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The Legal System Versus Cal Harris

The Legal System Versus Cal Harris

As citizens of the United States, we rely on the legal system to protect us from those who inflict harm. It’s this reliance that keeps us feeling safe, and puts us at ease when we walk outside. We never expect a murderer to live next door, or if we do, we believe the police will find out and put them behind bars. However, what happens when the legal system fails? When there is a lack of evidence against a suspected killer, even when the public has faith that that person is a murderer? The answer isn’t always easy to conclude, and in the legal system, faith is no substitute for hard facts.

Cal Harris had been spending his life with his wife and four children in Tioga County, Pennsylvania when tragedy struck. Having had a number of car dealerships in his possession, a net worth in the millions, and a well-provided family, Harris seemingly had a stable life. However, around the turn of the new millennium, there had been a split in Harris’s household, and he and his wife had been planning to divorce. Those close to the Harris family had reportedly said the split was proceeding without any qualms, and was set to end on Cal Harris’s terms. But on September 11, 2001, the unexpected happened. Harris’s soon to be ex-wife disappeared from the family home without a trace.

Though it was Harris who first reported her missing, detectives pinned him as the primary suspect. The detectives wanted to know, did Cal Harris murder his wife? An investigation led authorities to searching his home in Tioga County. News sources at the time indicated the detectives found small splatters of blood in Harris’s home. Despite their efforts, the investigators were never able to turn up Michele Harris’s body or a murder weapon. Nevertheless, the investigation continued, and in 2005 authorities placed Harris under arrest on the charge of second-degree murder in the disappearance of Michele Harris. The evidence which led to the conviction were the blood splatters, and one witness’s testimony that Harris had threatened his wife prior to her disappearance.

Two years after the murder charge, a judge and jury passed down a guilty verdict on Harris, and he went to jail. Harris maintained his innocence, and began fighting the charge against him. Because there was no hard evidence — no murder weapon, no body — Harris and his lawyers felt they still had an advantage of getting him off the hook.

photo of legal tools

Less than six months after his conviction, Harris went back to court. This time a new witness came forward and claimed he had saw Michele Harris carrying out a quarrel with an unknown man outside of the family’s home prior to her disappearance. The testimony swayed the judge, who overturned Harris’s conviction. However, during a trial two years later, a judge and jury again convicted Harris on the murder charge, and he went back to jail.

That conviction was again overturned when the lawyer’s representing Harris found one of the jurors had a bias against Harris. During his release, Harris hired a group of lawyers to hopefully track down his missing wife, or at least find out what had happened to her. That attempt, however, turned up nothing. It wasn’t until 2016 that a judge and jury at last acquitted Harris of the charge against him.

After 15 years, Harris was finally free from the legal system’s attempt to convict him of murder. To this day, people still ask what had happened to Michele Harris? She remains missing, with no trace of her whereabouts. There is a split amongst those who know about the case; some believe Cal Harris murdered his wife, and some believe there is not enough evidence to say whether or not he is guilty.

Congress and The President

Congress and The President

Two Times Congress and the President Tried to Trade Jobs Until the Supreme Court Stopped Them

Everyone knows that our federal government is divided into three branches with distinct functions. Congress is the legislative branch. It makes laws. The president is head of the executive branch. He enforces the laws. And the Supreme Court is at the top of the judicial branch, which interprets the laws and applies them to particular cases. But sometimes, one branch tries to take over some functions that rightfully belong to another. Here are two times Congress and the president tried to trade jobs until the Supreme Court stopped them.

1. The Legislative Veto

What it was: When the House of Representatives and Senate pass a bill, the president can either sign it, in which case it becomes law, or veto it. If the president vetoes a bill, Congress can try to override the veto by passing it again with a 2/3 majority in both houses. The legislative veto was like a reverse version of this. It allowed Congress—or one house of Congress, or even just a committee of one house of Congress—to “veto” some executive action. Starting in the early 20th century, Congress built a legislative veto into numerous statutes. One of those was section 244(c)(2) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Under that statute, a majority vote in the House of Representatives or Senate could overturn the decision of the Attorney General to allow a deportable immigrant to remain in the United States.

