Articles Posted in Legal

Recently there have been questions among both advocates and lawmakers regarding the number of people serving time in prison for crimes they allegedly committed and the opportunities available for those who are incarcerated to reform their lives and become productive members of society upon their release in the Lansing area. iStock_000011602905_Large-2-300x200

On March 1st, designated national Day of Empathy, panel discussions and workgroups were part of the agenda concerning reforming Michigan’s criminal justice and incarceration laws as advocates and lawmakers gathered in an effort for change. As the first Day of Empathy, this was the day that across the nation efforts were focused on criminal justice reform and how society must humanize and empathize with all those including family members, communities, and our society as a whole are affected by it.

An ex-convict with an event sponsor said he hoped this “catalyzing” event would work to get more people involved in criminal justice reform in Michigan. Criminal defense attorneys in the Lansing and surrounding areas are all too familiar with what happens on a daily basis in the criminal court system. Essentially, there is a huge lack of focus on rehabilitation for those found guilty of crimes, and an intense desire to simply put people behind bars for years, decades, even life. The result is not only unfair for individuals who may or may not have committed less serious offenses, but results in a severely overcrowded prison situation.

MSU students are gearing up for spring break, a time when lots of college-age students travel, party, and generally participate in fun activities. While it’s great to free your mind from your studies and “chill out” for a while, it’s also important to stay safe no matter what you have planned. Few men and women give much thought to the fact that spring break is a prime time for alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, and other crimes or injuries resulting from those activities. champagne-on-beach-1554236-200x300

One of the major factors in safety during spring break is drinking alcohol, and how much you drink. Binge drinking not only often results in alcohol poisoning or even death, it can be a factor in sexual assault, as many lose their inhibitions and common sense when under the influence. Whether you plan to drink alcohol or not, traveling is another concern.

No matter what your plans are, put safety first and foremost. We have a few tips to ensure you have a great time and avoid becoming a statistic.

In Michigan and all other states in the U.S., felony offenses are considered more serious than those classified as misdemeanors. A felony charge can be related to anything from tax fraud or distributing illegal drugs to some theft offenses or murder. The prison term for those found guilty of committing felony crimes can range from a couple of years to life in prison, depending on the case and the offender’s criminal history. In most cases someone who is convicted of a misdemeanor offense will serve one year or less behind bars. iStock_000006818663_Full-1-300x200

Being convicted of a felony crime doesn’t mean the alleged offender (the operative word here being “alleged,” as many who are incarcerated are innocent) will face 20 years or a lifetime in prison. Some serve two or three years, some 10, some much longer. However, upon being released from prison after serving their terms are those labeled “felons” still facing a life sentence in reality? Unfortunately, many are.

Imagine what it’s like to be labeled a felon when upon release from prison, you can’t find a job or a place to live because of your criminal record. For lots of folks, it’s difficult and even overwhelming trying to reenter society after being incarcerated for years or even decades. When you can’t find employment, how can you pay for the basic necessities you need to live such as food, a roof over your head, transportation, clothing, and other needs? It is truly is a life sentence, regardless of the punishment handed down by the court at the time of the conviction.

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What if I told you that there was a non-profit business that you know and respect that was misrepresenting their financial report and in the process of doing so continually have gotten investors to place hard earned money into their company? What if I told you that the same company presented a list of employees on their financial reports and most of those employees were either no longer in the industry or actually working for a competitor of said company and this was done to make the company look bigger than it actually was? Here comes the spoiler alert…. I cannot tell you of the company…yet, but the research would absolutely shock you. While I cannot tell you the name of the “institution” involved, what I can tell you is that your money is at risk. Let’s break down what exactly is transpiring in this potential litigation: iStock_000003118029_Large-2-300x200

To start, the first thing that the company(s) is doing is displaying false profits. Here is a hypothetical situation: Company A creates widgets. In 2006 widgets (a fictional product) was in demand. Company A could not sell enough widgets but in 2015 widgets were no longer carrying the same demand and the company that made a tremendous about of money in 2006 is now faced with not being able to sell enough widgets to keep their lights on. With the knowledge that they do not have enough widgets to keep the boat floating, they turn to the open market and hire a writer to talk up their new product line that is essence is really more of the same. They make these presentations to investors by displaying a 10-year graph of their profits. The investor is seduced with the 10-year range without the realization that the party is truly over. To make things even more intriguing, the company offers a strong interest rate with the date of maturity 15 years out. What stands behind curtain number 2 is a bankruptcy that will occur anytime from year 3 to 5.

