Bailing Out: How Bail Reform Can Change the Mass Incarceration Landscape

(Source)   Every year, millions of people presumed innocent are held in prison awaiting trial. For some, this may mean days. For others, years. Khalief Browder, for instance, was a sixteen-year-old held on bail for three years. Two years after his release, he committed suicide. Khalief never stood trial, nor was he ever found guilty of any crime. Khalief’s story sparked an outcry in the United States for bail reform. Throughout the United States, there is broad consensus that the system of pretrial detention is unjust. Scholars agree that the system disadvantages minorities, particularly poorer communities and communities of color. Though reformers have identified these several problem areas, there have not been substantial unified efforts to change the system. Current reform efforts center on creating bail funds, eliminating cash bail on a state level, and furthering national research on the best courses of action for the future. This post outlines the current state of bail systems, their impact, and current reform efforts.   The Evolution of Bail in the United States Money bail has its roots in early Anglo-Saxon history. Bail was used as a means to peacefully settle disputes. The accused was required to find someone, called a surety, [read more]

Over A Year Without Net Neutrality: Do We Really Need It?

(Source)   July marked one full year since net neutrality regulations were repealed. Net neutrality is often defined as “the idea, principle, or requirement that internet service providers should or must treat all internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination.” Internet service providers (“ISPs”) are companies that provide internet access to customers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the administrative agency charged with regulating communications by wire, radio, television, and cable, first voted to repeal net neutrality regulations in December of 2017. This decision was met with extensive backlash from state attorney generals, public interest groups, and Democratic lawmakers. Regardless of this response, the FCC pushed forward and officially repealed all net neutrality regulations in July of 2018. FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has argued that net neutrality limits ISP innovation and compromises the agency’s independence. Widespread speculation has contested that Mr. Pai’s far right political views and favoritism of big corporations is the true motive behind this repeal. However, Mr. Pai and the FCC maintain that consumers are better off without these regulations because ISPs will be able to upgrade and expand their services faster. Public outcry from Democratic lawmakers [read more]

Taking a Chance: Loot Boxes in Video Games and the Issue of Gambling

(Source)   Loot boxes in video games are a controversial topic that has many people split on whether we should consider this in-game feature as a form of gambling. Many regard loot boxes as a “gambling-like” mechanic, which raises the concern of conditioning gamers, specifically underage gamers, to develop a gambling problem. Some video games use microtransactions in a way that allows gamers to use real-world money to purchase a guaranteed in-game item of their choosing. However, many popular video games use loot boxes, such as Overwatch. Gamers can earn loot boxes through gameplay or by purchasing them with real-world money. When opened, these loot boxes generate random in-game rewards such as virtual characters, skins, and equipment. Despite a gamer having the ability to unlock loot boxes by merely playing the game, there is concern over the purchasing aspect (with real money) of loot boxes. There is no guarantee of getting specific items when opening loot boxes due to their randomized system, and individuals can spend lots of money without ever receiving the item they want. There are instances in which children have spent a large amount of money trying to get prizes in games. In 2011, an 8-year-old spent [read more]

Unions Should Not Back Down “Just-Cause” They are Afraid of Change

(Source)   Over  the last few decades, union membership has continued to decline within the United States. As of 2018, union membership among all workers in the United States was 10.5%, a far cry from the 34.8% of workers who were represented by unions at their peak in 1954.  While places like New York and California continue to demonstrate a strong union presence, other areas of the country have not.  However, while union membership remains low, there is growing public support, as 62% of Americans approve of labor unions. At a time when union support is at a decade high, why is union membership so low? A variety of factors have contributed to the decline of union membership.  One factor contributing to this phenomenon is that as the job market continues to change, there are fewer manufacturing jobs and more service-based job opportunities in areas like retail, healthcare, and hospitality.  These growing sectors are historically less likely to be unionized, compared to the manufacturing sector, which has always maintained a high union membership rate.  Additionally, even when companies are creating new manufacturing jobs, the factories are typically built in non-union friendly states. Second, right-to-work states have contributed to the downfall [read more]

Wallstreet Running Ambulances: Privatization of Emergency Medical Services

(Source)   Some services are inherently seen as the responsibility of the government rather than a profit-generating opportunity. When we think of public services, certain stereotypical functions come to mind. National parks, public utilities like water, and local police forces are examples of services that are traditionally “public,” but have been privatized to different extents. This may stem from incentives to make management more efficient or financial pressures on local municipalities. Other public services have had private counterparts to accommodate differing preferences. For example, There is a long history of private schools and public-school working in tandem to teach pupils. There has been a spike in the privatization of public services since the economic recession in 2008. With the privatization of goods and services comes cost-minimizing and profit-maximizing techniques implemented in the private sector. As one can imagine, privatization can drastically change how a good or service is provided to the general public. For example, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) extend from ambulatory organizations to branches of the fire department and are seen as a stereotypically traditional “government” service. However, private equity investors starting from the early 1990’s—booming during the 2008 recession—have invested heavily in the industry in efforts to privatize [read more]