How the Supreme Court stopped it: In 1983, the Supreme Court decided the case of INS v. Chadha. In that case, Chadha overstayed his student visa. When notified that he was going to be deported, he applied for a suspension of deportation. An immigration judge granted the suspension. But, exercising its power under section 244(c)(2), the House of Representatives voted to deport Chadha. Chadha appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that section 244(c)(2) was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed. It found that the only way for Congress to invalidate the immigration judge’s determination was to change the law that authorized the judge to grant a suspension request. Given that, the attempt by the House of Representatives to overrule the immigration judge was itself an act of legislation that had to be passed by both houses of Congress and presented to the president. Since section 244(c)(2) purported to authorize the House of Representatives to change the law on its own, it was unconstitutional.

2. The Line-Item Veto

What it was: In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Line Item Veto Act into law. Under this law, the president had the power to unilaterally amend bills presented to him by canceling certain kinds of tax or spending provisions. In 1997, President Clinton used his line item veto to cancel a provision enacted by Congress that would have waived up to $2.6 billion in payments from the state of New York to the federal government. New York City, which would have had to reimburse the state in the event the state was required to pay the $2.6 billion, sued.

How the Supreme Court stopped it: The Supreme Court decided New York City’s lawsuit in 1998 in Clinton v. City of New York. There, the Court recognized that what the president was doing when he canceled a part of a statute was amending the law. Amending the law requires passage by both houses of Congress and the president’s signature. Because the Line Item Veto Act allowed the president to unilaterally repeal part of a statute without Congress’ involvement, the Court held that it was unconstitutional.

These cases illustrate the importance of the separation of powers in our government. They also highlight how important the independence of the judicial branch is. In both cases, two of the branches of the federal government had agreed to an arrangement that violated the bicameralism and presentment requirements of the U.S. Constitution. Only when the third branch, the judiciary, stepped in was that error corrected. If it weren’t for the checks and balances built into our government of separated powers, Congress and the president could have continued changing the laws in invalid ways.

Person of Interest

Person of Interest

For someone hearing this term for the first time, you would think it is an honor for people especially a court proceeding to have an interest in you. Well, a person of interest has a completely different meaning! A person of interest refers to someone who law enforcers may be too keen on when carrying out their investigations.

Origin of the term
The phrase “person of interest” was coined by the police to describe Richard A. Jewell who was suspected to have had involvement in the Atlanta Olympics bombing.

How does a person become interesting?
1. If s/he has information that aids in the investigation.
2. If s/he is suspected to be involved in the crime and further investigation is called for.
3. Where an individual is working with the law enforcers to collect evidence of a crime committed.

What is the difference between a person of interest and a suspect?
A person of interest is not defined although it is interchangeably used with the suspect. However, the term suspect is too precise. A person of interest can be innocent and just cooperate with the investigations. A suspect is already awaiting trial, and there is evidence incriminating them, but for a person of interest, it is mainly an intuition by either the police or the prosecutor. The term has not been formally defined in any legal manuscript and is mostly used by police and prosecutors.

Targeted surveillance
It refers to the type of surveillance observed on a particular person of interest. This can include tapping an individual’s phone and laptop to monitor activities.

This kind of surveillance can be extrusive or intrusive depending on the trustworthiness of the person in question. Intrusive surveillance involves close and detailed tracking of a person’s activities such as placing bugs in their car.
Extrusive surveillance is whereby a person is observed from a distance, for example through cameras.

Any consequences?
A person is innocent until proven guilty. It does not matter if all the evidence points to them, they remain innocent unless they acknowledge being guilty of the offenses they are charged with. The media have often described a person of interest as guilty until proven innocent.

The media puts up a trial on the person with the public as the jury. Even if someone is proven innocent, the public already as its verdict. A person’s reputation is destroyed.

It is therefore advisable to seek legal assistance when one is identified as a person of interest before things get too serious…

Objections and What They Mean

Objections and What They Mean

Objection my lord! What is that all about?

