opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, March 16, 2002
expunged, not sponged
A recent court case highlights a problem with the drafting of a statute. The Delaware Supreme Court overturned a Superior Court decision which had incorrectly denied the request to expunge a criminal record.
In the case of Ryan v. State of Delaware, a young fellow who had pled guilty to a minor offense in Newark had filed to have his record expunged in accordance with 11 Del.C. 4372(a)2. He had been given "Probation before Judgment" (PBJ) in Alderman's Court according to 11 Del.C. 4218 and he had successfully completed the terms of his probation. In exchange, the Alderman dismissed the charge against Ryan so that he could have his record expunged.
The problem is that to be eligible for probation before judgment, according to the PBJ statute, one must not have participated in that program within the last five years. Well, if you shred his record (via expungment) how will the Court or the Attorney General know if he is eligible the next time around? The State wanted to delay all such expungings for 5 years to allow the records to be compiled and checked.
Truth be told, the Attorney General's Office would probably be happy to do away with expungements all together. But the Supreme Court ruled that the expungement statute is clear, and that if a case is dismissed by PBJ or any other method it is eligible for consideration under the normal expungement process and is not burdened by the record keeping dilemma created by the poorly written PBJ statute.
Wouldn't it have been a good idea to have used a pseudonym for this poor fellow, instead of publishing his name in the Supreme Court opinion? Especially since the opinion was laying the groundwork to have his records shredded and all indicia of his arrest eliminated. I guess he won. But did he?
So remember expunge early and often. Keep your record clean. You might even try not getting in trouble in the first place, if nothing else works.
make a face
Ever considered being a sketch artist for the police? Now you can try it out online.
I've come to the realization that this career path should be denied to me, after trying to recreate the faces of some people I know with very limited success.
cleaner air in delaware?
Delaware's largest polluter (from 1998) has drastically reduced the emissions coming from its smokestacks.
Why is it that the statistics produced in 1999 are just being released now?
house of commons has soul
Alicia Keys played the House of Commons across the Atlantic, in a meeting of music and politics. The event left voters happy, and some politicians, and staff, cross.
While there were some ruffled feelings, and some concern about the commercialization of a political process, the real victors were the members of the House who got to experience first hand the power of music to bridge gaps between the politicians and the people they represent.
After the event, Mr Lammy denied he had broken any rules and instead argued that Parliament should make an effort to be "a little more modern, a bit more hip, a bit more relevant to young people."And you know, it's not your fellow politicians who reelect you, it's your constituents. I'd love to see a younger politician in Delaware make an effort like this to reach out to the people he or she represents.
california courts fight delaware by getting bankruptcy friendly
Bankruptcy judges and lawyers in California are joining together to try to make the bankruptcy laws, and court rules there easier to understand. Part of why they are doing this is to stem the tide of companies that go to Delaware instead of California, as a place to file for bankruptcy. Delaware presently receives 60 percent of all of the bankruptcy filings nationwide.
A corporation may file for bankruptcy in the state in which it is incorporated, or in one where it has its principal place of business. Because many corporations are formed in Delaware, it is one of the available choices for many businesses. Delaware's Bankruptcy Court has a reputation for "being faster, more predictable and friendlier to debtors."
California is not the only place that is trying to catch up to Delaware by being more user friendly:
By considering new rules, the Central District joins a growing list of federal Bankruptcy Courts trying to woo distressed firms who would otherwise make tracks for Delaware. Bankruptcy Courts in Chicago, Miami, Nevada and Texas have either adopted or are considering such changes.
biden seeks movement towards reconciliation with iran
Delaware's Senator Joe Biden met with the American Iranian Council, and offered to speak with Iranian law makers to find ways to bring improved relations between Iran and the United States.
Washington and Tehran found common ground to cooperate on Afghanistan, and Bush has continued to offer Iran talks. But some believe he undercut that position by lumping Iran in the "axis of evil" during his State of the Union speech this year.
Friday, March 15, 2002
atheist keeps plate
Vanity license plates. Good idea? Bad idea? My thought is that as long as they can be used to identify the vehicle, and they don't cause accidents, they are fine. Who determines whether or not a choice of language on a plate will be accepted? Are first amendment rights implicated in the choice of wording on a plate, and the granting or denying of that plate?
It's really a gray area, when it comes to the law. A motorist in Florida applied for, and received a vanity license plate that has the word "atheist" on it. The driver is the vice president of an organization called Atheists of Florida.
