Civil Forfeiture Has Its Days Numbered

Civil forfeiture laws enable law enforcement agencies, like state and local police forces, to seize any property that is suspected of being involved with criminal or illegal activities. In order to do this, the authorities do not need to prove the owner of said property guilty of anything. In many cases, police has seized money from people for carrying what they considered “too much” of it, saying that it could be money from the sale of drugs. However, the owner of the money does not need to get arrested or charged with anything.

The burden in cases of civil forfeiture has always been on the property owner to prove that property’s “innocence” through the court system. However, before that even happens, authorities can then liquidate that property and, in many states, keep the profit and use it at their discretion. Many see civil judicial forfeiture as the single most important threat to property rights across the United States. But with attention recently focused on this issue, states like Montana and New Mexico have begun enacting laws to reform civil forfeiture laws.

As of July 1st, both Montana and New Mexico will see two major reforms go into force. In Montana, the government and its enforcement agencies are various levels, are now required to first obtain a criminal conviction before they can seize and liquidate a person’s property. This also goes as far as turning the burden of proof unto the state and not the person who had their property seized because it was used by someone else to commit a crime. Prior to this, if your neighbor was suspected of using your car to commit a crime, the state had the power to seize it and sell it without accusing you, the owner, of participating in the criminal act. Profit from the sale could then be pocketed by the agency involved.

New Mexico, on the other hand, went a lot further than Montana in its blow to civil forfeiture as we know it – it abolished it. Law enforcement agencies can only seize property after a criminal conviction has been obtained and instead of pocketing the profit, the money will be deposited into a general fund.

The Institute for Justice, which has been leading the fight for reform of civil forfeiture laws, hopes that these landmark reforms in Montana and New Mexico will continue to pave the way for more reforms across the country and, ultimately, at the federal level. Civil forfeiture creates a financial incentive for law enforcement agencies to continue to seize property. In many cases, money seized by local authorities have been used to pay for entertainment and other nonessential things. Many supporters of civil forfeiture law reform believe that the money could also be put to better use, such as going toward education funds across the states. The following Institute for Justice video provides an excellent overview of what civil forfeiture is and why reform is needed:

Obama Administration: Big Change to Immigrant Detention Policy

The Obama Administration has announced that it will commence taking action on a new policy to address the crisis found within several immigrant detention centers across the United States. The new policy will allow for immigrant mothers and children held at these federal detention centers to be released on bond, after which they must appear in court to hear out their requests for asylum within the U.S.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, stated that the conclusion had been reached and that the Administration believes that substantial changes need to be made for the sake of families with children. Criticism over living conditions at these detention centers had been mounting for some time. Sec. Johnson also stated that continued detention for families after they have established eligibility for asylum, or any other relief under U.S. laws, would be inefficient and not the best way to make use of these resources.

Critics of this change in policy are citing the potential for increased security risks or flight risks, but the Department of Homeland Security has dealt with such criticism by pointing to the bond amounts and how they are set to discourage any such actions. DHS will attempt to ensure that they can interview families that are eligible to be released as soon as they can, so that they do not have to spend any more time in these facilities. The detention program is criticised for its subpar living conditions, especially for families with children, causing many families to suffer from depression and trauma following months of uncertainty. There have also been accusations of abuses occurring in many of the centers.

This new policy will make it easier for families currently detained or fearing detention to find a faster path toward asylum or avoid detainment altogether. There are tens of thousands of women and children held in centers across the country.

