Teen Escapes Full Sentence Because of ‘Affluenza’

A Texas teenager will not be put in jail for drunk driving last year and killing four people and seriously wounding two others. His defense attorneys build the teen’s case on the fact that the defendant suffers from “affluenza,” meaning he has been coddled too much by his wealthy affluenza19n-2-webparents. The attorneys argued that the affluenza means that the teen is disillusioned, having never been held accountable for his actions. As crazy as this defense seems, it worked.

District Judge Jean Boyd ruled that the sixteen-year-old teen would get 10 years probation for the deaths instead of going to prison. Additionally, he must get long-term psychological and addiction treatment. The teen’s parents are sending him to a rehabilitation center in California that will cost them upwards of $450,000 a year. It is not clear how long the teen will stay there, but it will cost a pretty penny for the time he is a resident.

Last week, Judge Boyd turned down requests from prosecutors to put the teen in jail for 20 years. They issued this request based on the two young teens that survived the crash. One of the survivors suffered a traumatic brain injury that has left them unable to move or talk.

The hearing was closed last Wednesday, so the details of the arguments are unclear. However, one of the teen’s attorneys praised Judge Boyd for “making an appropriate decision in a tragic case that was distorted by the media.” Meanwhile the prosecution told reports that “the teen showed no remorse during the two-hour proceedings…[we have] little confidence the rehabilitation will reform the youth’s behavior.”

The teen’s blood alcohol count was three times the legal limit for an adult at the time of the crash.

Alternative Methods Sought to Reduce Inmate Numbers

prison_092611-thumb-640xauto-4264In a recent report, it was divulged that Mississippi taxpayers spend over $18,000 per year on each inmate in a minimum-security prison. Mississippi’s prison population has grown by roughly 17%, topping 22,600 inmates as of July 2013, and the state has the second highest imprisonment rate in the nation, costing taxpayers almost $340 million last  year. These numbers necessitate reforms to the policies around imprisonment, since prison expenditures will increase by $266 million over the next ten years.

“We cannot continue down the path we are on. By enacting these policies we will improve public safety by keeping violent and career criminals behind bars, putting the appropriate resources into alternatives for nonviolent offenders, and ensuring our citizens get the best results for their tax dollars,” said Gov. Phil Bryant at a press conference in Jackson.

According to Bolivar County Warden Ora Starks, she agrees with Bryant’s sentiments and has been attempting to institute alternative options to nonviolent offenders for rehabilitation and/or punishment. “If you try to decrease the number of individuals entering prison for nonviolent crimes it will be a very good thing but it all ultimately depends on the approach that you wish to take,” said Starks

Mississippi has several alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders: non-adjudicated probation, house arrest, and probation among them. Non-adjudicated probation is a period of probation that, if successfully completed, results in expungement and no felony record. Probation is a sentence of community supervision and house arrest, which allows offenders to remain in their community under electronic monitoring.

Current statutory restrictions limit judges’ discretion in imposing non-prison sentences that often may be effective in reducing repeat offenses. “I have been meeting with various entities to start vocational programs at our facility that will save the state some tax dollars and possibly deter inmates from becoming repeat offenders,” she added. According to Starks, one alternative method in place is something called “drug court”. If they continue to incarcerate nonviolent offenders, then they’ll be back in a situation of overcrowded prisons.

Over the last decade, Mississippi has developed an expansive drug court system and now has a drug court in every circuit. However, current law restricts many nonviolent offenders whose criminal activity is driven by substance abuse/addiction and who would benefit from a highly regimented drug court program.

Trial Begins in Legal Challenge To No-Fly List

o-RAHINA-facebookIn an eight-year legal odyssey to clear her name from the U.S. no-fly list, a Malaysian university professor has finally been given the opportunity to state her case in federal court in San Francisco.

Rahinah Ibrahim claims that she was mistakenly placed on the n0-fly list because of her national origin and Muslim faith. She has been fighting in court since her arrest at San Francisco international airport in January 2005 in an attempt to clear her name. There are several similar lawsuits that are pending across the nation, but Ibrahim’s challenge seems to be the first one to go to trial. Typically, U.S. trials involve important yet mundane details that are disclosed in order to truly determine guilt or innocence, but in this case, Ibrahim’s legal challenge has run head-on into the U.S. government’s state secret privilege that allows it to decline to disclose vital evidence if the prosecutors can show that the person is a threat to national security.

To make matters worse, Ibrahim’s lawyers are barred by court orders and national security provisions to prevent her attorney from digging to deeply into the cloak-and-dagger workings of the government’s administration of its suspected terrorists list. Federal prosecutor, Lily Farrel told the judge that the government couldn’t respond to any of Ibrahim’s claims due to national security interests. There was a point during the trial on Monday where the judge cleared the room of all spectators so the prosecution could present three slides of classified evidence to the judge, which had to be discussed behind closed doors. Before and after the closed session, federal prosecutors lobbed a steady stream of objections when Ibrahim’s lawyer came close to discussing her client’s current no-fly list status and details of how Ibrahim came to be included on such a list.

Ibrahim is even barred from entering the U.S. to testify at her own trial. Ibrahim could only testify via videotaped in London and shown at the trial to the judge – who will decide the case without a jury – Ibrahim denied any affiliation with terrorist groups.

Ibrahim, 48, lives in Malaysia with her husband and four children and is the dean of the architecture and engineering school at the University of Malaysia. Her trouble with the government began in December 2004 when two FBI agents showed up at her house near Stanford University, where she was pursuing a doctoral degree in architecture. She was told by agents that Malaysia was blacklisted by the U.S. government and then questioned her about knowledge regarding the Malaysia-based terror organization, Jemaah Islamiyah – to which she replied she knew about them only through news reports. She was also questioned about her Muslim heritage and involvement in the Muslim community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and replied that she and her family were practicing worshippers.

