Category: Criminal Law

High Court Ruling

An appeals court decision in California has given the owners of the state’s largest dispensary an important legal victory in their battle against the federal government. Jovan Jackson of Answerdam had been convicted of selling marijuana, on the grounds that he could not use state law as a defense. However, an appeals court in San Diego decided that this refusal to consider state law had denied Jackson his right to due process, and the case is now returning to a lower court to be retried.

Marijuana

While this is no guarantee that Jackson and Answerdam will win their case, it is an important acknowledgment of the role that governing state statutes should have in deciding these issues. The federal government’s position, at present, seems to reject any and all attempts by criminal defense lawyers to use state laws which provide for the legal use and distribution of medicinal marijuana as a defense. This is, at least in part, because marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act as being without medical value. However, as I think should be clear to anyone at this point, the scientific understanding of marijuana’s effects was, at that time, relatively limited, and the classification was based on biases of perception more than objective data.

As a strong supporter of the federalist principle, I applaud California for its bold experiment, and I hope Jackson gets a fair hearing this time around.

Indecent Proposal

Last Friday, three young girls filed a lawsuit against Backpage.com for allowing them to be sold for sex.  The girls were captured by pimps after running away from home and then required to participate in various sex trafficking activities such as posing in lingerie.  One of the girls was 13 years old, and another only 15.  The lawsuit is intended to hold Backpage.com responsible because they “allowed” the advertising of underage girls.

The suit refers to the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a document intended to protect service providers from the opinions and statements of their users.  A federal judge declared that Backpage.com should be required to advertise the ages of their girls, but Backpage is arguing that this violates both the Communications Decency Act, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and the 1st and 5th Amendments.

I’m unimpressed that Backpage.com has not accepted this arrangement and instead, has chosen to fight the people that work to put an end to child-sex trafficking.  Although they have every right to defend themselves, there are some situations in which public decency should trump self-defense.

Supreme Court Considers Life without Parole for Juveniles

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will release its opinion on whether or not it is constitutional to subject individuals younger than 14 years of age to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two separate cases, one involving a 14 year old who was involved in a robbery that ended in the murder of a store clerk (though the teen was not the actual killer) and another involving a 14 year old who beat and set fire to an elderly neighbor, are being used to challenge these laws, the harshest punishment available for juvenile offenders since the court struck down the juvenile death penalty in 2005.

Constitutional law is not my expertise, but knowing the current court’s makeup, I have a hard time believing that they will overturn these laws. The bigger question, for me, is whether they should. From a personal standpoint, I see these two cases as being fundamentally different: I don’t think felony murder (the crime of being involved in a crime that leads to the death of another person, even though the individual didn’t directly cause the death) should qualify a youth offender for life imprisonment, simply because kids get involved in things that they don’t understand, like this robbery, without being able to anticipate this type of consequence.

On the other hand, a kid that sets his neighbor on fire? You know what? I’m fine with him getting life imprisonment.

NY Court Approves Viewing of Child Pornography

Ok, so there aren’t too many things that get me angrier than child sexual abuse, and an appeals court in New York has just made a decision that, honestly, is one of the worst I can think of in relation to this topic. According to this story, the case, which occurred in the state of New York, involved a professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie who was found to have hundreds of different pornographic images of children in his browser history. The court ruled that, under New York’s child pornography laws, he couldn’t be held accountable for any crime, as he was never technically in possession of any of these images.

I understand the court’s reasoning, I really do; after all, they are beholden to the law, and they’re not supposed to make decisions that exceed the authority of the law. However, it’s extremely clear that the intent of this law is to prevent people from supporting any type of child pornography, and providing internet traffic to these sites does exactly that. And promoting the sexual performance of a minor, which is a part of the law, is clearly what this guy was doing. So, no, I can’t support this type of judicial discretion, not in a case like this.

George Zimmerman’s Wife Gets Perjury Charges

Shellie Zimmerman, the wife of George Zimmerman, the man on trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, was arrested on June 12th on charges that she lied to the court in her husband’s bond hearing. This comes after Zimmerman himself was ordered back to jail for providing false information at the bond hearing as well. Both individuals are accused of lying to the court about their financial resources. According to authorities, Zimmerman’s bond of $150,000 (making his bail payment $15,000) was set in response to claims that the family did not have the financial resources to provide a high bail amount. However, it was later revealed by Zimmerman’s attorney that the family had access to as much as $135,000 at the time of the bond hearing. The funds were acquired from a crude PayPal website set up by the Zimmermans to collect money for George Zimmerman’s defense. George Zimmerman’s next bond hearing is set for June 29th.

New York Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana, Blocked by Senate

On June 13th, the New York State Assembly voted 90 to 50 to send a bill to the senate for the legalization of medical marijuana in New York. Unfortunately, the more conservative Senate has blocked the bill. Had the bill passed and been signed by the governor, New York would join fifteen other states who have legalized medical marijuana. The law would have permitted individuals who are approved by the state to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana at one time.

The approval by the New York assembly is a step forward, but it is still not enough. According to Jason Volet, a well known New Jersey criminal lawyer, thousands are suffering from symptoms of ailments that could be relieved by medicinal marijuana, many others are being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Both U.S. and New York State drug policies regarding marijuana put innocent individuals in jail and deny those who need medical assistance one of the few remedies to their pain, nausea, and other complications.