Religious Freedom Law in Texas

Abogado Aly Religious Freedom LawThe quest for agreement in the socio-political realm is hard to take on, and often leads to unsettling discord that calls for a compromise from all sides in argument. When issues of political reform are up in the air, advocates from both sides come into the forefront and offer their unabating, often conflicting perspectives. In Texas, however, the merging of two ideas which have historically caused disgruntled unrest passed with relative ease and is inspiring residents of the state to push neighbors to come to a similar understanding.
The law passed in Texas under then-Governor George Bush in 1999, peacefully bridged the gaps between a strong religious community and equally strong proponents of civil rights who wanted to secure anti-discrimination laws. Fifteen years later, Texas still shows a strong balance between the freedom of religious practices and the protection of civil rights. The members of the state, however, worry about the slowed resolutions in Indiana and Arkansas whose laws for religious freedom leave out important language explicitly protecting against discrimination of individuals, for example gays and lesbians, who pose a threat to the liberty of following religious tenets. That is, the freedom of religious practice granted under their laws may leave questions of bias unanswered. Indiana’s Governor Pence assures nobody will have the right to discriminate and deny someone an opportunity based on personal principles. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect July 1 and “would prohibit laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s freedom of religion” unless the government has more compelling reasons for doing so.2
In 1997 the Supreme Court overruled a 1993 decision saying laws that apply generally on a federal level do not apply to state laws, urging states to draft their own responses to growing questions and concerns over civil liberties. Today, Texan Republicans aim to add an abridged version of the law to the constitution solidifying its legitimacy for future rulings. More than anything, civil rights groups are worried the freedoms of practicing religion granted under law will be enough to reinterpret the protections guaranteed to groups facing discrimination. Still, lines are not evenly split as many churches, religious groups, businesses and civil groups are coming together with intentions to craft the fairest legislation that denies none his unalienable rights.

 

2015 Law Changes in Texas

Abogado Aly Texas Civil LawThere were several laws changed in Texas at the beginning of this year. Below are a list of some of the critical laws that became instated January 1st, 2015.

House Bill 62 – Prohibits all judges from holing financial interests in private rehabilitation or community residential facilities and correctional facilities.

House Bill 500 – An amendment in the Tax Code to broaden the definition of what is retail trade. The new services included in what is considered retail trade are rental-purchase agreements, auto shops, and the leasing or renting of event supplies, tool, construction equipment and furniture.

House Bill 3838 – A new requirement for motorcycles that are made to carry more than one individual. These types of motorcycles are required to have handholds and footrests for the use of the passenger.

Senate Bill 492 – A prescribed pediatric extended-care center without their appropriate license will be charged with a class B misdemeanor. Everyday the care center operates without the appropriate license will count as a separate offense.

Senate Bill 1806 – This gives the Harrison County Court at law, which was a misdemeanor court, jurisdiction with the 71st Judicial District due to high volumes of family law and civil law cases.

HB 41 – Raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

HB 48 – This law establishes review commissions after an individual is exonerated of a crime.  This law is put in place to prevent wrongful convictions.

HB 76 – Allows individuals to register to vote for the first time. The secretary of state will be responsible for implementing an official state website to allow voters to register online.

HB 80 – This law is set in place to prohibit texting and driving. The offense is now a misdemeanor with a fine of at least $25 dollars and at most $99 for first time offenders. For multiple offenders, the crime is punishable by $100 – $200.

HB 97 – Abolishes the statute of limitations for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault.

 

4 Legal Trends to Watch Out For in 2015

Abogado Aly Civil Law in 2015A new year brings a new set of legal trends put in motion to fix an underlying issue that became prevalent in 2014. Here are the top legal trends to watch in 2015:

1)    Changes in Washington – 2015 is the first time since 2009 where Congress has a one-party control of both the House and Senate. This unified congress may lead to an increase in legislative output and coordination between the two parties. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell stated that Congress will be focused on passing legislation to decrease government spending, increase energy production, revisions on the Affordable Care Act and other laws, and a review of the current tax code.

2)    Laws in Higher Education – Due to increased national attention, there will be more processes put forth to decrease and the number of sexual assault and violent cases on college campuses. Future findings of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will lead towards a more thorough process on Title IX’s best practices. In Washington, Congress will take steps to promote campus safety as well as more definitive guidelines to hinder confusion and mandatory reporting to local law enforcements. Higher education institutions must make ensure that their school protocols and procedures fall in line with Title IX and the Cleary Act, among other acceptable state laws.

