Issue Spotters

Government Sponsored Legal Research Tool That Facilitates Nonlawyers’ Access to Caselaw

(Source) Today, under Gideon v. Wainwright, any criminal defendant who risks at least one year of jail time has free access to defense counsel. But that is not the case for civil litigants and some misdemeanor defendants, many of whom could hardly afford a lawyer and have to represent themselves. They do not have access to counsel, but what is worse is that they do not have fair and effective access to law. America is a common law country, which means that its law largely consists of case decisions. Most lawyers heavily rely on legal search engines like LexisNexis and Westlaw to conduct legal research. Such tools help them efficiently locate cases that address their legal issues. But for pro se litigants who could hardly afford a lawyer, legal research tools like LexisNexis and Westlaw are too expensive and hard to use. Their access to caselaw is significantly impaired compared to professional lawyers. If they are involved in a litigation where the opposing party is represented by a lawyer or if they are prosecuted under conditions that do not guarantee a right to free counsel, then they would have to face the experienced lawyers who have full access to caselaw. [read more]

Crime and Profits? The Story of the Most Profitable Punishment in American History

(Source) In 2015, Volkswagen admitted to engineering and rigging devices used on their diesel vehicles to skirt compliance with emissions testing and knowingly fouled the air by producing cars that were far out of compliance with emissions standards. Volkswagen’s befouling plot released 46,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, linked to an estimated 100+ deaths from the increased pollution. The repercussions for Volkswagen included pleading guilty to three criminal convictions resulting in a court-ordered criminal fine of $2.8 billion. The criminal fine was the largest ever imposed by the U.S. on an automaker. However, the criminal charges originated from the company’s acts of deceit and conspiracy against the U.S.; the charges did not stem from enforcement of the Clean Air Act (CAA) against polluters who knowingly violate it. The Act exempted “mobile source violators,” i.e., carmakers, from criminal culpability for emissions violations. In addition, thirteen executives and employees of the company and its subsidiaries faced criminal charges, with several receiving prison sentences. In the end, the company has had to pay more than $34 billion in fines and settlements, including the costs for buybacks and modifications of their rigged diesel cars. However, arguably, the most significant sanction against Volkswagen has been the [read more]

We’re Abandoning our Afghan Allies

(Source) For the past twenty years, the U.S. military worked in Afghanistan and relied on the assistance of Afghan allies who supported them. Time and time again, Afghans saved American lives in Afghanistan in their joint efforts to oppose the Taliban.  Now that the United States has left Afghanistan and the Taliban has taken over the country, the Taliban has been systematically tracking down Afghans who have any connection to the United States, along with their extended families. This includes anyone who worked for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, like translators and guides, anyone who worked for the previous Afghanistan government that partnered with the United States, and people who worked for American nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These Afghan allies are now in danger because of their association with the United States.  The U.S. evacuated some Afghans at risk while they were pulling out the military, but many of our allies were left behind and are stuck in danger. The Taliban has already killed many people who opposed them, and it does not appear as though they will stop anytime soon. Many Afghans are in hiding or fleeing to other countries. The United States has an obligation to protect our Afghan [read more]

The West Coast Migration: How California’s Battle with Climate Change Has Affected the Cost of Living

(Source) Boasting the fifth largest economy in the world, the Golden State is a beacon for various American industries, such as entertainment, technology, and agriculture. Yet population growth has halted. Some who reject the “California Dream” attribute the decline in growth to a so-called West Coast migration, pointing to Tesla’s recent move to Texas, along with that of tens of thousands of other Californians. Others attribute it to a baby bust and a downward trend in international immigration. While these factors, along with the devastation of an international pandemic, have led to the state’s population standstill, the high cost of living seems to remain at the heart of the issue. Although housing costs are largely to blame for the rising cost of living, numerous natural disasters have posed an insurmountable direct and indirect cost to residents. California’s public policy response to climate change could serve to foreshadow what is to come for the nation as a whole.  Among the most outspoken states in favor of zealous climate change policy, California is also one of the most vulnerable, encountering some of the first largescale effects of climate change in the United States. It has most notably been struck by worsening drought, [read more]

20 Years On: Why Congress Should Repeal the Post 9/11 AUMFs

(Source) I. Introduction Three days after the September 11 attacks, the 107th Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (“2001 AUMF”). Section 2 of the 2001 AUMF authorized the President of the United States (“President”) to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United Stated by such nations, organizations or persons.” This sixty-word broad authorization served as a blank check for the U.S. to conduct military operations in Afghanistan. The counterpart of the 2001 AUMF was the 2002 AUMF, which authorized military force against Iraq. While the initial focus of the 2002 AUMF was to address the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the U.S. used it for the “dual purposes of helping to establish a stable, democratic Iraq and of addressing terrorist threats emanating from Iraq.” For example, President Obama used the 2002 AUMF to conduct the counter-ISIS military campaign in 2014. Similarly, in January 2020, after invoking both the Article II powers and the 2002 AUMF, President [read more]

The State of New York Should Pass a Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings

(Source) The start of the COVID-19 pandemic brought heightened attention to a common occurrence in the United States: evictions. On September 4, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a moratorium on evictions across the nation in an effort to curtail the rapid spread of the virus.  The agency’s rationale for promulgating this order is that evictions increase the spread of the virus by raising the risk of homelessness.  Homeless individuals are more likely to move into congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, which places them at an increased risk of contracting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.  Evictions also make it more difficult for State and local governments to implement stay-at-home orders and make it difficult for individuals who become ill to self-isolate.   The spread of COVID-19 is not the only detriment resulting from evictions.  Evictions break up families, impair careers, and marginalize Black and Brown communities.  Evictions are associated with higher rates of stress and depression, addiction, suicide, parental abuse, and other mental health conditions.  Evictions cause an increase in the risk of homelessness, and elevate long-term residential instability.  In some cases, evictions result in a (modest) decrease in earnings as well as credit access.  [read more]

Light and Dark: Dazzled Americans Seek Illumination

(Source) The constant march of technology has often created the need for new and sometimes even strange legislation and regulations, which come after the technology has been introduced. The large, well developed regulatory system often allows for great manufacturer freedom with reasonable restraints to avoid public harm. In the case of headlights, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 (FMVSS 108) governs a complicated laundry list of requirements relating to lighting and illumination.  Today the current regulation for headlights dictates that headlights operate with two types of beams, high and low. While a driver could flash their beams, have them automatically cycle between on and off, along with disabling them manually, the American driver is unable to do much more than that. The current regulations governing headlights has failed to be updated despite concerted efforts by large manufacturers, with recent attempts to allow more advanced lights being stuck in limbo. In contrast, drivers in other countries including Germany, England, and Japan can enjoy massive benefits with greater illumination offered that does not impede others.  Current illumination systems rely on a ruling that is antiquated and defines beams by luminescence and discreet modes offered. Rather than wrap, avoid, or target [read more]

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]