Socioeconomic Status and its Implication on Criminal Justice: Bail Reform

(Source) In January 2020, New York began implementing legislation aimed at reforming bail practices for those awaiting trial. The reform was aimed at reducing jail populations and allowing individuals who cannot afford bail to await their trial date outside of jail. The initial iteration of the reform applied to almost all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony defendants (“exempt crimes”). Further, the reform required judges to consider each defendant’s “individual financial circumstances,” “ability to post bail without posing undue hardship,” and “ability to obtain a secured, unsecured, or partially secured bond.” Under this new requirement, courts essentially could not impose cash bails for many defendants. In the City of New York alone, nearly 84% of all defendants arraigned in 2019 would not have been subject to cash bail under the reform.  The reform was immediately met with staunch opposition by both citizens of New York and Republican state officials . The backlash and criticism against the initial reform led to a fundamental overhaul and in early April 2020, the New York state legislature amended the reform. The amended reform added more crimes to the list of non-exempt crimes, thus allowing cash bails to be set for a larger range of crimes. The [read more]

Seize and Desist: How the FCC Can Stop Robocallers

(Source) Spam callers have averted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) to evolve their operations and overwhelm Americans with billions of spam calls. These spam calls can use fraud, blackmail, and lies to solicit information and payment from vulnerable Americans. In fact, a February 2021 Business Insider survey found that 46% of Americans receive daily spam calls. When spam calls are this prevalent, there are questions of how robocallers can subvert the TCPA to target vulnerable Americans. Although spam calls target both rich and poor targets at similar rates, a particular concern arises when money is stolen from poor Americans, as these individuals have fewer legal resources to recuperate their money. Further, 85% of older Americans are targeted as compared to 66% of their younger counterparts, which is especially troubling since these individuals often do not have the technical literacy to understand that spam calls are in fact illegitimate attempts to scam them of their money.  The process by which robocallers reach American consumers typically works as follows: First, a company seeking to sell an item reaches out to a robocalling company and forms a contract with the robocalling company. A robocaller then uses a gateway carrier to connect with [read more]

Legal Injustice: How Abusers Use The Law To Further Target Their Victims

(Source) Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a pervasive issue in society. One in four women in the United States have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner. Globally, about one third of women have experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. While women are more likely to be the victim of interpersonal violence, men can be victimized, too. In particular, LGBT individuals are even more likely to be victims of interpersonal violence.  Imagine you are the victim of domestic violence. Say one night a particularly vicious incident happened and you decide it is time to end this relationship. For many women, their first step is to call a domestic violence hotline to learn about next steps, connect with resources and/or to plan how to safely leave their abuser.  Many women will end up going to family court to file a restraining order, called an Order of Protection in New York state. An Order of Protection has many benefits beyond ordering an abuser to stay away from their victims. It can require an abuser to leave a shared home, surrender their firearms, and return important documents they may have taken from their victims, like [read more]

Free From Charge: Revamping the Public Charge Rule

(Source) The Biden administration must confront a plethora of immigration issues following the immense number of restrictions the Trump administration placed on immigrant applicants. These “land mines” of Trump-era anti-immigrant policies are rooted deep- “buried under layer after layer of bureaucratic actions and then [can] essentially devastate the system in untold ways that aren’t discovered until policies are applied in particular cases.” One land mine worth addressing is the controversial “Public Charge” Rule.  In 1882, Congress first implemented the “Public Charge” Rule as a relatively vague statute that allowed the U.S. government to deny a visa to anyone who “is likely at any time to become a public charge.” The Public Charge Rule was designed to prevent noncitizens from entering and remaining in the country if they are likely to require some undesignated degree of public assistance. Laws frequently identify self-sufficiency of noncitizen applicants as a compelling government interest and cite it as justification for this exclusion rule. This Rule is also meant to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits. However, the 1882 federal law did not provide a set definition of what a “public charge” is, nor did it provide any specific guidelines to [read more]

Twin Crises – Abortion During Covid-19

(Source) Limited access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic severely curtailed the ability of pregnant persons to access abortion services. At a time when abortion access was especially critical, mobility and quarantine measures were widely used as pretenses to delay services. Under the guise of protecting frontline workers, saving PPE kits, and allowing only essential medical services to continue, legislators imposed several crackdowns to restrict abortion that, in fact, had failed to address the concerns raised in the first place. Given abortion’s time-sensitive nature, this further exacerbated existing inequalities within society in terms of race and socio-economic status, and created a vacuum for essential services that were of utmost importance to basic health care.    I. Curtailing Abortion During a Pandemic   During the growing COVID-19 crisis, it became evident that the United States had a serious lack of PPE kits available for use while treating patients. To efficiently address the issue, several state governments announced a temporary halt of elective health care activities. Some states, like Alabama, issued a very basic executive order that asked people to postpone their elective health care procedures. Other states chose to define “elective” services, providing examples of procedures considered elective by the state, [read more]

