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PROBLEM

Each year, approximately 450,000 Americans are held in jail every day because they don’t have enough money to bond out. It’s been called a “wealth-based detention scheme.” Many have had enough of this unfair system which detains poor folks even for non violent misdemeanor offenses. Many judges often set bail that they know people cannot afford as a way to keep them incarcerated. Former attorney general Eric Holder has chosen to support the cause. He believes the pretrial detention system is unconstitutional. He recently argued that judges must set bail that people can actually afford, while continuing to deny bail for those who are a danger to the community and/or a flight risk. While Holder’s focus is primarily on Maryland criminal courts, the problem exists throughout the criminal system in almost every U.S. city.

A 2014 state commission alleged that two-thirds of the inmate population is made up of pretrial detainees. 68 percent of those were stuck in jail solely because they couldn’t afford to pay for their bail. By singling out poor people and engaging in this practice, judges are violating the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses.

Remember the show “Happy Days?” The Fonz could never say one particular word. Even when he knew he made a mistake he couldn’t admit that he was “wrong.” He’d attempt to say it: “I was wroooo…” He never could quite enunciate the word clearly. For some reason, Fonzie had some internal blockage with saying the word “wrong.”

Ryan Lochte, apparently, doesn’t have a problem saying that word but, like Fonzie, he does have a problem saying another word.

During his recent interview with Matt Lauer, Lochte admitted that he was wrong and that the incident at the Rio gas station was his fault. However, neither in his press release that he posted on Twitter nor in his Matt Lauer interview did he ever admit that he “lied.” Rather, in his release, he wrote that he needed to be “more careful and candid” in how he described the events. To Matt Lauer, he stated “I over-exaggerated that story.” Well, yeah, that he did too. However, he just couldn’t come out and say he lied, even though that’s what he did. He told several lies. For example, he never had a gun pressed to his forehead and cocked like he initially stated. He never faced armed assailants flashing police badges, like he alleged. Those were LIES!

INTRODUCTION

On March 30, 1981, as former President Ronald Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C., John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate the president. Hinckley drew his revolver and fired six rounds, injuring President Reagan and three other individuals. Roughly a year after the assassination attempt, Hinckley, who faced 13 criminal charges, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a federally operated psychiatric facility in Washington D.C. Today, 35 years after that fateful day Hinckley decided to pull the trigger, a federal judge ruled that he shall be released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to live with his mother in her home as early as August 5th. Many of the questions that members of the “Court of Public Opinion” are asking includes, “How could he possibly be released? Why isn’t he serving a life sentence? How was he ever initially found not guilty by reason of insanity?”

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

The discussion began almost immediately after the abhorrent Orlando shooting took place. Should the shooter’s wife face criminal charges? Even before details were released concerning her alleged involvement, numerous members of the “Court of Public Opinion” were passionately crying out for her arrest, believing that she had to have known of his evil plot and/or must have participated in some way. So why hasn’t she been arrested up to this point?

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION


The highest court in the land is currently deciding a case that can have an enormous impact on Driving Under The Influence (DUI) cases in Florida and twelve other states. Each of those thirteen states makes it a misdemeanor criminal offense to refuse to blow into a breath machine while under arrest for DUI. The Court is reviewing whether it is unconstitutional to charge someone with a crime for refusing to blow. In their discussions concerning this case, it appears that the Court is looking at DUI breath cases as a whole and wondering whether police should have to first secure a warrant to begin with before requiring someone to blow into the machine.

ANALYSIS

Cops demonstrate their inherent bias through the charges they choose to level. Let’s talk about Sheila and George. Sheila was the trusted bookkeeper for a very successful company. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as trustworthy as the company thought. Over a period of two years Sheila diverted $350 a week of company receipts to her own bank account. George, on the other hand, was a successful black businessman who traveled abroad a lot. On one trip to China he came back through customs with a box full of DVDs. He had the receipt to show that he had paid for them, but customs declared them counterfeit and arrested George.

