AUTHOR: efficiencyconference

The radical changes coming to animal abuse charges

animal abuse lawsThe changes coming to how charges of animal abuse and neglect are handled are broad and sweeping. It has moved into the federal arena with both the FBI and the Attorney General announces major changes to how cases are handles. Local municipalities may no longer have the ability to define their own limits and regulations in regards to animal cruelty.

 

What the Feds are planning

Starting in 2016 the FBI is planning to evaluate and collect data on those who commit animal abuse, including instances of neglect. They are redefining the offenses from the “other crimes” category to the “crimes against humanity” category that includes murder and rape. This will require local agencies to submit documentation of animal abuse and neglect cases to the federal database. It is hoped that within a year the database can be effectively current. The thinking behind this redefining of the nature of these crimes is that there is overwhelming clinical support between the link of animal abuse and violence towards humans, specifically in small children.

 

What the AG just announced

At almost the same time the courts have returned a finding that lifts the gag order off the secret filming of animal abuse. The meat industry won a strong victory when they had secret filming banned as violation of privacy. That ruling is now overturned so advocates for animal safety and hygiene are already planning a return to the secret filming practice.

 

Does this change the whistle blower problems?

What has not been addressed is what the AG ruling will do for the identified whistle blower issue with advocates who participate in secret filming. The law states that those who witness abuse of animals have a duty to report that abuse to authorities as soon as possible. As in recent cases where the collection of filmed evidence took months, while the facility and company was brought up on animal cruelty charges, so was the whistle blower. This is an issue that has yet to be adequately addressed.

 

Is data tracking really profiling?

Another issue that has been raised in regards to the FBI reclassification is whether or not this amounts to a type of profiling that could be unconstitutional. While the FBI has not directly stated that the data would be use to flag potential violent offenders it very well could. Given the complicated and contentious nature of juvenile offenses, the industry awaits the first test case to find out just how much protection juveniles will have from this new federal classification of early warning offense.

 

Navigating cultural waters

Other issues that municipalities struggle with are the cultural waters that must be crossed to bring awareness of animal abuse and neglect to communities, says one Chicago lawyer. As demographics change within the country, there are areas in which animals are not as valued as humans due to cultural mores. Changing attitudes towards animal care and accountability is going to be a prolonged and costly process. There have yet to be any plans made for funding this type of educational venture.

 

Understanding when the Feds are involved

As for lawyers and law enforcement officers the ground has gotten even trickier with knowing when information about an animal abuse or neglect offense must be passed to the FBI. The rules on procedure have yet to be set so it is unknown whether data is collected upon the charge or conviction. It is expected that full documentation on the ruling will be released towards the end of 2015. What resistance it will meet from child welfare advocates remains to be seen, as of now advocates are mostly silent on the subject.

The loophole in John Cornyn’s new law that won’t stop the mentally ill from buying guns

john-cornyn-new-lawWhether you are on the side that thinks Cornyn’s proposed new law to tie money for mental health to gun purchase restrictions is great for public safety or a travesty for freedom, you should be aware that there is a very large loophole present in the law that few people are mentioning. On closer inspection, the law may not present much of a change for anyone and could qualify as a red herring. There are only certain people the law would affect and the percentage of those people that commit gun violence is rare.

 

What the law proposes to do

The law is a watered down version on tightening restrictions on background checks for gun purchasing. The ideal is to increase the self-reporting of states to the federal database of those who have been declared mental incompetent through being committed for psychiatric treatment. As stated in all of the press releases about this definition it covers most of the people who are either living in residential treatment homes or are in forensic prison units. The law would then also require all dealers to check the database before approving the purchase of a firearm.

The first problem lies with the definition of who to ban from owning guns

If you look at the past decade of gun violence and mass murder in the US you will discover that the majority of the perpetrators all had a serious mental illness. However, a very low percentage of the perpetrators were considered to be legally mentally defective or have been committed to mental institutions in their lifetime. You must remember that the act of commitment is involuntary and comes with a limited hold allowance on the person. Outside of forensic sentencing, most law agencies and social welfare agencies will commit a person for observation and that commission then evolves into a voluntary stay in a mental institution. The mentally ill who have been committing the greatest acts of gun violence have rarely been institutionalized, although they may have a history of care.

 

More disturbing is the other parts of the definitions

While no one will argue with the expanded definition including reporting violent criminals to the database to prevent sales, many people will take issue with the required reporting of substance abusers to the database. The inclusion of a person in the database would also appear to be a lifetime ban. There is no statement of process for removal of the name or challenge of the submission of a name. For a recovered substance abuser, this can be a gross violation of their civil rights.

