This Self-Taught Flint Prisoner Might Free Himself After Teaching

Posted on Feb 23, 2016 in Blog Entry: Criminal Cases

This Self-Taught Flint Prisoner Might Free Himself After Teaching

We’ve all seen law shows and thought to ourselves, “if I had to, I could probably be my own lawyer.” But what if you actually had to act as your own lawyer? One Flint prisoner did just that, and may soon be freed! Omar’s Story Omar Pouncy was charged with five counts of carjacking and armed robbery, plus a host of weapons charges in 2006 and has never relented in proclaiming his innocence. In fact, he’s taught himself the law while in prison and is on the verge of getting himself out. In 2006, Pouncy felt that his appointed public defender was failing him, and court records show that he was refused a different appointment. Feeling that he was left with no other choice, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Still contending his innocence, he went to the prison’s law library and got to work. He began by memorizing obscure laws and filing appeals through different lawyers. He has filed more than 15 to date. What’s more, he even began offering his services to other prisoners, regardless of their affiliation. He has helped members from several different gangs and even fought to defend a white supremacist. And now it looks like his hard work has paid off. In January, a federal judge in Detroit ordered him released unless he faces a new trial—an impressive victory for a man who has seemingly earned freedom all by himself. Pouncy has left such an impression on his new attorney David Moffitt, who has been representing Pouncy since 2012, that Moffitt has said he will hire Pouncy as a paralegal the moment that he’s released. “He stands head and shoulders with any attorney in the system,” Moffitt, said. “He is every bit my equal.” Acting As Your Own Lawyer Teaching oneself the law and acting as one’s own lawyer (called acting pro se), is no easy feat. There are many obstacles that get in the way of being a successful defense lawyer for oneself, which makes Pouncy’s feat even more impressive. Click here to learn more about the difficulties of a pro se...

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Study Concludes Human Trafficking Judged Unevenly

Posted on Feb 9, 2016 in Blog Entry: Criminal Cases, Blog Entry: Elections and Courts

Study Concludes Human Trafficking Judged Unevenly

Misconceptions about human trafficking are holding us back from creating lasting, tangible changes. According to a wide-ranging new study by Northeastern criminologist Amy Farrell and her research partners, the severity of the criminal penalty for human trafficking in the U.S. has no effect on the number of suspects who are arrested and prosecuted for the crime. The study also found that judging of human trafficking crimes was uneven among the public and the law. It’s no surprise that human trafficking is a major issue in the modern world. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes human trafficking as “a modern-day form of slavery” and says it “is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today.” Unfortunately, misconceptions about the realities of what human trafficking is and how it actually happens in the U.S. are making the fight against it even more difficult. Misconceptions As Salon notes in a very insightful article about human trafficking, several misconceptions (present in law makers and regular American citizens) hurt our ability to draft effective legislation. One example is the misconception that human trafficking only happens to foreigners, not to domestic U.S. citizens. This is not true, and it’s made all the more problematic when this misconception is used to create laws that don’t think to protect Americans as well. There is also the misguided belief that teens, as opposed to children, consent to be trafficked because they like it and the money involved. The simple fact is that human trafficking is simply abuse. Exploiting the Visa System Another huge concern is the startling connection between human trafficking and the visa system that is currently in place in the U.S. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, data collected from 2005 to 2014 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found that work and fiancé visas were the predominant means by which more than half of human traffickers known to the federal government legally smuggled their victims into the US. This is particularly troubling because it means that human trafficking must be fought on multiple legal fronts, naturally increasing the difficulty of seeing quick results. What to do? However, the situation isn’t entirely hopeless! The findings of the study suggest that more comprehensive laws lead to more arrests and prosecutions, instead of simply increasing the severity of criminal penalties. Click here to read a full copy of the...