In the legal field, an objection is a legal way in which an attorney seeks to disallow a piece of evidence or a statement from being made. A proper objection is timely and very specific so that no much time is wasted and the judge gets your reasons for the objection.
The judge can either sustain or overrule the objection. Sustaining means the judge conquers with the attorney for objecting while overruling implies that there is no valid reason as to why the evidence or statement should not be made.

Types of Objections
There are two kinds of objections namely; substantive and nonsubstantive objections.
Substantive objections are those raised against relevant questions that require inadmissible answers, i.e., answers that do not add any relevance to the ongoing trial.
Nonsubstantive objections mostly challenge the type of question asked. For example, if a question is leading the witness.

court scale in action

Reasons for objections
In a trial case, objections may arise due to the following reasons:

1. Where a question that has already been asked, is asked again.
2. Some questions may be misleading and ambiguous. Such questions may hinder a witness from giving a clear and concise answer.
3. A lawyer may be argumentative with the witness; which is not allowed in a courtroom.
4. Hearsay- this is where evidence is presented based on a second-hand source.
5. Speculative questions are not based on immediate facts and involve the witness to think and hence objected to.
6. Leading questions- these suggest an answer to the question and thus limit what the witness should have answered.
7. In case an attorney asks questions that have nothing to do with the court proceedings, an objection is raised.
8. Some witnesses may be given the privilege to answer questions of their choice. This may lead to a wrong verdict if not objected to.

The judge uses the above reasons to decide whether to overrule or sustain an objection.
Withdrawing a statement. An attorney may make a statement or present evidence which is objected to. Instead of the judge deciding on what action to take, the attorney may revoke his statement. They are said to have withdrawn their statement.

What happens when an objection is sustained?

The lawyer must rephrase the question or elaborate the question with evidence outlining its importance in the case trial.

An attorney needs a mock trial to be able to eliminate all possibilities of raising objections on his part as well as try and identify faults in the opposing attorney. Practice must be done to perfection.

The Appeals Process: Everything that You Should Know

The Appeals Process: Everything that You Should Know

At times, decisions made by federal or state trial courts may be reviewed by appeal courts especially when the parties involved are dissatisfied with the decisions. The role of an appeal court is to review everything that happened during the proceedings of the lower court in order to establish whether there were any errors. More often than less, decisions made by an appeals court are legally binding.

Trials Vis a Vis Appeals

Trial and appeals processes have a few similarities. Nonetheless, they differ totally. In trial cases, parties involved present their cases, call witnesses to present their testimonies, and also present evidence including surveys, blueprints, and photographs. The jury uses such evidence and testimonies to establish whether the case holds water or not. During a trial case, the judge controls all courtroom activities besides making all legal decisions that pertain to the case.

Appeal cases typically entail reviewing the application of the law by trial courts. No jury is involved. In addition, lawyers do not present any form of evidence or witnesses. The court only accepts facts that were brought to light during the trial. However, this is not the case if a fact is against the validity of the evidence presented before the appellate judge.

Trials and appeals also differ when it comes to the judges involved. Only one judge presides over trial cases whereas an appeal case is heard and determined by several judges. The number of judges who will hear and determine an appeal case varies according to state. Appeals are sometimes determined by panels, which typically comprise three judges. Supreme courts at federal and state level have between five and nine judges who are sometimes known as justices.

What are Appellate Briefs?

Written appellate briefs are the main method of persuasion used during appeal cases. These briefs are usually filed by each party’s legal counsel. The losing party uses appellate briefs to convince the appellate judges that the trial court applied the law incorrectly. On the other hand, the winning party’s brief convinces the court that the trial court’s application of the law was correct and fair.

Both parties are required to support their stands while referring to applicable case statutes and laws. This clearly shows that appeals take a more scholarly approach than trials. If an error in the application of the law at the trial stage is established, the initial ruling will be reversed. If no error in the application of the law is established, the trial court ruling will be upheld.