The following month, she was detained at San Francisco international airport as she was planning to fly to Malaysia with a stopover in Hawaii. She caught a plane to Malaysia the next day, and has been barred from reentering the U.S. since.

DUI Habitual Offenders: What are and How Severe are the Consequences?

DUI Pennsylvania Sign.What is a DUI habitual offender? Ronald Witt of Tigard, Oregon fits the definition, apparently. The habitual offender was recently sentenced to 27 months behind bars.

Witt has had prior DUI convictions, however, he wasn’t even drunk when he caused a crash that killed a 52-year old man from Washington state in August. However, at a court hearing last week, Witt showed up clearly smelling of alcohol, which the judge did not appreciate. Because Witt has at least three prior convictions for DUI and driving with a suspended/revoked license within the past five years, the state of Oregon labeled him as a habitual offender.

But what does being a habitual offender really mean and what are the consequences for DUI defendents?

What is a habitual offender?

A habitual offender is defined as someone who’s violated certain laws repeatedly over a certain period of time. In Oregon, three convictions over the past five years and those convictions can be for crimes such as:

  • DUI (which in Oregon is called DUII, or driving under the influence of intoxicants);
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked license;
  • Reckless driving; or
  • Homicide (including manslaughter, murder, negligent homicide, or vehicular homicide).

However, the number and convictions vary from state to state. So it’s prudent for anyone to check their respective state’s habitual offender laws to be sure.

What are the consequences of being labeled as a habitual offender?

Being labeled as a habitual offender can lead to serious legal ramifications. Among them being:

  • License revocation. While a license can be revoked with a single offense, the penalty is harsher with repeated offenses. For example, Oregon will revoke your license for five years if you’re a habitual offender.
  • Harsher penalties can vary from state to state, however in many states, being a habitual offender can lead to much harsher sentences. For example, a habitual DUI offender in Florida was sentenced to ten years and ten months in prison for a fatal DUI. Multiple DUIs can also lead to increased fines, vehicle confiscation, or an even longer license revocation period.
  • Automatic Felony DUI charges are also a possibility. If you have multiple DUI convictions (or even just one prior DUI in New York), you could automatically face a felony DUI charge if you’re caught driving drunk again.


Immigration Policies to be Rectified

Rhys Cartwright-JonesAs a lawyer who specializes in immigration cases, I wanted to discuss this recent article, discussing changes being made to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies, due to their current ones violating human rights.

The ICE has been utilizing the practice of solitary confinement on over 10,000 immigrants who were detained for various legal issues, a practice which can possibly cause severe, irreparable harm to the mental health of these individuals. The ICE has decided to make the practice of solitary confinement a solution they will use, “only as a last resort,” for those who may cause harm to themselves or others if they are not confined, for example those with mental illness.

According to experts in the field of health and psychology, holding a person in solitary confinement for a period over fourteen consecutive days can cause mental trauma/damage that cannot be reversed.  The horrifying reality of ICE policies is that data from this past march has indicated that roughly 300 out of around 30,000 immigrants who were being held by our legal system were in solitary confinement for days on end, a number of which were held for two months or more.  One can only imagine the damage being done to the minds of these individuals who have been kept in solitary confinement for such extended periods of time.

Revised policy requires that the officials of the ICE must have written, viable explanation for reasoning they are holding individuals in isolation for a period past two weeks.  Similarly, the new adjustments to policy require that a subcommittee be created, to ensure that extended periods of isolation are not enforced.  If it is found that isolation over two weeks is still being utilized, that detention center will be put under inspection.

While these policies are a good start, human rights groups have been fighting for an overall banning of the policy of isolation in detention centers.  Many of these immigrants being held are not being detained for criminal reasons, but rather to obligate them to be present at their court date, after which they are deported.  Since they are not being sentenced to anything,  there is no legitimate or just reason for subjecting them to such punishment as solitary.

Rhys Cartwright-Jones, Attorney in Youngstown, OhioFurther investigation of some of these detention centers have uncovered some shocking and extremely inhumane practices.  Individuals being detained have been put in isolation for more than eight months at time, and many detention centers have sent detainees for “infractions,” such as speaking spanish.  One facility in Georgia was found to have been restraining those put into solitary and permitting them to exercise outdoors once every thirty days. Similarly, detention centers were found only feeding their prisoners disgusting food as punishment, as well as creating other completely unjust reasons for sending a detained immigrant to solitary confinement.

As an attorney with a specialty in immigrations cases, I find these practices absolutely horrific.  It makes one wonder what other types of unfair and illegal treatment immigrants are subject to by our law enforcement officials.  It is important that we fight for these people and their rights in order to see that they are treated like humans, as they deserve to be.


Steps to Becoming a Lawyer

Rhys Cartwright-JonesI have always enjoyed my law career, so when I found this article, I really enjoyed it because I thought it really articulated the steps it takes to become a lawyer and lays a framework for those who want to become lawyers and are trying to create a plan to do so.

It is important to start working hard in high school.  It is necessary that one obtains a high school degree, and plans on going to a four-year college or university following their graduation.  In college, there is not necessarily a particular major that one needs to become a lawyer, so you still have the opportunity to explore your interests.  However, majors or classes in History, English, Political Science, or Business are some areas which may prepare you for the type of work/studying you will be doing when you get to law school, so these may be some classes to explore to see if becoming a lawyer is the choice for you. [Read more…]

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