How can this be right? Can I sue?

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Recently, a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law found that 39% of prisoners shouldn’t be behind bars. Considering there are 2.2 million individuals in prison today, many believe we are in crisis and that this mass incarceration is no doubt the greatest racial and moral injustice of our time. iStock_000011602905_Large-2-300x200

In ‘How Many Americans are Unnecessarily Incarcerated,’ a report released by the Brennan Center for Justice, it was determined that 576,000 inmates (39%) in prisons across the nation could be released without putting public safety at risk; this would substantially reduce prison population, not to mention removing individuals who should never have been sentenced to prison to begin with. The report is the culmination of three years of study, research, and analysis performed by a team of lawyers, statistical researchers, and criminologists regarding convictions, criminal codes, and sentences.

What would be the impact of releasing more than half a million prisoners from our nation’s prison system? According to the report, it could result in hundreds of thousands of new jobs considering the annual savings of about $20 billion dollars.

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While Black Friday is a day many people look forward to more than any other shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving also brings all of the crooks out of the woodwork. Not only are crooks ready to turn your holiday shopping into a disaster, there are often scuffles and arguments among shoppers in some cases. While it’s a fun experience for lots of people in Michigan and throughout the U.S., it can also be a day that increases stress and anxiety levels. We have a few tips to help you enjoy the day and protect your own safety, as well as your finances. 15104215_s-2-300x200

If possible, go shopping with a few friends or family members. It’s true there’s safety in numbers; a would-be thief will think twice before targeting a group of three or four people. If you’re obviously alone, you’re an easier target.

Upon arriving at your destination, take a close look around the parking lot before you exit your vehicle. Pay attention. Is there anyone or anything that seems suspicious in your vicinity? If so, stay in your car with the doors locked, or better yet, leave the area for a while if you suspect any possible danger.

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Trump vs Hillary is not the only debate that has raged in throughout the state of Michigan. The field of litigation has been in a battle over the concept of expert testimony. The battle for Expert Testimony is tug of war between Frye and Daubert. Frye being a concept of the past with Daubert being the new kid on the block. Expert testimony can make or break a case and to be clear, an expert is somebody that can testify in your litigation without ever seeing the evidence on a first-hand basis. In both civil and criminal litigation, the expert can be the game changer. Let’s discuss the dynamic between the two different tests: iStock_000013709005_Medium-300x210

In Frye,¹ the court stated that scientific testimony is the key concept that the court will utilize in order to accept the testimony while determining if an expert is truly qualified. This left many very qualified people out in the cold because not all expert testimony requires one to be versed in science, in fact, sometimes one’s work experience can make all of the difference but with the law presented by Frye, there was a very narrow view of who could qualify as such. While Frye is still followed in several states (New Jersey and New York of the most famed utilization), the law has changed federally and within the state of Michigan. In Michigan and the majority of states, we follow the Daubert test.

In Daubert,² the road to the courthouse has opened up an array of new lanes and traffic is no longer as congested. To begin, the concept presented in Frye has not been abandoned but instead encompassed. While science will still prevail as an overarching theme that courts may consider, an array of evidence that can be explained with a threshold of information will now be looked at in the matter.³ In essence, the experience of an individual will lead to a further understanding of how a court may accept evidence that is studied but not actually seen on a first-hand basis. The expert no longer has to possess scientific knowledge and instead, just knowledge in their field and this has changed the face of litigation.