American Infrastructure and the Biden Administration

(Source) On March 31, 2021, the White House issued a press release on the first landmark piece of legislation for the Biden administration, “The American Jobs Plan.” The Administration describes the Plan as “an investment in America” amidst a time of mounting climate change concerns and increasing inequality. The Administration also touts the Plan as a strategic component of the “Build Back Better” framework, President Biden’s proposed solution to tackle many of America’s most pressing issues in both physical and human infrastructure. To that end, the Administration is seeking to frame the Plan as a tool to combat “long-standing and persistent racial injustice.” To understand the impetus for such a claim, one must be familiar with the strong historical connection between infrastructure and racial injustice as well as the implications that improved access to quality infrastructure may have for marginalized communities.  I. How does the American Jobs Plan Address Racial Injustice?  While the American Jobs Plan seeks to improve antiquated structures across many industries, most objectives in the bill focus on infrastructure. According to the press release, “the United States of America is the wealthiest country in the world, yet we rank thirteenth when it comes to the overall quality of [read more]

The wrong way to save Afghans: America must make it easier for refugees to come here

(Source) This article originally appeared in the New York Daily News. When U.S. troops left Afghanistan, many Afghans who had supported the United States’ work there became Taliban targets due to their association with the United States. While in theory, Afghans at risk can apply for humanitarian parole to come to the United States, in reality, this option falls grossly short of humane. Humanitarian parole allows non-U.S. citizens to remain in the United States for a two-year parole period. Applicants must meet certain qualifications to be eligible, such as urgent humanitarian need. While other immigration options technically exist for Afghans, like the Special Immigrant Visa and the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, those application processes can take years. That delay renders those options nonviable for Afghans whose lives are in danger.  Humanitarian parole is theoretically the quickest way for Afghans to gain admission into the United States, making it the most appealing option for many Afghans hoping to escape the Taliban. But the application process is nearly impossible for someone in hiding. Applicants must complete several confusing immigration forms and compile many supporting evidentiary documents. The forms are in English legal jargon, which is obviously a problem for many Afghans who [read more]

Admit or Acquit: Why Circuit Courts Should Admit All New Evidence

(Source) To succeed on a claim of actual innocence, a defendant needs to introduce new evidence that was not available at the time of trial. When a defendant wants to introduce new evidence to appeal a federal court conviction, the defendant must undergo an arduous trial. Because an appeal is not a retrial, appellate courts will review the lower court’s record. Defendants who move for a new trial can succeed when new evidence is available which can prove the defendant’s innocence. The process is further complicated because of the circuit court split over the definition of “new evidence.” The Tenth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits are willing to look at evidence that was not presented before the appeal. However, the Third, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits are only willing to review new evidence that was not yet available at the trial court. The circuit split is problematic because criminal defendants could face jurisdictional inequality based on which appellate court they appeal to. Even when new evidence is available after trial, time constraints can limit what new evidence is sufficient to file for a new trial. To file for a new trial, new evidence must be filed within three years under Federal [read more]

Expanding the Courts to Reduce Case Backlogs

(Source) Case backlogs significantly impact the judicial system. By delaying the proceedings, case backlogs increase the cost of litigation. When a case is backlogged, parties—especially those that cannot afford to wait or pay for protracted litigation—are incentivized to accept less than optimal settlements. Backlogs also force criminal defendants, who cannot afford bail, to spend a greater amount of time in jail before a determination of their guilt can occur. Moreover, backlogs can stymie justice by delaying trials until after witnesses or even parties have passed away. Courts across the United States have experienced backlogs for quite some time. Between 2000 and 2014, thousands of civil cases were backlogged in U.S. District Courts each year, and this trend has only continued into the 2020s. For example, as of 2020, the number of backlogged cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey sat at a staggering 39,000, up over 230% since 2016. In the administrative law courts of the Department of Health and Human Services, hundreds of thousands of Medicare appeals were backlogged during the 2010s. Similarly, the nation’s immigration court has faced severe backlogs for more than a decade. Concerningly, the immigration court’s backlog has grown at [read more]

Drug Testing for Marijuana: An Arbitrary & Capricious Practice?

(Source) Although congressional efforts to decriminalize marijuana remain ongoing, we have seen the legalization of marijuana in several states both for medicinal use and for recreational use. In as early as 2012 following election day, Colorado became the first state to legalize the use and sale of marijuana. Since then, it isn’t uncommon to see “marijuana tourism,” a term used to describe consumers traveling to use marijuana in those progressive states and territories that legalized its recreational use. Despite the trend of states legalizing marijuana, employers still screen employees and prescreen potential employees for marijuana usage. Is such testing justified or is the practice arbitrary or even adverse to society?  Drug tests are optional tests for employers who use them to identify whether employees or prospective employees are using illicit drugs such as methamphetamines, THC which includes marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine, and others as requested. These tests may also be in the form of (1) random tests; (2) periodic testing; (3) post-accident testing; (4) reasonable suspicion testing; (5) follow-up testing; or (6) pre-employment testing.  The purpose of these tests is to reduce workplace hazards and improve safety as well as productivity, which can be compromised with the use of drugs. [read more]
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