Posts Tagged legal news

Double Jeopardy Protection? Maybe.

By: Maria Hibbard

Before I came to law school, I thought the right to be protected from double jeopardy, or being tried for the same crime twice, was one of the guaranteed rights of the American judicial system. If I’ve learned anything throughout my first year of law school, however, it’s that the answer to the question of whether anything is guaranteed is “possibly” or “maybe.”

Although the right to be protected from double jeopardy is preserved in the Fifth Amendment, as Andrew Cohen noted this weekend in The Atlantic, this right has frequently been eroded by precedent and the very nature of our judicial system. When the Supreme Court decided Blueford v. Arkansas last week, the right against double jeopardy became even more subject to parsing. In the original trial, Blueford was charged with capital murder, first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide for the death of a one-year old child. When the jury returned from deliberation, the foreperson stated that although they had voted unanimously to acquit the murder charges, they were deadlocked on manslaughter and did not vote on negligent homicide.  Although the judge sent the jury back to deliberate more on the lesser charges, a mistrial was declared.

The Supreme Court had to decide whether the foreperson’s announcement of the jury’s votes to acquit were sufficient to invoke double jeopardy protection on the murder charges. The Court agreed with the state, however, saying that protection was not valid because the jury could have re-evaluated their acquittal when they were sent back to deliberate further on the lesser charges. Chief Justice Roberts writes, “It was therefore possible for Blueford’s jury to revisit the offenses of capital and first-degree murder, notwithstand­ing its earlier votes. And because of that possibility, the foreperson’s report prior to the end of deliberations lacked the finality necessary to amount to an acquittal on those offenses…” In his analysis, Cohen criticizes the majority’s use of a hypothetical (not unlike the “what if” Socratic questions of my law school professors), noting the irony in the fact that although Blueford had heard the jury acquit him of the murder charges in open court, in his new trial (still yet to come) another jury could possibly still find him guilty.

What does this case mean for public defenders and appellate advocates? There’s no double jeopardy protection in a mistrial, even if the jury’s vote to acquit is stated in court. Although the Fifth Amendment seems to guarantee double jeopardy protection for every defendant, the only thing that seems to be sure is that it “depends on the circumstances.”

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Job o’ the Day: Senior Litigation Attorney at the Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida!

This public interest law firm is looking for a senior attorney with 5+ years of experience practicing civil complex litigation and class actions.

The Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida, Inc. (LACCF) is a non-profit non- Legal Services Corporation restricted law firm dedicated to enforcing the legal rights of eligible low-income clients and disabled persons in Florida Legal Services Region III by providing advice and counsel, legal representation on “impact matters” and class action lawsuits, community education and outreach, and legislative advocacy.

Sound interesting to you? Check out the listing at PSLawNet!

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The Legal Profession’s Regulation Debate: What Does it Do for the Access to Justice Gap?

by Kristen Pavón

So, there’s a debate brewing about whether the legal profession should be as heavily regulated as it is. In case you haven’t read the NY Times op-ed and the Atlantic piece, I’ll get you up to speed.

The crux of the argument in the New York Times op-ed is that

the barriers to entry [to law practice] exist simply to protect lawyers from competition with non-lawyers and firms that are not lawyer-owned — competition that could reduce legal costs and give the public greater access to legal assistance.

In the Atlantic’s piece, Jordan Weissmann disagrees with most of Clifford Winston’s arguments for deregulating the legal profession — except that he agrees that non-JDs should be able to own law firms for the sake of technological advances. He argues that

[l]etting more people become lawyers won’t drive down costs in high-flying corporate law. And although it could help control legal fees for the rest of us, we could wind up allowing under-educated people to represent important cases for families who can’t afford the high-flying treatment.

I haven’t formulated a complete opinion on this issue, but I have some questions — how would deregulation affect the access to justice gap? Would there really be a positive change, like Winston envisions, for effectively representing clients who would otherwise a) go pro se to settle their legal issues or b) not do anything to settle their legal issues? How low would legal costs go? Low enough for the poor? Would the public interest law arena remain unchanged?

Thoughts?

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Topeka Repealed Local Domestic Violence Law? Huh?

by Kristen Pavón

Huh?

That was my initial thought after reading an article in the NY Times about the repeal of a domestic violence law in Kansas. Seriously, people?

With slim budgets all around, dangerous games with people’s safety at stake are being played. Prosecutors are forced to play the priorities game — having to decide which cases they’ll take on and the ones they’ll let slide. City leaders play chicken — repealing laws hoping the county or state will pick up their slack.

This week, at a seemingly routine City Council meeting in Topeka, Kansas, domestic violence victims were on the losing end of these games.

