Delaware Law Office
of Larry D. Sullivan, Esquire

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Saturday, July 13, 2002

bounty hunters

She sends me blue valentines
All the way from Philadelphia
To mark the anniversary
Of someone that I used to be
And it feels just like theres
A warrant out for my arrest
Got me checkin in my rearview mirror
And I'm always on the run
Thats why I changed my name
And I didn't think you'd ever find me here

--Tom Waits, Blue Valentine

Bounty Hunters. They have a tough job, and at times it can be an ugly one. When someone is out on bail, and wanted by the law for failing to appear at court, there's a good chance that a bounty hunter will be the one to discover where they are at rather than a police officer.

The rules and laws regarding being a bounty hunter vary from state to state. They're an important part of the criminal justice system, but they can also be one of the most unregulated actors in that system.

Should there be a federal law, with a licensing and education program? That's what a family from Kansas is urging after the unfortunate loss of one of their family members. He died in a struggle with bounty hunters who were looking for his brother.

Most people who haven't had brushes with the criminal justice system probably know of how bail enforcement works from Hollywood, with characters like Josh Randall, from the old television chestnut Wanted Dead or Alive. Or, in more modern times, the potrayal of a bounty hunter by Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run or Lorenzo Lamas in the 90s television series, Renegade. There's also the popular character from Star Wars, Boba Fett.

Chances are good that if you walked past a bounty hunter in the hallways of a courthouse, you wouldn't connect him or her with that profession.

Laws in Delaware requiring registration are a recent addition. The Delaware Code was amended just last year by the legislature to add a chapter on the licensing of bounty hunters, or bail enforcement agents. The law requires the collection of information from applicants and a criminal history background check. It doesn't mention any form of training or education programs.

It also doesn't describe any programs to oversee the actions of a bounty hunter, but does require that the money collected as a licensing fee be deposited into a Bail Enforcement Regulatory Fund. The fund pays for the fingerprinting and background checks for bounty hunters, and for "investigation of any charge made against a licensee." The law doesn't provide any information regarding how charges would be brought against a licensee.

An earlier version of the bill, from 1999, had more requirements, including police notification of attempts to capture people who failed to show up for court, and are out on bail.

There are private companies that provide information and education, such as Bounty Hunters Online. The bail bond companies and the insurance companies that use these private enforcers probably have some incentive to provide training to help avoid civil liability.

Joshua Armstrong's group, called the Seekers have been around for 20 years and claim an 85 percent capture rate, as well as having never been sued, and having never captured the wrong person. They seem more organized than the police or the army. I'm not sure that they are typical of most operations.

Should there be federal regulation? The most up-to-date collection of state laws regarding bounty hunters that I've been able to locate is on the pages of the American Bail Coalition.

The last federal attempt to come up with a law appears to be the Bounty Hunter Responsibility Act of 1999. Delaware's 1999 bill that didn't pass through the legislature looks very similar to the federal bill. Here's the testimony that took place before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary for the House of Representatives.

Will the federal government return to this issue? I would prefer that states regulate the actions of bounty hunters within their jurisdictions. But, I'm not sure that many of them are taking steps to do that. Maybe this is something that could be addressed through the efforts of the National Governor's Association sharing best practices with other states, which could then get their legislatures and judiciary to work together. Maybe.

evolving standards of cruel and unusual punishment

Two prisoners in pillory with another tied to whipping post below and man with whip in prison in Delaware [ca 1907?]
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-98905

Delaware was the last state to remove the whipping post as a legal form of punishment, in 1967. The 1973 edition of the Delaware Code includes a law that made it a criminal violation to bring a camera to a public whipping, with a fine of $500.00. The picture above is estimated to be from around 1907.

Friday, July 12, 2002

capitation taxes

Delaware only has three counties; Kent, Sussex, and New Castle. In many ways, the laws don't differ drastically from county to county. One difference is that Sussex County has a capitation tax. That's a type of tax that is imposed upon a person for being a resident of the county. School districts also require payment of a similar head tax upon people in Sussex County. The County tax is three dollars per person, and the school taxes are also fairly small sums.

One of the difficulties with a capitation tax is that you need to identify the people who owe the tax, and inform them that they need to pay it. The downstate schools and Sussex County are having problems locating people and collecting those taxes.

A reason for using a capitation tax in addition to relying upon a property tax is that some people don't own property. Taxing fairly means collecting from people who don't own property too. That's the main rationale behind this form of tax, and has been since the first of the capitation taxes was collected during medieval days.

While the effort to collect capitation taxes does earn more money than it loses, maybe it's time to stop the process. It's a lot easier to collect property taxes -- property doesn't move. And most people have to live somewhere, whether they own a home or rent. Given that landlords will usually pass along the cost of a property tax to their tenants, most people are already paying taxes for being residents of the County and of one of the school districts. Sometimes they just aren't paying it directly.

