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Revenge Scheme Reaches Supreme Court

February 28th, 2011

Betrayal, infidelity, threats, revenge and intrigue are themes that catch our attention. It’s makes for bad television plots and light summer reading. But, toss in the question: Can citizens challenge the 10th Amendment which limits federal power? NOW, you’ve got lawyers paying attention.

This particular case involves a Philadelphia woman, Carol A. Bond, who attempted to poison her best friend, Myrlinda Haynes, after learning her husband had impregnated Haynes. Bond used her microbiologist credentials to obtain a highly toxic powdery substance (10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine) and covered Haynes’s mailbox, car door handles and car muffler two dozen times. Get the details here.

Bond was indicted for stealing mail, and for violating the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, a treaty usually aimed at terrorists. What would have been a six months jail sentence from the Montgomery County Court, became a six year prison sentence (with a sentencing enhancement since Bond was a trained scientist) when she pleaded guilty in a federal court.

Bond’s attorney, Robert Goldman, says this case should be handled on the state level. A panel of federal appeals court judges unanimously agreed, but said that only states, not individuals, have the ability to make challenges under the auspices of the 10th amendment.

Do Ankle Monitors Work?

February 22nd, 2011

Is it time to think outside of the ankle monitor, inventing better tracking technologies or maybe considering more realistic options?

Issuing electronic monitoring devices instead of imprisonment became mainstream in the early 80s, when the devices became inexpensive and manageable. Today there are two types of monitors.  One determines if the offender breaks curfew or remains on house arrest, and the other version continuously tracks the person with GPS signals, providing minute-by-minute location information. The question is: How reliable and adequate are today’s ankle monitors?

The effectiveness of both types of monitors is questionable, as offenders continue to tamper with them, remove them and even commit crimes while wearing them. Martha Stewart wore an ankle monitor for five months while under house arrest, and openly says YouTube is a great educational resource for learning how to remove the device. Any offender with computer access could be monitor-free after viewing a few online demonstrations.

And what about responses from parole officers? These devices send alerts for various violations, but in many cases, the officers don’t respond. How are hundreds of unanswered alerts solving the problem?

Even if the ankle monitor is worn faithfully, many violent offenders haven’t been deterred from continuing to commit crimes. Should the judicial system make tougher decisions about these offenders instead of offering them ankle bracelets?

If you have questions contact San Antonio Criminal Defense Attorney Sam Lock.

Read more about the topic here.

Population Growth in Texas Counties

February 18th, 2011

The Houston Chronicle has an interesting graphic related to population growth in Texas. Bexar County now tops 1.7 million people. Both Comal and Guadalupe Counties are well over 100,000 residents. Schertz and Cibolo account for a large part of the growth since 2000.

http://www.chron.com/databases/Census2010Texas.html

DO THE BLACKBERRY AND ‘CSI’ EFFECTS EXIST?

February 13th, 2011

According to two recent studies, using sophisticated technology might raise juror expectations (The BlackBerry effect) more than watching the popular television show: Crime Show Investigation (CSI), also nicknamed the CSI effect.

Judge Donald Shelton, the chief judge of Washnew County in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wanted to determine whether jurors believed crimes could be solved with extravagant technologies (by well-groomed investigators with an accompanying hip soundtrack) in a magical 60-minute timeframe. The study proved that frequent CSI watchers expected more evidence to be presented, but those expectations didn’t translate into a prerequisite for conviction.

The second study found that the more sophisticated the jurors were in their technology use, the more they expected prosecutors to present scientific evidence, such as DNA, fingerprint and ballistic evidence. Is it that these jurors are more educated or have their BlackBerrys have made them more critical thinkers?

The studies asked these questions:

  1. Do jurors expect prosecutors to present scientific evidence?
  2. Do jurors demand scientific evidence as a condition for a guilty verdict?
  3. Are juror expectations and demands for scientific evidence related to watching law-related television shows?

