under the circumstances.

Even in times where racial tension is at a high, the majority of the population favors cops. There is a central knowledge and belief that cops are essential to the safety of our country. Some might say they are a necessary evil. Jurors are often asked to put themselves in the police officer’s shoes in these types of cases, rather than the criminals. This creates an even bigger push to side with the police.

Even when police officers are indicted, reports from Philadelphia and Seattle show that most of these cases become overturned. This is a direct cause of the substantial due process protection for police officers.

The criminal justice system is corrupted with racial discrimination. This has especially been prominent in cases such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But, it is key to remember that the criminal justice system is also a complicated one. Only experts can decide if an indictment is necessary. Hopefully, this article has shed some light onto the widespread unknown reasons why indicting a cop is so hard.

Should Islamic Laws Be Allowed in US Courts?

Sharia Law’s Impact on the United States

A few years ago, voters were outraged when they heard that a judge had denied a woman a protective order after her husband had raped her because the husband was a Muslim who claimed that marital rape was legal under Islamic, or Sharia law. The decision was overturned on appeal, but anti-Sharia laws have popped up over the country since that case.

Sharia Islam Law In AmericaConflicts between Sharia law and American law largely arise in family law, typically when couples from countries that recognize Sharia law migrant to the United States. These couples file for divorce and will argue over domestic violence and/or property distribution. One of the spouses, usually the husband, will use belief in Islam as a justification for a legal conclusion that favors the spouse.

Alternatively, that same spouse, usually the husband, will argue that the prenuptial agreement signed in the original country was recognized under Sharia law, and the agreement should thus be recognized in the United States.

Sharia law also comes up in contract disputes and religious arbitrations involving Muslims.

Why We Should Discuss This Issue

Although conflicts between Sharia law and American law have existed since the 1970s, if not earlier, the idea of American courts applying Sharia law didn’t become explosive until the September 11 attacks. Seven states, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee, have enacted anti-Sharia laws. Alabama will vote on the issue this November.

Anti-Sharia laws have not gone unopposed. Oklahoma’s constitution amendment banning Sharia law was ruled unconstitutional because it was considered discriminatory. Missouri’s anti-Sharia bill was vetoed by Missouri’s governor because it would make international adoptions too difficult.

Many legal experts have dismissed the efforts to ban Sharia law as solutions in search of a problem. Ironically, they are making the same mistake as the hotheads who enact these anti-Sharia laws: they are dismissing the issue without giving the matter much thought. The issues with Sharia law are small, but we should examine rather than trivialize such cases. My cursory research into Sharia law in the United States has drawn me to these observations:

  1. Family cases involving Sharia law are limited to the facts. It would be difficult for Sharia law to “creep” into American case law because most of the cases involving Sharia law are distinguishable based on facts which don’t often arise outside of the Islamic community. In cases where American judges acted consistently with Sharia law, the parties were citizens from Pakistan, India, Israel, or other countries which use Sharia law. Our judges aren’t allowing Sharia law to supersede American law. Instead, our judges are recognizing the legitimacy of courts outside of the United States when the nationals of those other countries are involved.
  2. Cases involving Sharia law would reach the same outcome even if Islam wasn’t involved. In some cases, there is no conflict between Sharia law and our law. For instance, Sharia law demands that Islamic courts apply a “child’s best interest” standard when deciding child custody. Coincidentally, our legal system uses the same standard. Obviously, cultures will differ on what exactly is in a child’s best interests. Islamic courts believe that children who grow up in an Islamic society are better off than children who do not. That belief seems wrong, but let’s not forget that our own courts used to overvalue Christianity when they awarded the custody of Native American children to white parents. In other cases, our judges have decided to stay out of the case. For example, our judges cannot decide employment disputes between Imams and mosques. That is an internal religious dispute and our federal constitution forbids courts from meddling with the free exercise of religion. This would be true even if the conflict involved a minister and a church, so in these few cases there would be no difference in the outcome.

The Threat Which Is Not Threatening

Currently, these anti-Sharia laws are naïve experiments. Laws which specifically target Sharia specifically targets Muslims and are thus unconstitutional. Some states tried to “fix” that problem by making them broad. Instead of banning Sharia law, states like Oklahoma are banning “foreign law.” Alabama has taken this a step further and is prohibiting the application of laws which conflict with Alabama’s own policies.

Making the ant-Sharia laws broader only creates more problems. Banning foreign laws makes it next to impossible to attract international contracts since companies in other countries won’t do business if they don’t think their contracts will be honored. Alabama’s proposed law is even more extreme. I can’t see states like Alabama ignoring the United States Supreme Court merely because the Supreme Court decides cases contrary to Alabama law.