By a vote of 7 to 3, the City Council repealed the local law that makes domestic violence a crime.

The thought behind this being that the state’s District Attorney would be forced to prosecute domestic violence cases because they would remain a crime under state law.

However, the problem is that the state is struggling financially as well.

Eighteen people have been arrested on domestic violence charges since September and released without charges because no agency is accepting new cases. That has raised concerns among advocates for victims of domestic violence, some of whom gathered Tuesday outside government buildings to express outrage over the gamesmanship.

To me, this is pretty outrageous. I understand we have to make some sacrifices because of our nation’s dire economic state, but I gotta ask — How far back are these budget cuts going to take us?

Read more here.

Thoughts?

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Colorado State Lobbyist Convicted of Second Degree Burglary & Criminal Mischief

by Kristen Pavón

Ahh, it’s Friday, Friday and I have another gem for you courtesy of FindLaw’s Legally Weird blog.

Ronald Smith, a Colorado state lobbyist, faces 18 years in jail for burglarizing his ex-wife’s house. [Some background here: they were in the thick of a divorce and a custody battle.]

Here’s where it gets weird —

The jury found him responsible for placing raw chicken into the home’s vents, pouring bleach on her grand piano, and scratching the floors with metal cleats.

He put raw chicken in her vents?! Ew. Ew. Ew. Who does that?! Read more here.

Thankfully, he didn’t physically harm her. As a related FYI — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Have a great and safe weekend, readers!

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Things That Make You Go Hmmm… Weird Legal Dish

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LegalZoom to the Rescue? A Solution to Access to Justice Issues?

By Kristen Pavón

LegalZoom, the nation’s leading provider of online legal document services and legal plans to families and small business, unveiled an innovative new cost-effective service that combines technology with a network of law firms to prove one-on-one consultations.

Here’s more about how the service would work from The Sacramento Bee,

In most states, users can access an experienced attorney for free at the LegalZoom website. After an initial trial period, users can continue to get advice from an attorney on virtually any legal matter, as well as have legal documents reviewed on their behalf, by paying a low monthly fee.

There is no word on exactly how much this low-cost alternative will be or what legal issues will be handled, but with the access-to-justice crisis in full effect and no real end in sight, it’s definitely worth a look.

What do you think about this initiative as an option for providing legal aid to low-income populations?

Check out more details here.

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Classy Awards: Our Own Honorable Mentions

By Kristen Pavón

This weekend, awards were given to twelve non-profit organizations and leaders to honor and celebrate their good work at the third annual Classy Awards, the largest philanthropic awards ceremony in the country.

Among the night’s winners were The Soldiers Project, Invisible Children, Northwestern University Dance Marathon and Marley’s Mission.

Five of the nominees were legal services-related. They are doing great work at home and abroad — let’s check ’em out.

Domestic Violence Action Center

Honolulu-based DVAC has focused on shaping awareness about domestic violence and maintaining the safety of domestic violence victims for more than 20 years.

DVAC has assisted almost 200,000 callers, served nearly 4,000 children and their families, made 5,781 court appearances, provided 16,570 court accompaniments, completed 30,522 safety plans and conducted 24,219 risk assessments by expertly trained staff.

Read DVAC’s entire nomination here.

Lutheran Ministries and Social Services of WACO
LMSS of Waco is a free legal clinic serving Waco, Texas, the fifth-poorest city in Texas and sixteenth-poorest city in the country. Their Legal Assistance Project is one of fourteen self-help or assisted pro se legal aid clinics in the state. Clients are educated about the court process, provided legal forms, and are supported by non-attorney advocates who follow the guidelines for providing legal information. To read their complete nomination, click here.

Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship

The Global Center was established at the University of the Pacific in 2006 to create a whole new generation of solution–minded pragmatists who will pioneer practical, inventive, and sustainable approaches to address the world’s most pressing social issues, including poverty, disease, malnutrition, environmental degradation, injustice and illiteracy. The Global Center has created 20 innovative student-centered programs focusing on these social issues. Read their entire nomination here.

Hunterdon Hispanos
“Hunterdon Hispanos is the only nonprofit in Hunterdon County, NJ devoted to Hispanic issues and run primarily by Hispanics.” Among other services, Hunterdon Hispanos provide legal advice, access to other resources, translation support and advocacy making it possible for crime victims to work with Prosecutors on cases. Their goal is to continue to bring people together around issues of mutual concern, break down barriers and build community for the benefit of all. Read their nomination here.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners! Keep doing good work!

Do you know a non-profit organization that deserves recognition for the work they do? Let us know!

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