 

The payback issue

Also at issue is the tie to grant monies for reporting. The incentive style payment plan of providing more money to law enforcement officials for education and training on interventions with the mentally ill is something that is contentious. Incentive based funding has a history that is less than spotless in encouraging accurate and accountable reporting methods. The inclusion of social workers as reporters in the new system also gives rise to questions about discriminatory practices. While the law encourages the reporting of domestic abusers, substance abusers and the mentally unstable it pays lip service to a legal definition of criminal findings against the person for those charges. By including social workers and tying incentive grant monies for mental health care there is a potential for people to be motivate to report those who have not been legally found guilty of a qualifying crime or state as is supposed to be required by this law, in that case you should look for the best personal injury attorney for your case.This is a compromise law that promises to spend most of its life in the appeals courts, if it makes it fully to life as law at all.

The new Illinois Juvenile law makes automatic transfers less automatic

juvenile lawTo a mixed reaction, the Illinois governor has signed into law a bill that allows for the automatic transfer of some crimes committed by youth offenders who are at least 15 years of age to adult courts. The crimes defined are limited to physical assault, sexual assault and use of a gun. The mixed reaction is understandable when you begin to look at the details of what this law means.

 

The prosecutor must petition

This law does not mean that all youth offenders who commit the specified crimes will be automatically transferred to adult court. It is left to the prosecutor to petition the court for the transfer. As always, you’ll want to consult aHouston DWI attorney. Age and crime are only enough to allow for a petition for transfer to be made. Once the petition is made for transfer, the court will then consider it.

 

Allowing the court time to consider factors

That process of petition is designed to allow the court time to consider influencing factors in the case. Even if the 15 year old commits the textbook violation covered by this law it does not automatically mean their case is transferred to adult court. In fact, automatic transfers are now a thing of the past. The court must consider other factors in the case before deciding which court system will hear the case. This is meant as a protection for the youth offender, but it also serves to increase the workload on an already strained judicial system.

 

What gets excluded?

What gets excluded has many lawyers and advocates upset. While a 15 year old who uses a gun during an assault and battery can be transferred to an adult court, the 15 year old who stomped the head of the elderly man who the other boy held the gun on would not. The restrictions provided for implementation on this law are not well considered according to many in law enforcement. A repeat offender who commits assault and battery without a weapon may be of greater risk to society than the one time car-jacker with a Saturday Night Special. While not claiming that the law is arbitrary, law enforcement officials fault it for allowing for the wrong factors to be considered by the court before transferring a juvenile case to an adult court.

What this means to youth offenders

There are pluses and minuses to this law for youth offenders. For those who are on the repeat offender track it can put them into an adult facility in which there are better programs available for the treatment of drug and mental health problems. It also opens the door to a lesser sentence option as is talked about in the last paragraph. On the downside, age is no longer an automatic protection against an adult criminal trial. If you use a weapon or commit a physical or sexual assault you can no longer use immaturity as a defense.

 

youth offender

 

Walking the line with advocates

This law is both winning and losing with child advocates. It can be difficult to walk the line when trying to present a course of action to a client’s parental guardian. Transferring a child to an adult court can have its benefits if any juvenile convictions are excluded from evidence. This could raise the chances of a first offense judgment and allow for a better course of intervention where as in juvenile court all prior convictions may be allowed and sentencing be more severe. Make sure you weight the options from every angle before presenting your case to your client to petition for transfer or to choose to remain in juvenile court.

Fixing the loophole for solar power in Texas could have a wider impact

texas law for solar panelSenate Bill 1626 went through the legislature in Texas with hardly any complaint and much rejoicing from solar energy advocates in Texas. The bill closed one of the oldest loopholes in Texas law that permitted neighborhood and condominium associations to block the installation of solar panels on homes. While this is good news for solar power fans, there is a chance that the closing of this loophole may have a much broader impact. The win for environmentalists and alternative energy advocates may wind up depressing home values and increasing frivolous lawsuits. As the law passes into effect, the landscape in Texas is going to change in many different ways.

 

What the loophole allowed

While Texas law does limit what a neighborhood or condominium association can prohibit in their neighborhoods, there has been one loophole that has always allowed a way around the limits. The loophole allowed the developer to maintain semi control on the neighborhood structures by placing them into an unending determination of still being “under development.”  As such, no changes – such as the addition of solar panel systems to roofs- could be added without the developer’s permission. This has allowed associations to effectively ban solar power for fear it would destroy the visual appeal of their neighborhoods. While this may seem an old fashioned view, it does hold some modern power when you begin to consider the role housing prices play in the overall state economy.