Moving the Trolls Out of Texas

(Source)   Background Though Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Boston are regarded as the epicenters in science and technology, East Texas has been the major venue in patent litigation for leading tech companies such as Apple, Samsung, and IBM. A significant number of the disputes in East Texas is litigation brought by non-practicing entities (NPEs), also known as “patent trolls”, that do not develop research or technology but rather use patents and amass patent portfolios to threaten companies with patent infringement litigation. District courts in East Texas have drawn the ire of NPEs for the courts’ favorable treatment towards plaintiffs asserting their patents. NPEs have consistently had higher success rates litigating in Eastern Texas at 52% than in other popular districts such as Northern California at 13% and Delaware at 25%. Unsurprisingly, Eastern Texas hosted the most decisions involving NPEs as well. This blog post will touch upon the changing forum landscape trends of patent litigation involving NPEs, as well as the existing issues that still need resolution.   NPEs’ real estate in the patent landscape Despite the patent system’s goal to promote progress through incentivization, NPEs have established a substantial piece of real estate in the patent landscape with [read more]

Revenge of the Exes: The Importance of Overturning Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

(Source)   Imagine having someone show up unannounced at your home and work demanding sex from you. Now imagine it happening over 1,400 times. For Matthew Herrick, no imagination is necessary—he lived it. Over the course of a year, an ex-boyfriend used the dating app Grindr to impersonate Herrick and advertise sexual meetups, post crude photos, and share pinpointed locations allowing hundreds of different men to harass Herrick and demand sex from him at his home and work. When Herrick refused, many of the men threatened violence. Herrick filed multiple complaints with Grindr, but it did little to take down the fake profiles or prevent Herrick’s ex-boyfriend from using its service. Fearing his life, Herrick filed a lawsuit against the app. In Herrick v. Grindr, LLC, Herrick alleged, among other things, that Grindr was negligent and should be held accountable for ignoring Herrick’s complaints and allowing its defective platform to be used in a way that placed Herrick in danger. However, Grindr claimed that it had immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Section 230”), specifically the “Good Samaritan” subsection (47 U.S.C. § 230(c)). The Good Samaritan clause deems that “interactive computer services” (“ICS”) cannot be treated as [read more]

The SEC, Cryptocurrencies, and Facebook’s Libra: The SEC’s Approach to Cryptocurrency Markets and How the Tech Giant’s Involvement Could Change the SEC’s Regulatory Oversight of Cryptocurrencies

(Source) The SEC’s position on whether cryptocurrencies should be — or can be — classified as securities is far from clear, making it difficult for the public to understand how the cryptocurrency and token industry will be regulated by the federal government. In March 2019, Coincenter — a blockchain legislative advocacy group — published correspondence explaining that the SEC’s staff analysis confirmed that Ethereum and similar cryptocurrencies (including Bitcoin) are not subject to securities laws. Previously, in June 2018, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton stated in a CNBC interview that Bitcoin was not a security. These statements have created a precedent and have led to confusion as the SEC now tries to re-adjust the parameters regarding classifying cryptocurrencies given the surge of initial coin offerings (ICOs) and token launches over the past few years. The Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 state that transactions qualifying as “investment contracts” are deemed securities and thus are subjected to SEC oversight regarding disclosure and registration requirements. Traditionally, the SEC has relied on the Howey test for determining the classification of a security. The Howey test, which arose following the 1946 Supreme Court case SEC v. W.J. Howey Co., offers [read more]

Stepping Up: The First Step Act and Criminal Justice Reform

(Source)   America incarcerates people at a higher rate than any country in the world. The highly politicized War on Drugs led to a spike in incarceration, particularly in lower-income and minority communities. Although the prison population in the United States has declined since 2016, incarceration and recidivism rates remain high. According to a study by the United States Sentencing Commission, more than half of a group of 25,000 recently released individuals were rearrested for new crimes or violations of supervision conditions. Although recidivism rates vary depending on factors such as sentence length and an individual’s previous exposure the criminal justice system, the overall rate of recidivism looks bleak. In 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act to target high mandatory minimum sentences and recidivism rates in the federal carceral system.   A First Step Forward The First Step Act reforms mandatory minimum sentencing laws, introduces earned time credit and improves good time credit systems, and remedies compassionate release programs in federal prisons. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws restrict judicial discretion in sentencing and force judges to impose certain penalties for certain crimes, typically focusing on drug-related offenses. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is the major source of mandatory minimum [read more]

Climate Crisis: Removing Authority from U.S. Military Commanders Over Sexual Assault Cases May Remedy the Prevalence and Underreporting of Sexual Assault

(Source)   The latest Department of Defense (DoD) Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military reports an increase in instances of sexual assault in the U.S. military (military). While rates of sexual assault increase, rates of conviction and punishment remain unchanged. The current military justice system allows for the accused’s unit supervisor (hereinafter “Commander”) to play a significant role in how sexual assault cases are resolved. While Pentagon officials promise to take more aggressive action in addressing sexual assault, it is often questioned whether the military is “equipped to police and reform itself.” According to a study commissioned by the DoD, an estimated 20,500 service members “experienced some kind of contact or penetrative sexual assault in 2018.” This is a 38% increase since the 2016 survey. The same study found that while rates of sexual assault against men remained steady, rates of sexual assault against women increased by almost 50%. With less than one-third of military survivors reporting sexual assault, and 6,053 reports of sexual assault in the 2018 fiscal year, there appears to be a greater institutional problem within the military justice system. Military sexual assault reports are processed either through the restricted or unrestricted reporting systems. Restricted [read more]
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