Pedro Espinoza: Tragic Murder Produces a Terrible Argument

A Los Angeles jury convicted Pedro Espinoza of first degree murder for the senseless and tragic killing of Jamiel Shaw. (LA Times, 10 May 2012; p. AA1). Espinoza, a recently-paroled gangster, killed Jamiel Shaw in the mistaken belief that the red backpack that Shaw was wearing indicated that Shaw was a member of the “Bloods,” a rival gang. The defense lawyer asked the judge to throw out the guilty verdict and declare a mistrial because two of ...

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Making the Fair Sentencing Act Fair

The federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 significantly reduced the sentences for defendants who are convicted of violating the crack cocaine laws. Should the sentences that the new Act provides for be given to defendants who were convicted before the Act was passed, but who have not yet been sentenced?

The US Supreme Court is likely to answer this question when it decides the cases of Dorsey v. US and Hill vs. US. The decision is particularly important ...

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Jail Strip Searches

In Florence v. County of Burlington (2012) the US Supreme Court ruled (by a vote of 5-4) that jailers have a general right to strip search all arrestees, even those arrested for minor offenses such as vehicle code violations. Strip searches are valid under the Fourth Amendment even if jailers have no reason to believe that an arrestee has a weapon or illegal contraband like drugs secreted somewhere in a body cavity.

While the ruling was a close ...

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Missouri v. Frye – Maybe the defense lawyer and not the defendant should go to jail.

Galin Frye was a serial revoked-license driver, with 3 convictions on his rap sheet. Arrested for a 4th time for driving with a revoked license, Frye was charged with a felony carrying a maximum term of 4 years in prison. The prosecutor sent Frye’s lawyer a letter: if Frye pleaded guilty, the charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor and the prosecutor would recommend a 90 day sentence.

Generous as this deal might seem, Frye never had a ...

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It Can Be Tough to be a Juror!

Many people cringe when they get a notice of jury service, anticipating possible disruption to their daily lives. But the perils of jury service can be much greater.

In the California Supreme Court case of People v. Abel (2012), the defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. One of Abel’s grounds for appeal was a number of allegedly prejudicial comments that the judge made during the trial. For instance, at one point the trial judge ...

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Stephanie Lazarus: Justice Delayed Is Justice

Former LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus was convicted in March 2012 of the brutal 1986 killing of Sherri Rasmussen, the wife of Lazarus’ former boyfriend. Because of the LAPD’s slothful investigation of Rasmussen’s murder, Lazarus remained at large until 2009, all the while progressing up the LAPD chain of command. Kudos to the officers in LAPD’s “cold case” unit. They reviewed the unsolved murder and realized that spurned girlfriend Lazarus was the likely killer. They shadowed her for ...

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Jeopardy and a Half?

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the US Constitution bars the government from trying a defendant twice for the same crime. So assume that a defendant is charged with first and second degree murder. The jury acquits the defendant of first degree murder, but is “hung” because it can’t agree on whether to convict the defendant of second degree murder. The government can re-try the defendant for second degree murder, but not for first degree murder.

Blueford v. Arkansas ...

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Miranda for Prisoners

Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 US Supreme Court case that is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a TV cop make an arrest, requires that police officers warn suspects who are “in custody” that they have a right to remain silent and to speak to an attorney. How the Miranda rule should apply to prison inmates, who are after all in custody 24/7, has been a thorn in many judges’ sides.

By a vote of 6-3, the ...

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False Confession Syndrome: No Cure for the Common Confession?

Most of us believe that we’d never confess to a serious crime that we didn’t commit. But quite a few people do. According to the Innocence Project, about 25 % of suspects who have been wrongfully convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence had confessed to a crime they didn’t commit. Youths and suspects who are mentally impaired (often because of substance abuse) are the most likely to confess falsely. This is especially true when you add ...

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Marriage and Divorce

UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES CAN CUSTODY AND VISITATION ORDERS BE CHANGED?

After a final decree of divorce or other order establishing custody and visitation is filed with a court, parents may agree to modify the custody or visitation terms. This modified agreement may be made without court approval if consented to by both parents. Courts usually approve modification agreements unless it appears that they are not in the best interests of the child, and if ...

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