Florida's DMV recently sent him a letter telling him that they had received ten complaints about the plate, and were asking him to turn it in because it was objectionable. Rather than turning the plate directly over, the ACLU was contacted. Research uncovered that Florida had issued a number of plates with religious language upon them, such as "Jesus."
When the story about the recall of the plate appeared in the St. Petersberg Times, the decision to cancel the atheist tag was reversed. A review committee is now being put into place for all decisions regarding canceling plates that might have questionable language upon them.
Why write about something that seems so trivial? The ACLU doesn't appear to have even made mention of this incident on their website. As problems with legal implications go, this barely appears on the legal radar. We aren't advocating a certain belief, or lack of belief in religion.
But, mundane problems like this one are the types of things that go wrong that can slowly erode our freedom of expression. If "Jesus" on a license plate is OK, then why shouldn't "atheist" be also? Small problems are the ones that court battles aren't often fought over. Here, the press was instrumental in bringing a problem to light, and having government reconsider their actions. Nice job, St. Petersberg Times!
drivers photos in criminal lineups?
The picture on my new license isn't terrible. It isn't one that I would want splattered all over the web, or on most-wanted posters in the postoffice either.
So, what if someone I knew reported a crime to the police, and was asked to come to the station, and look over some photographs? Imagine if my picture resembled the description they had given to the police. One step further -- consider whether the police could use in photographic lineups, the collection of photos from the Division of Motor Vehicles that were taken when people applied for, or renewed their driver's licenses?
Now, what if the police weren't telling people that they were using those pictures in this manner? And if your employer was contacted about your whereabouts because you were chosen from such a lineup?
I'm average height, average weight, and have no features that are extremely distinquishing. With brown hair, and brown eyes, there are a lot of people who resemble me, somewhat. I've had people tell me that I look like Paul McCartney. Others have told me that I look like Sylvester Stallone. Even others ask me if I went to high school with them, when I didn't, because I resemble someone who did.
But one of the last things I really want someone to tell me is that they saw my picture in a photo lineup at the police station. Or not tell me, but tell other people that I know.
This is a controversy that was uncovered in Colorado last week. State Senators weren't even aware that the photos were being used in such a manner. The Denver police officer quoted in the article stated that DMV photos were being used in like fashion nationwide. Do we do this in Delaware? It looks like Florida is using a similar practice.
married to an alien?
I went to the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles today to renew my driver's license. It was a pretty pain-free experience. There were very few people in line ahead of me, and the line flowed very quickly.
I barely had time to read the signs that were a recent addition on the walls of the office, about proof of legal status within the United States. While I was interested, I didn't spend more than a few seconds reading about the change in gaining a driver's license if you originate from outside of the US. I didn't have time to.
I understand from a News Journal article from a few days ago, that the DMV had mandated a showing of additional forms of proof because Delaware had recently become the easiest place within the Mid-Atlantic states for someone to get a driver's license without proof of being with the country legally. This was because Virginia, the previous weakest link, had imposed requirements making it more difficult to get a license.
The newspaper said that the parking lots of Delaware's DMV's were being converged upon by vans full of people with license plates from outside of the State. After these groups of folks would enter, and receive licenses, they were exiting and giving each other high-fives. The impression the reporter was attempting to convey was that these were people who were taking advantage of Delaware's previously less than rigorous requirements for gaining a legal proof of identity in the form of a driver's license.
Whether that was true or not, I saw no such spectacle today.
A new law proposed by Delaware's legislature seeks to address the possibility that people will take advantage of Delaware's laws regarding marriage licenses to gain the appearance of legal residence through a loophole. Presently, there is no need to show proof that you are in the country legally when you apply for a marriage license. A bill being reviewed in Dover would change this.
New Castle County's Clerk of Peace Ken Boulden has stated that ten percent of the marriages he performs each year involve people who could not show proof of being in the US legally. His fear is that people could then try to use that marriage license as proof that they are in the country legally, in other states.
The driver's license requirement is a policy that the DMV has imposed, and is not yet backed by a law from the legislature, though they are reviewing it in Dover, also.
Should people who are in the country illegally be allowed to marry here? Should they be allowed to get driver's licenses? That's questionable. But what they shouldn't be allowed to do is to show a driver's license or a wedding license to someone from another state, and use those documents as proof that they are in the country legally when they are not.
Thursday, March 14, 2002
Al's shallow expressions
Several times in the past, I have bitten my lip when reading columnist Al Mascitti's witty rhetoric in the Wilmington News Journal. Those are the times when he deviates from reason and insight to bash lawyers. Today is both different and the same.