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North Dakota’s “Fetal Heartbeat” Law Permanently Blocked

Posted on Feb 2, 2016 in Blog Entry: Criminal Cases

North Dakota’s “Fetal Heartbeat” Law Permanently Blocked

On January 25th, the “fetal heartbeat” law, a North Dakotan law that banned many abortions and was among the toughest abortion laws in the nation, was permanently blocked by the Supreme Court. SCOTUS refused to review a lower court’s ruling from July 2015 that overturned the law, thereby ending the legal process and permanently blocking the legislation. The “fetal heartbeat” law was viewed by some Republican politicians in North Dakota, like Governor Jack Dalrymple, as “a legitimate attempt by a state Legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” while opponents viewed it as an attempt to effectively ban abortion in the entire state. According to NPR’s Jennifer Ludden: “North Dakota’s 2013 law would have banned abortions before many women even realize they’re pregnant. Lower court judges blocked it, saying the Supreme Court has made clear that abortions are allowed until a fetus is viable—around 23 or 24 weeks. But some of those judges also suggested the high court reconsider the concept of viability, given medical advances. “North Dakota had argued viability begins at conception, since embryos can be kept alive outside the womb, in a lab. The high court did not go there. Last week, it also rejected Arkansas’s effort to ban abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.” The main sticking point for judges was that the laws were inconsistent with standard set by SCOTUS that ties abortion restrictions to the viability of the fetus. The law’s supporters, however, were lobbying for SCOTUS to re-evaluate the case to account for modern advances in medicine and science. Judge Bobby Shepherd wrote that the current framework “discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children.” It is no surprise that SCOTUS didn’t review the fetal heartbeat law; each year, SCOTUS receives 7,500 requests and takes on no more than 100 cases. Given that SCOTUS appeared to completely agree with a lower court’s decision, refusing to review the case was the simplest way to address the...

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Miami Under Consideration As El Chapo Trial Venue

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 in Blog Entry: Criminal Cases, Blog Entry: Elections and Courts, Blog Entry: Spinning the Law

Miami Under Consideration As El Chapo Trial Venue

Miami, Florida is one of two U.S. cities under serious discussion for being the location of the trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexican cartel kingpin. Federal prosecutors in six states have filed indictments against Guzman, but the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of Florida have overlapping cases that could be combined. Therefore, headquarter sites in Brooklyn and Miami have emerged as the leading contenders for the locations of the sensational and widely anticipated trial. “The Southern District of Florida’s extraordinary record with respect to major narcotics trafficking cases could be an important factor,” Kendall Coffey told McClatchy news service. “It’s a history-making case that, if successful, could deal a huge blow to today’s most violent drug trafficker. This case will define careers for prosecutors, (drug) agents, and even the trial judge.” Guzman was captured in the Pacific coastal town of Los Mochis, Mexico, seven months after he escaped from a high security Mexican prison through a sophisticated tunnel that experts project may have cost more than $1 million to dig. The indictments against Guzman The overlapping indictments in Brooklyn and Miami accuse El Chapo of multiple counts of drug trafficking and money-laundering. Unfortunately for Miami, an early look reveals that Brooklyn may have the inside track, as federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have also accused Guzman of 13 murders, assassinations, or attempted killings of Mexican police, soldiers, and rival gang members. These accusations may very well tip the scales in Brooklyn’s favor. Defense by playing “Donald Trump card” Guzman’s lawyers have attempted to fight extradition to the U.S. in general, notably using a defense that comes down to “because Donald Trump.” Guzman’s lawyers argue that there is anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S. and that that sentiment would not allow for a fair trial. Donald Trump is cited as an example of the anti-Mexican sentiment that is persistent throughout the country. We are interested to see how the entire trial process turns out—stay...