 

With the loophole closed more residents can avail themselves of solar power

With the loophole officially closed more Texan households can avail themselves of solar power, and the state incentives to install solar power systems. This could help relieve the stress on the infrastructure that has led to wide scale brownouts and blackouts in many regions. Solar power has long been encouraged with tax benefits from federal and state sources. In an area which is prime for solar energy collection, it only makes sense that it would be encouraged and not prohibited. It would appear to be a win-win situation for all involved (except appearance obsessed associations) except for one small fact.

 

Closing that loophole leaves the associations virtually powerless

Current Texas law limits the ability of associations to prohibit changes to structures and land within their agreed association areas. The loophole which declared associated areas under perpetual development was used not only to prevent installation of solar panels, but also the addition of some other structures and changes that could be deemed questionable at best. Without the presence of this loophole associations lose much of their power in being agents working to guarantee stable home values. This could lead to a deflation in property values in key areas in parts of Texas, and an increase in property disputes.

 

What you choose to do in your home is one thing, outside it is another

From cases that range from large statues being installed on lawns that extend a middle finger in full view of the living room windows of the house next door to homeowners constructing windmills to provide energy and threaten the safety of properties nearby – the loophole has been used to prevent cases from burdening the court. While it is accepted that what you do within your home is within your own province, what you are allowed to do on the property of your home has just become unregulated. Expect to see more cases and charges about disturbing the peace, public endangerment and trespassing to rise as the new law takes effect. It may be years before amendments are created to fill the gaps that were once broadly covered by the perpetual development loopholes.

Criteria for justified detention returns to center stage

detention justiceSandra Bland’s death has returned the debate over the criteria for justified detention to center stage. After a tumultuous few years with increasing claims of abuse of power towards minorities by police, the national tension between police and public has never been higher. What has become a critical factor in determining when force is justified is the step before hand – when has the criteria for justified detention been met? Very few of the cases highlighted in the media involve an officer shooting a suspect from a distance who they have had no contact with. Almost all of the cases evolve from the point at which the officer determined the person needed to be detained in any manner.

 

Looking at the Bland tape

Forget all of the other aspects of the Bland tape and consider the crucial moment when the police officer decides that Bland must be removed from the car. This is a decision involving justifiable detention. Up until this point there is nothing that separates this encounter from any routine traffic stop, which is why you won’t be needing a lawyer. What is the center of the discussion is what happened that allowed the officer to determine that there was a need to detain Bland. The general consensus is that the officer acted in error. There is little to support detention from what can be seen.

 

Thinking about what is not seen

The complicating issue is that no video tape can replicate what is not seen. As even family members have said, Bland had been depressed and had suicidal ideation earlier in life. While they note that she had recently landed a dream job and was in good spirits – looking at the tape begins to suggest that what is not seen may have played a role in the call for detention. Bland’s reaction to the officer is not exactly in keeping with what would be expected in a routine traffic stop. The officer’s attitude and presentation is poor, but the reaction from Bland is also off kilter. Given her history and recent changes in mood there is a valid question on whether or not the officer detected instability suggestive of mania or the capacity for self-harm. If you see yourself in this situation you better find a personal injury lawyer.

 

The issue with justification is its subjectivity

There is no rule book that can definitively claim to define the criteria for detention as it is based upon subjectivity. When you combine it with reasonable cause for search, then you have an issue when an officer is having to use sensory input and experiential interpretation to try and fulfill defined regulations. That is never going to be cut and dry and there is room on both sides to claim foul. The only recourse is to break down the thought process that leads to the decision. There is no room for interpretation there, the process has to be as clearly defined and supported by precedent as possible in order to be effective for either prosecution or defense. It is also not enough to rely on training protocol. The officer or person’s previous history can be a vital factor in establishing the factors at play in justifying detention.

 

Paying attention to the wrong video

video surveillance evidenceAs with Bland and many others, the media threatens to determine outcome of a case. The main issue is that the important video is being overshadowed by the more dramatic one. What is at the heart of the case about her death is not the arrest, but what occurred in her cell. That footage doesn’t make for good social media fodder, but it has more to do with what happened then the arrest. The arrest, right or wrong, is important – but when it comes to determining wrongful death, it occurred too many hours before to be as influential as the cell environment and care she received would have been.

Special thanks to Brian Musell criminal lawyer; for more info, click here to visit his criminal lawyer avvo profile.

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