Lawyer bashing for the sake of lawyer bashing does a disservice to our system of government, and to the people that we all are. Many, many attorneys work 15 hour days, year after year, in the hopes of making a difference...in the hopes of helping people. Most attorneys that I have ever met would much rather reach an agreement out of court than to proceed through the expense and time of a trial.
For the most part it is worse than a thankless job. It is normally thankless because clients frequently mentally link the attorney with the difficult situation that brought them to that attorney, thereby transferring the bad feelings of the event to the attorney.
It is Worse than thankless because despite our best efforts, we wake up to read the verbal slaughter of our reputation in the morning commentary.
And then reading further, I see that Al advocates discriminating against people in democratic elections because of their education or profession!?
"If we want to return to government that gets its work done without overburdening the court system, maybe we ought to be leery of electing so many lawyers."
Please, tell me it isn't so. The logic of Mascitti's column today is that since two legislators have decided to file lawsuits, we should not elect lawyers to public office. Or, if you prefer, that lawyers cause lawsuits. The vast majority of lawyers that I know try to avoid lawsuits, not cause them.
And when we cannot avoid them, we do our best to make sure that the case proceeds in as orderly and expeditious way as circumstances allow. His logic is better described as an exercise in the use of fallacies. An interesting analysis of these fallacies can be found on the internet.
Just like the irrational prejudices that Al swipes at with one key stroke, he emulates with another. In today's News Journal we see an example of a campaign of misinformation and prejudice. I shake my head and wonder what traumatic past events have so warped that commentator's perspective. Perhaps he comes from Philadelphia.
It is fine, as far as I am concerned, to criticize a particular attorney for that attorney's bad acts. We see this in the News Journal also. And, I have no quarrel with it.
But to make such wide and baseless dark comments as he continues to make would be like me saying that all newspaper columnists are hypocritical bigots. I wouldn't say that.
girl scouts beyond bars
Usually, the first thing I think of when I hear "girl scouts" are the cookie sales that they hold. I came across an article today that has me thinking about the organization in a much different light.
The Girl Scouts started Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in 1992, as a pilot program in Maryland, with a 2 million dollar grant from the federal government. The idea is a simple one. Give mothers and daughters a chance to communicate and interact with one another.
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars is open to girls ages 5 to 17. The program provides bus transportation to the prisons and volunteers to sit with the girls during the often long rides. Meetings are conducted by licensed social workers, volunteers or Girl Scouts Beyond Bars staff members. In a typical meeting, mothers and daughters chat informally and work together to earn Girl Scouts badges, from science, architecture and math exercises to a "beauty badge" that helps girls to select age-appropriate clothes, hair, makeup and nail polish.The article indicates that the program is currently in place at 23 facilities in 22 states.
I think I'll be buying a lot more cookies from the Girl Scouts from now on if it helps them support programs like this one. Today was the Girl Scouts' first Congressional Lobby Day. I hope they made a good impression in Washington, D.C. They have with me. If the Girl Scouts aren't involved with this program in Delaware, they should be. It looks like it would be worth pursuing further.
towers of light
The story of a journey to watch the memorial to the World Trade Centers sounds like a disappointing trip, at least until you see the photo of the towers of light.
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
please, not another fee
The judicial branch proposed yesterday that a new and separate fee be charged defendants to help pay for the cost of contract attorneys. This is one right idea but a wrong way to go about it.
In a former life, I supervised the collection and accounting of these types of fees, for one court, theoretically. The administrative overhead in accounting for, collecting, and enforcing separate fees will most likely cost more than will be collected. We already have too many special purpose separate fees.
How high do we expect the collection rate to be for the insular class of convicted criminals? And how many court clerks and accountants must we hire to calculate separate fees that aren't being paid? Wouldn't it be better if we just doubled or trebled the 'court costs' and did away with the special interest fee structure? We could still use the funds we don't collect to pay for the things we want. The accounting will just be cheaper.
And, despite three separate notifications to two separate News Journal reporters, that their reports are missing the big picture and are in effect inaccurate, they continue to follow the false trail like sheep. The conflict attorney program is just one of several such programs. All of the reported numbers of cases, dollar figures, and the overall valuations of the problem are incomplete and thus, wrong. Why would they continue to print incomplete and inaccurate reports?
harvard law school offers free classes online
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society, from Harvard Law School is offering a free class on the subject of privacy in cyberspace.