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Law School Graduates Face Serious Debt Burdens

Posted on Sep 11, 2015 in Blog Entry: Criminal Cases

Law School Graduates Face Serious Debt Burdens

It is no secret that going to law school is an expensive experience. When you think of lawyers, your brain probably thinks of the version seen in film and other forms of media—brilliant young minds who get jobs at flashy and extravagant firms, who earn at the very least six figure salaries. With such colorful media out there, it is no wonder that so many people want to go to law school. However, the reality of the situation is that law students face an unprecedented amount of student loans, and it is becoming harder and harder to pay them all off. So just how bad is it? According to the American Bar Association, the average debt taken on by a law school graduate is simply staggering—$84,000 for those who attended public school, and a whopping $122,158 for those who attended a private school. These private schools are also home to some of the top schools in the country, and the prestige (and all the benefits that flow from this) is so coveted that most students will choose a private school, assuming they are accepted. That’s a lot of debt. This obsession with the best of the best in and of itself isn’t a problem. However, the graduate employment rates for recent law school graduates are the root of the issue. According to a report by the National Association for Law Placement, the overall employment rate of recent law graduates fell to 84.5%, the sixth year in a continuing trend of falling employment rates. While 84.5% doesn’t sound good itself, that means that the unemployment rate is 15.5%. This is quite high, especially when compared to many other disciplines and college degrees. Ultimately, the fact that the nation’s lawyer count continues to climb and climb, despite an equal demand for lawyers, is what’s causing a lot of pain. Take this increasing amount of competition and add on top the debt that law school graduates must face, and becoming a lawyer doesn’t sound as the movies make it look. Click here to learn more about the debt burden many law students...

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Matusiewicz’s Relatives Convicted of Cyberstalking in Landmark Case

Posted on Jul 17, 2015 in Blog Entry: Criminal Cases

Matusiewicz’s Relatives Convicted of Cyberstalking in Landmark Case

Courthouse Shooter’s Relatives Convicted of Cyberstalking in Landmark Case On February 11, 2013, Thomas Matusiewicz opened fire inside a New Castle County, Delaware courthouse, where he fatally wounded two women including his estranged daughter-in-law. Matusiewicz had reportedly accompanied his son David Matusiewicz to the courthouse that morning, where David was slated to attend a child support hearing involving his three children. After Thomas Matusiewicz opened fire in the lobby of the courthouse where he also wounded multiple officers, he turned his gun on himself.   An investigation into the shooting led authorities to discover that what drove Thomas Matusiewicz to act out in violence stemmed from a years-long custody battle between David and his ex-wife. Fast forward to July 2015, where details surrounding this tragic shooting have led a jury to conclude that Matusiewicz’s family members – including son David, daughter Amy Gonzalez, and wife Lenore – were all culpable for the deaths of David’s ex-wife Christine Belford and her friend Laura Mulford.   This month, this tragic story took another turn when Thomas Matusiewicz’s family members were convicted of cyberstalking in a landmark case. According to the American Bar Association Journal, a federal jury was asked to deliberate whether or not Matusiewicz’s family was also responsible in part for the deaths of Belford and Mulford.   Reports Martha Neil, “Prosecutors say the wife, son, and daughter of Thomas Matusiewicz played a role in his deadly February 11, 2013 attack on Christine Belford and Laura Mulford, by participating in harassing conduct that resulted in Belford’s death.” David Matusiewicz and his mother and sister allegedly stalked Belford, monitoring her whereabouts and accusing her of child abuse through unrelenting Internet posts, emails, and phone calls. The subsequent trial focused heavily on the cyberstalking component of this harassment, making it among the first of its kind to do so.   On July 10, a federal jury in Wilmington, Delaware, convicted the three family members of cyberstalking causing death. The three now face possible life prison terms for cyberstalking, and U.S. Attorney for Delaware Charles Oberly III commented, “We believe it was appropriate charges.” He also called the verdict “unprecedented,” which is certainly true.   As more information about the family’s background surfaced after the deadly shootings in 2013, it became clear that Thomas Matusiewicz might not have acted out so violently had his family not played a part in harassing Belford. Cyberstalking is a serious crime, and one that prosecutors will hopefully be able to bring more easily to trial once they are better equipped with information on how to convict perpetrators. This landmark cyberstalking case could pave the way for others in the future.   Further reading:   “Were relatives culpable in shooter’s deadly courthouse attack? Jury to decide in cyberstalking trial” by Martha Neil   “Jury returns guilty verdict in Matusiewicz cyber-stalking case” by Tom Byrne   “Wife, Son of...

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