Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How a Murderer Becomes a Terrorist: Eric Frein and Domestic Terrorism

Although the 48-day manhunt for suspected murderer Eric Frein came to a close last monthnew charges against the fugitive were just released last week.  The charges, two counts of terrorism, were derived from a letter that Frein allegedly wrote to his parents last year, and which he edited as recently as October of this year.  Frein is charged with attacking two Pennsylvania State Troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks this past September.  One trooper was killed and the other was wounded in the sniper attack.  Accordingly, Frein is also charged with, among other things, first degree murder and attempted murder.  Based on the response to the charges in various media outlets, adding the two counts of terrorism to Frein’s list of charges may seem counterintuitive.  This new development certainly raises a number of questions:  What is required for an individual to be charged with terrorism and how does Frein’s letter relate to these charges?  What other domestic terrorists can Frein be compared to?

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Need to Seize the Abuse: Civil Asset Forfeitures and the Efforts at Reform

At a time when the public is becoming more aware and informed of law enforcement related abuse, some have begun to take note of one of the most common, and most profitable, forms of abuse: civil asset forfeitures.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the federal government encouraged state and local police departments to play a more active role in searching for both suspicious people and suspicious activity. This encouragement, reinforced with millions of dollars on training and education, has resulted in an environment in which police officers routinely confiscate money and property from individuals who have not been, nor are, accused of a crime. The government need only show by preponderance of the evidence that the property was being used for illegal purposes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jailing Lolita: Juveniles as Defendants in Prostitution Cases

“Imagine you’re a teenager . . . and you’re having your worst day, a day when you feel sad or ugly . . . and an older man comes up to you and tells you, with sincerity and warmth ‘you’re so beautiful’ or ‘you’re so amazing.’”  According to Alameda County officials, that’s how countless girls as young as twelve or thirteen are ensnared into juvenile prostitution networks.  Over the last three years, juvenile prostitution has proven to be a burgeoning problem in America’s urban environments.  According to the Department of Justice, over forty percent of all human trafficking cases are related to the trafficking of children for the sex trade.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Whitfield v. United States: De Minimis Movements

Whitfield v. United States
Docket No. 13-9026
Argument Date: Dec 2, 2014

On December 2, 2014, the Supreme Court of United States will decide whether 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e), which applies to a bank robber who forces another person to accompany him while in flight from the crime scene, requires proof of more than a de minimis movement of the victim.  § 2113(e) states: “whoever, in committing any offense defined in this section [bank robbery], … forces any person to accompany him without the consent of such person, shall be imprisoned not less than ten years, or if death results shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.”  Federal circuit courts differ on how to interpret the words “to accompany him.”  The Fifth and Tenth Circuits have held force-accompaniment only happens upon a showing of substantial movement of a victim as compared to what usually happens during a bank robbery.  However, the Fourth Circuit held that this section applies to all forced movements no matter how insubstantial.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Federal Supervised Release System: Kicking an Offender Down When He Is Trying to Get Back Up

In 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act abolished the Federal Parole System and replaced it with the Federal Supervised Release System. Though the Federal Supervised Release System was supposed to serve the same rehabilitative function for offenders as the parole system, supervised release has led to many negative consequences for offenders. Instead of serving as a system promoting offender rehabilitation as Congress intended, the supervised release system has actually served as more of a leash, pulling offenders right back into prison.
Under the previous parole system, a defendant would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment and after serving the minimum sentence for his prison term, a parole board would determine whether the defendant was ready for release. When the inmate was released from jail on parole, a parole officer would then monitor him or her in the community. The effect of the parole system was that the individual was serving a portion of his or her jail time out in the community under supervision. It seemed reasonable that if one were let out of jail early, that there would be some type of supervision of the individual while out in the community completing his sentence.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How Real is a Facebook Threat?

The Supreme Court agreed in June 2014 to hear the case of Elonis v. United States, an important First Amendment challenge that will attempt to clarify after years of ambiguity and split decisions in the lower courts the question of when threats, specifically internet threats, should be taken seriously by the law.  The case will be heard on December 1st of this year, and will clarify whether threats of violence made on social media sites such as Facebook, should be judged by (1) whether the speaker intended to harm anyone, or (2) whether the recipient was genuinely afraid of being harmed.  Essentially, it is a decision that will decide whether the crime should be judged by the actor’s subjective intent or the target’s subjective belief.

Online death threats are becoming all too common.  Recent examples include an 11-year-old who faced death threats through Facebook over his love of hunting, a mayor whose life was threatened by his paper boy, and hundreds of Harvard students who received emails from a sender who threatened to “shoot all of you” and “kill you individually.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

New Marijuana Policy In Brooklyn, New York

District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced back in July a new policy in regards to marijuana possession. Under the new policy, the Kings County District Attorneys Office in Brooklyn, New York will no longer prosecute first-time offenders who were arrested for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession. Low-level possession is twenty-five grams or less. DA Thompson’s policy reasons for this change included making better use of limited resources, and preventing otherwise good young men from being saddled with a criminal record due to a minor, non-violent offense. Before the policy was in effect, seventy percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in New York had no prior criminal record. Furthermore, eight-five percent of those who were arrested, were minorities, specifically blacks and Hispanics.  In 2012 alone, more than 12,000 people were arrested for small amounts of marijuana possession.  The District Attorney also cited that most judges in the county already tended to dismiss Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession, and that the focus should be on more serious crimes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rodriguez v. United States: De Minimis Car Searches

Rodriguez v. United States
Docket Number: 13-9972

Argument Heard: TBD

The Supreme Court has previously held that, during an otherwise lawful traffic stop, asking a driver to exit a vehicle, conducting a drug sniff with a trained canine, or asking a few off-topic questions are "de minimis" intrusions on personal liberty that do not require reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to comport with the Fourth Amendment.[1]  This case poses the question of whether the same rule applies after the conclusion of the traffic stop, so that an officer may extend the already-completed stop for a canine sniff without reasonable suspicion or other lawful justification.