So if states are worried that their courts will decide cases which legitimize wife beating or marital rape based on Islam, what can these states do? Instead of having states enact unconstitutional and overbroad anti-Sharia laws, Congress should strengthen our refugee laws. Most of the women being victimized by Sharia law came to the United States to escape unjust marital arrangements and abusive husbands. If we make it easier for women from Islamic countries to obtain political refugee status, we would do more good than the symbolic, but empty, anti-Sharia laws that states are currently trying to enact.

Killer Beats: Can Rap Lyrics Be Used in Court?

You don’t need to be a fan of rap music to know that typical rap lyrics involve some element of storytelling. Depending on the social history of the rapper, the lyrics may seek to add rhyme and reason to otherwise illicit and violent surroundings that are not typical of mainstream America.

snoop dogg rap lyrics in courtWhile any artistic genre can claim to be focused on storytelling in a unique and personal way, only rap has the street cred as a genre to claim that some of the stories told have been used as evidence against their authors in criminal cases.

For example, both Mac Dre and Snoop Dogg have had their lyrics used as evidence against them in a court of law. In those cases, prosecutors sought to show motive or demonstrate that certain lyrics were an admission. Interestingly enough, no one put Johnny Cash on trial for shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. So how—and why—is rap different?

There is a strong argument to be made that rap isn’t fundamentally different in this regard. In some cases, juries don’t buy the evidence as representing an actual crime, and ultimately acquit the accused rapper. After all, rap is an art form, and as such, may be entirely fictional and not an autobiographical confession.

However, in a few more recent cases, prosecutors have built their cases almost solely around the rapper’s songs. For rappers who are less famous, the results have carried more serious consequences, including sentences of life in prison.

For evidence to be admissible, it must be relevant. Even then, it is subject to certain limitations, because we have deemed certain things to be too prejudicial or less reliable than others. Frighteningly, a prosecutor may not have too much of a challenge in admitting rap lyrics as evidence.

In the case of violent rap lyrics, a prosecutor to a murder case can argue that these lyrics are relevant because they are violent. He can also argue that the lyrics demonstrate the knowledge, motive, and intent to commit a murder. Rap lyrics will typically avoid any hearsay objections as a party admission.

This leaves defense attorneys to articulate how admitting these lyrics will confuse the jury as to the actual issues or substantially prejudice the defendant in some way. Objections can also be made regarding fictional, artistic, and protected speech. Sometimes the judge may agree.

In recent years, there has been an alarming trend in how often rap lyrics are used in court. This trend is more alarming when one considers that any other number of creative forms have yet to make their debut in a court of law. Perhaps the take away from this trend is that if you are going to express violent stories, you’d better write a novel or a country song.

Should There Be a Right To a Free Attorney in Civil Cases?

The American Bar Association has filed a brief in a New Hampshire court in favor of state funding of appointed counsel in certain civil cases.

As you may know, you have a constitutional right to have a lawyer appointed to defend you in most criminal cases, if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer. This makes perfect sense. After all, in a criminal case, a whole lot can be at stake. Usually, losing a criminal case means, at the very least, losing one’s freedom for a fairly long period of time. And, in the most extreme cases, the defendant’s life could be at stake. So, if we want to believe that we live in a free and fair society, we have to do absolutely everything we can to ensure that all criminal defendants get a fair trial. One essential element of that is a defense by a competent attorney, whether the defendant can afford it or not.

However, the law generally does not recognize a constitutional right to a free court-appointed lawyer in a civil lawsuit, whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant. To some people, this doesn’t make sense, because in many civil cases, just as much can be at stake as in a criminal case.

In a landlord-tenant lawsuit, a loss may result in a family being evicted from their apartment, and thrown out onto the street. In a lawsuit over eligibility for disability benefits, the applicant’s ability to obtain basic healthcare may be at stake. And, if parents are accused of abusing or neglecting their children, the state may initiate a civil action to have the children removed from their home (this issue is completely separate from the parents’ criminal liability for the alleged abuse). Generally, the law says that you have no right to a court-appointed attorney in these cases, even if you can’t afford one, and everything is at stake.

Many individuals and organizations, however, are seeking to change that.  The American Bar Association has advocated for state and federal authorities to provide attorneys in adversarial legal actions where “basic human needs” are at stake.

This is sometimes called a “Civil Gideon” rule, which refers to the Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which first recognized the constitutional right to court-appointed counsel for defendants in criminal cases.