Sheila could have been charged with approximately one hundred separate counts of grand theft (the amount of each theft over the two-year period was in excess of $300) and could have faced up to five hundred years in prison. Fortunately for her, she was charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud. That’s a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and, in fact, she got off with just probation. Because she was only initially charged with just one criminal offense, her bond was very reasonable. George, on the other hand, could have been charged with just one count of dealing in stolen property. If convicted, he would have faced a maximum penalty of 15 years. Instead, for reasons I still don’t understand, law enforcement threw the book at George, charging him with a separate felony count for each of the several hundred DVD’s in his possession, subjecting him to a possible life sentence. His bond was actually over a million dollars before it was eventually reduced. He escaped the worst, but still went through hell and paid a huge price, both psychologically and financially, before the charges were dropped.

* * * * *

This isn’t an article about whether the two men featured in the documentary, ‘Making a Murderer’ are guilty or innocent. While I do have strong feelings concerning the handling of the criminal cases of both Steven Avery and his Nephew Brendan Dassey, I would prefer to focus on something different. In this article, I’m choosing to focus on something very positive that came from the documentary.

One thing that the documentary featured was how Steven Avery was convicted of rape, in spite of his innocence. Examples of these miscarriages of justice happen too frequently and often fail to get the media attention that they deserve. How often? Well, in a report just released, a record breaking number of convicted felons were exonerated in 2015. Most were serving significant prison time for crimes that they had nothing to do with.

According to the report, created by the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School, 149 people were exonerated last year. Each one served an average of 15 years in prison prior to being released. Of the 149 who were falsely accused, 54 were serving time for murders that they didn’t commit. Five of those exonerated were on death row, awaiting their date with the death chamber.

In a ruling handed down yesterday, The Supreme Court provided hope to many prison inmates who were sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life in prison without parole. They will now be given the opportunity to argue why they should be released from incarceration.

The decision, made by the highest court in the land, expanded a 2012 ruling that made it unconstitutional to incarcerate juveniles for life without the possibility of parole. The ruling must now be applied retroactively, providing relief to approximately 1,200 to 1,500 inmates. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the latest opinion, indicated that those inmates should be given the opportunity to argue for parole at their re-sentencing hearings.

The 2012 case was brought by Henry Montgomery, who as a teen was sentenced to life without parole in Louisiana in 1963. He was 17 years old when he shot and killed a law enforcement officer. Now 69, Montgomery believes that he rehabilitated himself in prison and deserves to be considered for parole. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled against him, however, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, declaring that the 2012 ruling is retroactive.

This ruling is epic! The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that Florida’s death penalty law is unconstitutional. The highest court in the land found, amongst other things, that Florida courts were violating defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights by ordering death in the manner in which they were.

What the court had a problem with was the fact that judges, not juries, were the ones making the ultimate decisions in capital cases. While jurors deliberated and made a recommendation to the judge, the judge would decide on his/her own whether the person should live or die. The Court found that a jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.

The ruling was good news for Timonthy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of stabbing his co-worker in 1998. His case will now be remanded back to the lower courts to decide what his penalty should be. It will now be exclusively up to the jury to decide his fate.

THE HYPOTHETICAL

You’re driving home from a lovely night out on the town when you see those dreaded police lights behind you. You hope the officer is just trying to around you, however, you quickly realize that he wants you to pull over. As you think of all the reasons why the cop may have interest in you, you remain calm knowing that you weren’t speeding and that you’ve only had a couple of drinks over the course of a several hour dinner. The officer approaches and immediately smells the odor of an alcoholic beverage protruding from your breath. He asks, “Have you been drinking?” After you admit to the couple of drinks you consumed over dinner, he asks you to perform roadside “tests.” (We call em’ “exercises”) In spite of feeling fine and thinking you performed well, you are told that you are being placed under arrest for DUI (also known in other states as DWI and more commonly referred to as “Drunk driving”) You’re eager to take a breath test to prove the officer wrong. Unfortunately, after you blow twice into the machine (they call it an “instrument”), the officer’s eyes light up. In amazement, the officer announces that your breath reading is .40, which is approximately 5 times the legal limit. Regardless of your passionate pleas of innocence, you’re booked into the county jail. After you post bond and are released after approximately 18 hours of custody, you contact me, an attorney with expertise in DUI defense. You feel comforted knowing that I believe you, that there must be another explanation of the high reading other than extreme alcohol consumption.

ANALYSIS