In addition to a practical argument against a capitation tax, I find myself agreeing with this observation on the subject from by Jean Jacques Rousseau:
Contributions levied on the people are two kinds; real, levied on commodities, and personal, paid by the head. Both are called taxes or subsidies: when the people fixes the sum to be paid, it is called subsidy; but when it grants the product of an imposition, it is called a tax. We are told in The Spirit of the Laws that a capitation tax is most suited to slavery, and a real tax most in accordance with liberty. This would be incontestable, if the circumstances of every person were equal; for otherwise nothing can be more disproportionate than such a tax; and it is in the observations of exact proportions that the spirit of liberty consists. But if a tax by heads were exactly proportioned to the circumstances of individuals, as what is called the capitation tax in France might be, it would be the most equitable and consequently the most proper for freemen.
Using a property tax goes a lot further towards proportioning a tax to "the circumstances of individuals."

delaware a tax haven?

A number of states are upset about how corporations are using Delaware Holding Companies to avoid paying taxes upon intangible assets such as securities, patents, licenses, copyrights or trademarks. The article States seethe at Delaware over taxes gives a good overview of both how a Delaware Holding Company works, and which states are upset because they aren't earning taxes on income from those intangible assets being managed by holding companies located in Delaware.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

the weblog handbook

I was just given a copy of "The Weblog Handbook, Practical Advice On Creating And Maintaining your Blog", written by Rebecca Blood who, by the way, has a high energy blog. I have just begun to read it, and I am already applauding. I have a weakness for practical guides, and this is one that is a must for those who want to start their own blog. Nicely Done, Rebecca. It looks to this relative novice that you can purchase the book for a pittance, online.

high energy blawgs

I can't keep up with these folks: Ernie the Attorney, and Bag and Baggage. They are way out there with current legal events, spiced with wit and insight. Sometimes, when I feel like I am buried in the brown stuff, I check out these sites and they brighten my day. There is a longer list to the left...

smoking ban

Delaware's Clean Indoor Air Act, which goes into effect in November, is one of the strictest bans on smoking in public places in the country. It has a lot of restaurant and hotel owners concerned that they might lose some business when November comes around. Race track owners warned that there was the possibility of a substantial loss of revenues at their video lottery (slot machine) venues. If the experience of Victoria, Australia is duplicated here, it might relieve some of those worries. Their law requiring smoke free dining rooms went into effect in July of last year, and restaurant attendence has increased. Victoria's gaming rooms will be mostly non-smoking as of September. We'll have to check back then to see the effects of clean air on gambling.

toxic beauty

I remember the first time I worked with auto-body fill. You need to mix in a hardening agent to the goop to get it to dry, as you apply it to a surface. As I read the label on the tube of hardening agent, which was benzoyl peroxide, a popular radio ad for a skin care medication came to mind. I don't remember which brand, but it was announced as having "real benzoyl peroxide." Being neither a chemist nor a doctor, I can't tell you whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that compounds with the same name can be used as a key element to auto-body repair and acne medication. An article on Alternet named Are Your Beauty Products Killing You? brought that memory back to me. If you use cosmetics, it's definitely worth looking at, and thinking about.

creative commons

A great look into the workings of Creative Commons -- a new idea in intellectual property ownership rights and licensing -- can be found on Denise Howell's Bag and Baggage. The idea behind Creative Commons is to make it easier for people to define how they would like their artistic property to be used by others. The explosion of created materials on the internet has brought with it a lot of confusion to the public over which materials are copyrighted, and which can be used and incorporated into other works. Creative Commons is leading an exciting effort to let people share ideas and work together. As they state on their pages:
Our initial goal is to provide an easy way for people (like scholars, musicians, filmmakers, and authors--from world-renowned professionals to garage-based amateurs) to announce that their works are available for copying, modification, and redistribution. We are building a Web-based application for dedicating copyrighted works to the "public domain," and for generating flexible, generous licenses that permit copying and creative reuses of copyrighted works.

Shining a Spotlight on Sharing: We want to make it easy for people to find works that are in the public domain or licensed on generous terms. We are developing a method for labeling such works with metadata that identify their terms of use. Potential users could then search for works (say, photos of the Empire State Building) based on the permitted uses (say, noncommercial copying and redistribution).
Denise's presentation is a wonderful start on giving us an idea of how these efforts will come about.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002


5th Generation Mountain Boy

courtesy at the bar

The Delaware Supreme Court overturned a criminal conviction in a drug case where the prosecutor argued that the jury should believe the police and that the defendant is a liar. This is an example of the force with which the Delaware Supreme Court enforces courtesy in the courtroom. I am still searching for a copy of the opinion, if any of you find it please let me know. From the newspaper article it appears that the legal theory was that the word "liar" would so predjudice the jury that they could not decide upon the case in a fair and impartial manner. According to the news report, the Supreme Court suggested that the prosecutor should have said that the defendant was mistaken. As a member of the Delaware Bar, it would be inappropriate for me to comment.

dna legislation

A bill recently passed by Delaware's Senate but not yet signed by Governor Minner calls for the collection of DNA information from all people convicted of felonies in Delaware. What happens if the people required to be tested say no? In California, a law was passed four years ago requiring DNA testing for people convicted of violent felonies. There are 900 Californian inmates refusing to take part.