Individual sections of the non-credit class includes: Online Profiling, Employees Privacy on the Net, Governmental Collection of Data, and Cryptography and other Self-Help Mechanisms.
The opening session started on Monday, so if you're interested register quickly.
Another class to be offered by the Berkman Center is: Violence Against Women on the Internet
school drug testing comes to the Supreme Court
Should a school be allowed to ask for a urine test from any student who wants to be involved in an extracurricular activity? The US Supreme Court has a couple of cases before it on the subject of drug testing that may shape how we deal with the subject of drug testing in schools, at work, and when running for a political office.
An involved, and reasoned argument against such drug testing makes its case based upon a rationality and proportionality basis:
Given the serious intrusion, judges must insist on a serious government interest that is significantly furthered before blessing the policy as reasonable. The school district's asserted interests of deterring illegal drug use are substantial. But there is no tight fit between that goal and the means chosen here.I think that the authors of this article make a strong argument. But, will the Supreme Court see it that way?
amateur archeologists earn beer money with rare find
A couple of treasure hunters unearthed a trove that contains one of the most spectacular finds ever. They then proceeded to sell the artifacts they uncovered for just enough money to buy a new stereo, and some beer.
How amazing a find is this?
Experts say they are certain the haul, which included a circular disc depicting the heavens with sun, moon and stars, is at least 3,600 years old.So what is the punishment for trying to unload ancient priceless artifacts? Maybe the original discoverers had the right idea. The folks they sold their bounty to were arrested when they tried to sell the goods in the lobby of a Swiss hotel for considerably more money.
it is alive
Debates over genetically engineered crops have been raging for the past couple of years. The battle has shifted from corn and wheat, to a new arena - seafood. Critics have labeled gene modified foodstuffs with the moniker "frankenfood," after Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.
So now, questions have arisen about frankenfish. Our neighbors to the south in Maryland have passed a law allowing genetically modified fish to be grown in lakes and ponds that aren't connected to other waterways. California is considering imposing a fine up to $50,000 for the possession, release, or import of frankenfish into the state.
The Food and Drug Administration is presently considering whether such fish are safe to eat.
Monday, March 11, 2002
no tv for you
Can the taking away of television viewing be considered "cruel and unusual punishment?" Cruel maybe, but as many children around the world may have experienced, it's probably not unusual.
But when the order to not watch television comes from a judge, and is the result of a sentencing in a criminal case, it might be the grounds for an appeal. A federal district court judge sentenced a defendant (ny times, reg. req'd) to ten months of home confinement, with the condition that the home be televsion free.
After originally agreeing to the condition, the defendant has had second thoughts and is claiming that his first amendment rights are being violated.
how effective are drug courts?
Delaware was one of the first states in the country to have a drug court program. The focus of such a program is prevention, and rehabilitation rather than punishment. Successful completion of Drug Court can mean that a person can apply to have their charges expunged, and emerge with a clean record.
The Attorney General's Office has to decide whether a person should be offered the opportunity to take part in Drug Court. There are a number of things that they look for involving the offense in question, and the person charged with the offense.
So, how effective are Drug Courts? The Office of Justice Programs, from the federal government released the results of a study called: "Looking at a Decade of Drug Courts," back in 1998, which showed some remarkable results:
Unlike traditional treatment programs, becoming ?clean and sober? is only the first step toward drug court graduation. Almost all drug courts require participants (after they have become clean and sober) to obtain a GED, maintain employment, be current in all financial obligations, including drug court fees and child support payments, if applicable, and to have a sponsor in the community. Many programs also require participants to perform community service hours -- to give back to the community that is supporting them through the drug court program. One drug court requires prospective graduates to prepare a two year ?life plan? following drug court graduation for discussion with a community board to assure the court that the participant has developed the ?tools? to lead a drug-free and crime-free life.In addition, the costs of drug court supervision is substantially less than of incarceration, and of a hospital stay within a prison.
truth in advertising
Wonder Bread does your body good, doesn't it? As a settlement in a law suit, Interstate Bakeries has agreed to stop showing an advertisement that makes the claims that calcium-enriched bread can help children think better or improve their memories.
The FTC brought charges stating that Interstate Bakeries had no scientific evidence to back the claims made in the commericials. The company had pulled the ads before being contacted by the FTC because the campaign appeared to not affect sales positively.
However, they agreed to not run similar ads in the future unless they had scientific evidence to back such statements.