California has led the way in this push. Back in 2009, the state legislature passed a law which closely mirrors the policy advocated by the ABA. It authorizes funding for court-appointed attorneys to indigent parties in civil cases that involve basic human needs, such as eviction and foreclosure cases, child custody cases, and cases involving eligibility for healthcare benefits such as Medicare or Medicaid. Anyone whose income is 200% above the poverty line or lower is eligible for court-appointed attorneys in these cases. For a family of four, this is an annual income of a little over $44,000.

Personally, I think that this is a sound policy, at least in theory. With the budgets of many states (notably California) being strained to the breaking point, adding yet another funding mandate is a tough pill to swallow for many Californians.

Also, some (mostly) conservative commentators have noted that such a rule will make it more difficult and expensive for landlords to carry out legitimate and justified evictions, which could end up raising rents on everybody, including the low-income renters that this law is intended to protect.

That’s probably the most compelling argument against this law. However, I think the pros of a rule like this most definitely outweigh the cons. It’s pretty hard to argue that a parent who is facing the prospect of losing custody of their children shouldn’t have a court-appointed lawyer in such cases. And if a severely disabled individual is denied SSDI benefits, it’s hard to argue with a straight face that they shouldn’t be able to pursue every legal avenue available to them to appeal this decision, as effectively as possible.

Obviously, such a system can never be perfect, and many practical issues come up, particularly having to do with its implementation. For example, should there be a dedicated state organization staffed by full-time lawyers, tasked with handling cases like these (like the office of the public defender)? Or should all California lawyers be required to participate in it? There are advantages and disadvantage to both approaches.

Another possible sticking point is the question of where to draw the line on what constitutes a basic human need. It’s likely that the courts will become involved in clarifying this language. After all, it would be prohibitively expensive to provide indigent parties with a lawyer in every civil case. And that was never the intent of this law.

In any case, I think the ABA has made the right decision in calling on state and federal governments to provide court-appointed lawyers in some civil cases. Given the fact that just as much can be at stake as in criminal cases, it’s really hard to argue that the same interests of justice do not apply to some civil matters.

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Criminal Court Trials Now Exceed The Number Of Civil Trials, Hell Freezes Over

It’s definite now.  I think we finally have definitive proof that when 2012 comes rolling in, the world will end.

Seriously though, I thought I would never see the day where the amount of criminal cases going to trial would actually exceed the number of civil cases getting their day in court.  But apparently, according to the Wall Street Journal, that is what’s exactly happening in courts all over America today.  Who knew one of the Four Horsemen would come in the form of judicial equilibrium?

The report cites a number of reasons for the uptick in criminal court trials.  Some of them include an increase in prosecution of drug and immigration offenses, along with a general growth of new criminal laws carrying new penalties on both the state and federal level.  But interestingly enough, the article also cites the large number of judgeship vacancies on the federal bench as one of the reasons why less civil cases are getting their day in court.

This is definitely a surprise to me considering that, in my opinion anyway, being a judge is one of the cushiest jobs in the world.  The salary can easily be in the six figures, the hours of work are basically whenever the judge feels like coming in, and let’s not forget about the respect and prestige that comes with being a federal judge.  But it seems like all these factors isn’t enough to keep the bench stocked with judges since about 67 of the 677 district court judge positions remain empty.  Meanwhile, the amount of federal criminal cases has gone up over 70 percent since the last decade.  All of this ends up causing civil cases to be put on the backburner until the criminal docket across the country are resolved first.

The strange thing about the coverage of this new development is the negative spin it’s getting from the media.  The overriding consensus from all the reporting I’ve seen on the matter so far has been that it’s hurting both big business and the little men and women of the world from getting the justice they deserve.

Now while I agree that all citizens should have the right to have their issues resolve by the courts, for years criminal defendants have been getting the shaft when it came to being able to exercise their right to a jury trial.  I mean, there are entire Wikipedia pages dedicated to the problem.

Plea bargaining is the worst offender of them all.  In the short term, criminal defendants get a seemingly good deal.  Generally, in exchange for pleading guilty a defendant will be given no jail time, time-served, a reduced fine, and/or in some cases no prosecution at all (usually that last one comes in the form of a The Wire-esque quid pro quo).

But the problem with this system is that unless you’re rich or have some other equally rare blessing in life, copping a guilty plea and getting a conviction on your record is something that follows you for the rest of your life.  A conviction on your record is kind of like have an annoying sidekick always following you around and screwing up your job interview or licking his shoes clean while you’re at your boss’s wedding.  It’s not something that you want to have, and though you may be able to tolerate its wacky antics and schedule your life around it’s zaniness, it’s not something that you should have to do.

So I say, good for you criminal justice system.  You finally achieved a little more parity in how you decide to send our country’s citizens to the slammer.

But what do you guys out there think about all of this?  Do you think it’s fair that civil cases are being delayed in order to hear criminal trials first?