Another bill that was signed by the Governor would possibly change the appearance of some indictments filed with Superior Court. When the identity of the person who committed a crime is unknown, but DNA evidence has presumably been collected, "it is sufficient to describe the accused as a person whose name is unknown but who has a particular DNA profile."

legal marijuana in nevada?

75,000 signatures on a petition were enough to put the issue of legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana on the ballot in Nevada. The measure calls for marijuana to be "sold in state-licensed shops and taxed like cigarettes and other tobacco products. A distribution system would also be set up to provide low-cost pot for medical uses." A major drawback to this petition-based ballot item is that marijuana possession is banned by federal law. I'm beginning to wonder what might be on the back of the Nevada quarter.

michelangelo in the maid's room

Last night, I watched the Antique Roadshow for the first time. The premise is a simple one, really. People clean old junk out of their attics, and bring it to appraisers, and every once in a while some of the stuff might be worth a fair sum of money. Nothing on the show compared to a discovery in what used to be the maid's room at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. Mixed in amongst a box filled with sketches of lighting fixture designs, purchased in 1942 for $60.00, was a drawing of a candelabrum by Michelangelo, which has been valued at $12 million. I guess it might be time that I got around to cleaning out my attic.

Later: More details from the New York Times: The discovery was made by a visiting Scottish Museum Director who likes digging through old ignored boxes of artwork at museums and snooping through flea markets on his vacation to see if he can make discoveries like this one. Maybe I can get him to help me clean the attic.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

nursing fraud in california

A story like this one coming out of California may show the importance of issuing professional licenses in a form that isn't easily duplicated, and that can be verified from a reliable source, and stricter identification procedures at testing facilities. A scheme to issue nursing assistant certficates without having the applicant take the required test has resulted in over 70 arrests and the revocation of more that 100 nursing assistant certificates.

sheriffs' web site now showing porn

Somehow a web site run by a Florida Sheriff's department since 1995 has been taken over by company that is providing access to pornography at the address. The registration of the domain name for the site supposedly wasn't due to expire until November of this year. The domain name system has some serious problems. Maybe the law enforcement community, and their supporters, will work to help bring about some changes.

chickens and computing

It's easy to drive past one of the composite materials laboratories on the campus of the University of Delaware and not give too much thought to the work that goes on inside. I remember watching the University of Delaware football team play an away game in Princeton a few years back, and the New Jersey announcer informed the crowd (with tongue-in-cheek) that the Delaware State motto was "better living through chemistry." With the State's close ties to the chemistry industry, we often take for granted some of the marvels that are created at places like Dupont, Hercules, and Astro-Zeneca. The University of Delaware has a good national reputation when it comes to the study of chemical engineering, and it's partially because of the efforts of companies like those I mentioned that the school excels in that field.

Some news from the university's Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources (ACRES) project has received a bit of publicity recently. The ACRES project looks "at existing products and tries to find a waste product or an easy-to-grow crop that could be used to fabricate it." The media is looking at and writing about a patent filed from a chemical engineer working at the laboratories that would allow faster computer chips to be made from chickens' feathers.

Monday, July 08, 2002

wallet document portfolio

Starting today, the law office is offering scanned copies of your legal documents (such as wills, living wills, power of attorney, etc.) on a specially prepared business-card-sized CD.

This process will allow you to conveniently carry signed copies of these important legal documents in your wallet, purse, or the glove compartment of your vehicle. They are marked so as to notify emergency personnel as to their importance and they are readable by every computer with a CD reader.

You should still safeguard your original documents and have them available for use. But this new process should assist in those times when you might not otherwise have your paper copies handy. As copies of documents are frequently acceptable, your legal documents may now be viewed or printed from the business-card sized CD, to provide you with emergency access to your records.

It is our belief that we are the first law firm to offer such a service, and the cost is negligible.

county land use data

The counties now allow online access to property data. This is a tremendous help. New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties in different ways, are opening up to us on the internet. But good luck in figuring out how it works in Kent County. It was just a little too complicated for this country boy.

president and king

In 1970, the King met with the President. It was arranged that a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge would be specially prepared for Elvis as a Federal Agent At Large.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

the way you say the things you say

A story in today's Wilmington News Journal called 'Caint' hear 'guilty as a suck-egg dog' much takes a look at the disappearing idioms and accents unique to the State of Delaware.

code talkers

In World War II, Native Americans used their languages with a code to communicate sensitive information. While Navajo code talkers were honored in a ceremony by President Bush last year, there were actually 17 other tribes involved, including the Meskwaki. Senator Tom Harkin has introduced legislation that would honor all code talkers with the Congressional Gold Medal.

tiger woods and art

Tiger Woods has brought a lawsuit claiming that an artist is "exploiting his likeness for commercial gain." The case calls into question when artistic creation ends and commercial exploitation of an image begins.

bringing the battle into homes

The rift between the big record companies and the peer-to-peer network software manufacturers may see a new tactic soon. The music industry may start bringing lawsuits against individuals involved in the unauthorized trading of songs on the internet.

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