3)    eDiscovery – The changing environment of electronically stored information will most certainly take effect in alterations to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures. These alterations will look to amend the ways in which data is preserved and e-discovery sanctions. The laws put forward are expected to favor large corporations with large quantities of ESI. These laws are also expected to include computer-assisted reviews with predictive coding as the industry continues to mature.

4)    Developments in Wage-Hour Class Action – 2015 is shifting towards the year of the employer this year in terms of wage-hour class action lawsuits. This coming year shows signs of laws moving towards “issue certification” and more limited populations in-order to classify for a collective action.

 

Lawyer Discusses Civil Law and Ferguson

Abogado Aly Civil Law Charles OgletreeAfter the ruling of the grand jury involved in the case of police brutality in Ferguson, Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School Professor, answered a few questions on the legality of the ruling, according to an article recently completed by The Daily Illini.  His thoughts were issued in the question and answer section of a presentation he was making at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center; the talk was about civil rights, police brutality and what comes next in the nation.  The grand jury involved in the case was ruling on the legality of the actions of police officer Darren Wilson, for the death of Michael Brown.  For Ogletree, the legality of the case is cut and clear—he believes Wilson should be arrested and indicted.  However, alternatively, the grand jury was unable to indict the police officer.  Ogletree wasn’t necessarily surprised; he claims that he did not think Wilson would be indicted because he’s a police officer, and officers of the law are rarely indicted, according to him.

As a result, students at the university that was hosting Ogletree for the presentation organized a march.  This was only one march of many that resulted around the country; Ogletree himself organized one for his students at Harvard.  In the question and answer portion of the presentation, one audience member asked Ogletree what was needed to keep a movement like this mobile.  For Ogletree, numbers are crucial; groups need to always be growing, allowing the initiative to become bigger and different than any others in the nation.  Ogletree also said that this is very feasible for those against the Ferguson ruling; he declared that here isn’t one state that the citizens can say people of color aren’t treated differently based in their race.

Ogletree isn’t just leading marches to make a stand against this issue.  The legal team representing Michael Brown’s family has already approached him, expressing interest in approaching the case from a civil law perspective.  Ogletree responded that that is a prospect he would be very much interested in, and has agreed to lend his support to the case.

Civil Law Presents Conflicts for Republicans

Abogado Aly Civil Law Houston TexasIt has become a standard amongst American society that when the individual sees they have been wronged, they are able to take their assumedly powerful foe to court.  The proceeding trial is often envisioned as a dramatic battle between good and evil, with the wronged party assuming they will always win, and manage to extract some monetary compensation out of the ordeal.  However, this standard amongst society in the United States can often be taken too far, in the eyes of some Republicans.

In an article recently completed by The Gilmer Mirror, the court proceedings of the state of Texas against the federal government of the United States were summarized.  The list of items the Lonestar State is suing over included air quality, health care, banking regulations and money for education.  In addition to this, school districts across the state are suing their state government.  The issue has become so extensive that Texas has been forced to hire “trail lawyers,” which specialize in civil law to defend against criminal indictments.

This conflict has resulted in two separate groups of opinion.  One side firmly believes that there should be limits placed on the number of lawsuits filed against businesses; however, this same group often encourages proceedings against the federal government, in the name of the cause they are fighting for.  Republicans in the state of Texas believe the court system is being taken advantage of by these very people.  Twenty years ago, George W. Bush, who was running for governor at the time, saw this problem, and proposed a possible solution.  The result was his four pronged campaign approach, which focused on a reform to civil justice, education, juvenile justice and welfare.  Conveniently, this sought to both rectify the “lawyer bashing” that had started to become popular, while also serving as an attack on his Democrat opponent; Democrats were notoriously a favorite in terms of donations from lawyers at the time.  Essentially, the reform made it harder to file some civil lawsuits.  While civil justice lobbyists have continue to fight the reform, the beliefs started with Bush’s campaign remain cemented into Republican campaigns to this very day.