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In June of 2013, Initiative 594 (referred to as I 594 by many) was filed in Washington State in regards to requiring criminal and public safety background checks for the sale or transfer of guns. In November of 2014 the Initiative to the Legislature was approved, meaning that every individual in the state, even those who purchased a gun privately, were required to undergo background checks. The only people exempt from the new legislature were immediate family members who acquired antique guns from members of their families. Essentially, those who purchased guns whether from a private seller or licensed dealer would be required to be found “eligible” to possess a pistol. Additionally, the application must be approved by the sheriff or chief of police according to the measure. iStock_000006818663_Full-1-300x200

Now, almost two years after the approval of I 594, an Oak Harbor man has been charged with what is thought to be the first criminal case involving the unlawful transfer of a firearm after Mark A. Mercado was accused of selling a Phoenix Arms HP22 handgun that was allegedly used to murder a 17-year-old just two days after Mercado reportedly sold the gun to the suspect, 20-year-old David Nunez, without performing the required background check. Mercado has been charged with unlawful transfer of a firearm, according to news reports.

The victim, John Skyler Johnson, was killed in his grandmother’s home. Sheriff’s investigators allege that Mercado did not seek the required background check under the initiative when he sold the gun to the defendant. David Nunez was reportedly involved in an ongoing dispute with Johnson when he conspired with three others who were said to be friends of his to murder the victim. He is currently serving 25 years in prison after pleading guilty in May of this year. News reports indicate that Nunez and his friend murdered the teen over a $400 impound fee.

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What happens when a defendant is found guilty of a crime, and later exonerated of the charges? It depends, and may not end in the same results in all states. Recently, a man and woman in Colorado were exonerated (basically found innocent) of sex-related charges, however what would happen in regards to reimbursement of court costs would raise questions and result in appeals that will ultimately be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. law and justice

According to news reports, in 2005 Louis Alonzo Madden was found guilty of attempting to patronize a prostituted child and attempted sexual assault. In 2006, Shannon Nelson was determined guilty on five counts of sexual assault against children. Madden’s court fees and costs included those for a sex offender surcharge, genetic testing, and other costs that came to a grand total of more than $4,400. For Nelson, the total court fines, fees, and restitution totaled nearly $8,200.

Nelson’s conviction was reversed when a member of the Colorado Supreme Court, Justice William W. Hood III, found that Nelson was presumed innocent because she was never “validly” convicted of the charges she faced. Upon release from prison, should it have been required she was also released from court costs and restitution?

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Amidst the drama that is the 2016 Presidential Election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I scanned my television late on Saturday night and then came the documentary “15 to Life” which despite exhaustion keep me tuned in.  The story of Kenneth Young is a tragic one and one that I felt compelled to write about and hopefully contribute lead to pulling a blindfold off of Lady Justice.

At the age of 14-15, Kenneth Young was involved in 4 different armed robberies.  He did this with a 24-year old accomplice leading the way.  The 24-year old was the drug dealer of Kenneth’s mother and forced him into a life of crime.  While the mother was often intoxicated and leaving her son alone to his own devices from the age of 11 along with his 15-year old sister that had become pregnant, the accomplice, in addition to selling drugs to Kenneth’s mother started forcing the young man to play a role in the crimes.  He was an unwilling accomplice and his public defender never focused on that fact nor did she ever mention how Kenneth actually prevented one victim from being raped by the 24-year old accomplice.  The reality:  Kenneth Young was born into a life of criminal dysfunction and was an unwilling participant.  Despite this, the state of Florida sentenced him to 3 concurrent life sentences.  Finally, there was home when the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in the classic case of Graham vs. Florida.

In Graham vs. Florida, the United States Supreme Court stated that the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution which can afford an argument that sentences can be cruel and unusual punishment can come into play.  In essence, the court ruled that if a defendant has been rehabilitated and they were a minor when a non-homicide occurred, the case can be re-examined.1  In a majority opinion, Justice Kennedy stated, The Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide. A State need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term. The judgment of the First District Court of Appeal of Florida is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. The court echoed this opinion in the case Miller vs. Alabama.2  Where does this leave us and as attorneys’, criminal and otherwise within the state of Michigan, we have to employ psychology with this analysis.  Should a teenager be judged the same way as an adult?