So, CSI is simply entertaining, and doesn’t affect a juror’s overall expectations of the criminal justice system. Maybe these studies will convince prosecutors to curtail meaningless tests and fancy animation, just to show technology in use?

Learn more about Shelton’s studies on the ABA’s website.

Bexar County – No Refusal Weekends

December 30th, 2010

Come on vacation, leave on probation, goes the old joke. Bexar County District Attorney has announced that all weekends will be “no refusal” weekends. Blood will be drawn from DWI suspects who refuse to submit to the county’s breath test program.

So goes the story.

The factor often left out of the story:  Judges will be required to find probable cause before the warrants should issue.  Hopefully, those duties won’t be abdicated. Further, let’s hope that the media follows up to see:  (1) what happens to these cases when they go to court? (2)  when will officers NOT ask for a blood draw?  One can imagine a case where the officer might not want his “papers graded” by a machine.  (3) In that vein, will arrest numbers go down?

What’s Another Day in Jail When You’ve Been Wrongfully Incarcerated for Almost Three Decades?

July 30th, 2010

A Houston man was set to be released after serving 27 years for a rape he did not commit. Apparently, he became too emotional about the situation and the court decided to keep him another day. Uh. What? He apparently became angry when bailiffs put him leg-irons and handcuffs for his day in court; a day that everyone knew was supposed to be his release date. One observer called his continued incarceration a “mystery.” Long-time observers of Texas courtrooms might not find it mysterious, at all.

The story can be read here.

Lance Armstrong Records Subpoenaed by Feds

July 28th, 2010

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records from a lawsuit filed by Texas company pertaining to allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs.  The story appears in today’s Austin American-Statesman here. The investigation by federal authorities is located in Los Angeles, but records are being sought from around the country.

Attorney-Client Privilege Exists, even for Wayward Hollywood Starlets

July 13th, 2010

In a blatant violation of attorney-client privilege, a lawyer consulted by Lindsey Lohan aired some of her dirty laundry in People Magazine.  To be clear, ANY communication with an attorney that you MAY hire is confidential and privileged.  The lawyer cannot divulge the substance of the communication without consent from the prospective client.  The lawyer cannot divulge information learned during the course of the representation or consultation, without regard to whether the information is “public knowledge.”

Cyber Crime Update – Violating Website Terms of Usage May Land Violators in Federal Court

July 12th, 2010

We’ve all gotten used to typing out the funky words that appear in funky script (e.g., THARN NASES, or some-such nonsense).  It’s designed to keep people from using computer programs to execute mass actions, like ticket purchases or posts to blogs.  Some ticketing agents in New Jersey are being prosecuted for having a computer program do that very thing.  That’s right: PROSECUTED.  Not, sued. PROSECUTED.  On behalf of all of us, the citizens of the Republic.

Threat Level, an on-line section of Wired Magazine that tackles tech and security issues leads its post this way:

“Prosecutors in a New Jersey ticket scalping case are pushing the envelope on the federal computer hacking law, setting a precedent that could make it a felony to violate a website’s terms of service and fool a CAPTCHA, according to electronic civil rights groups intervening in the case.”

Read More http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/ticketmaster/#ixzz0tTRYwCuT
As with many white collar prosecutions, the line between criminal and civil misconduct become blurred.  In this case, critics fear that a website proprietor could define criminal conduct merely by defining terms in its terms of service.

Texas DWI Laws to be Re-examined by Legislature

July 10th, 2010

As I’ve written about on this blog and elsewhere for years, our enforcement of DWI laws in Texas is broken.  State lawmakers are now reconsidering many aspects of our Driver Responsibility Program and its implications for Texas Citizens, reports the San Antonio Express-News .  The Austin American-Statesman has published an editorial calling for a treatment based approach.

The county courts are bursting at the seams; the prosecutors face tough choices on the allocation of resources; MADD doesn’t like protections afforded by the Constitution and the legislature is going to consider cutting a revenue stream.  Some people are going to be mighty uncomfortable on this one.