Why Should I Do Pro Bono Work

Why Should I Do Pro Bono Work

Pro bono work is volunteer legal work that attorneys perform for free. In an industry where time is money, lawyers often ask – why should I bother?

1. You have a responsibility.
Generally, there is a sense that attorneys have a responsibility to use their special skills to give back to the community through pro bono work. All bar associations in the United States strongly encourage lawyers to perform pro bono work. Some states even require it, particularly for law students seeking admission to the bar.

2. Your help is needed.
There are many people and organizations that would not have access to legal advice and advocacy if weren’t for pro bono work. Many people simply cannot afford legal services. Others are incapable of advocating for themselves – such as children, severely disabled individuals, the elderly, or victims of abuse. If you don’t help them, you must wonder who will.

3. You will feel good about it.
Performing pro bono work will give make you feel great. You will feel proud to know that you were able to use your skills and experience to assist someone who really needed it. You will walk away with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

4. You can pursue your passion.
You can choose to perform pro bono work that will benefit a cause that aligns with your passions. If you are passionate about animals, you can take a pro bono to benefit abused animal or perform legal services for an organization that benefits animals. If you are passionate about criminal rights, you can take a pro bono case to prove a wrongful conviction or perform legal services for an organization that fights police brutality.

5. You can get more experience.
By performing pro bono work, you can gain more experience in an area that you otherwise would not have the opportunity to work in. For example, if you are a corporate transaction attorney, chances are that you will not gain experience in civil rights unless you perform some pro bono work. Thus, pro bono work can broader your career horizons and skill set in ways that your traditional practice cannot.

Companies and Cigarettes

Companies and Cigarettes

When Should a Company Be Allowed to Not Hire a Person Who Smokes Cigarettes?

There are two occasions that I think a company should be allowed to not hire a person who smokes cigarettes, and I think that that is when food and healthcare are involved.

I apologize if I offend anybody with what I am about to say. These are just my personal thoughts. You are more than welcome to disagree in the comment section below. That being said, I personally feel quite ill when I see someone taking a smoke break at a restaurant. I don’t like the smoke being anywhere near the restaurant. Furthermore, I start to get paranoid thinking about if they wash their hands or not. Granted, EVERYONE should wash their hands when they come back from a break.

I just think it about it extra hard when I see people smoking, because I don’t want their cigarette smoke anywhere near my food. I am weary about the smoke smell still being on the employee’s clothes. Cigarette smoke carries a very heavy, strong odor. I have no desire to have my food smell like smoke. I am pretty positive that I have seen multiple employees take their smoke breaks while they still have their aprons on. I find that to be rather disturbing, and I do not understand how it is allowed.

I am not saying that people who smoke cigarettes should not be allowed to work any time food is involved. I am just saying that I think that that is one of the times a company should be allowed to not hire someone for smoking cigarettes. Another time that I think a company should be allowed to not hire a person who smokes cigarettes, is when healthcare is involved. That is for obvious reasons.

For both of these situations, it is really up to the companies to have the proper protocols to handle their employees who smoke effectively. If they do that, then there should not be much of an issue with hiring them. What do you all think? Leave a comment down below!

The United States and International Law

The United States and International Law

The United States is the preeminent power on the international stage, possessing the world’s most powerful military and it’s most vibrant and diverse economy. Time and time again, American judicial precedent has been used by other nations and international organizations in the formulation of their own laws, and the U.S. has often played a heavy role in the crafting of international law.
Nonetheless, the U.S. is seldom – if ever – a signatory of agreements that bind it to so called “international laws”. How has this come to be, and what are the consequences of this for the American people?

Following the second world war, the U.S. was the dominant voice in international affairs, and took every advantage it could that came with such a position in formulating the post-war international order. As the United Nations came to be formed, and international treaties and laws began to proliferate, the U.S. more often than not took a leading role.

History nonetheless shows time and time again that the U.S. will not permit its interest to be sacrificed for the sake of international norms and laws. The most recent examples of this phenomenon are glaring; the U.S. recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, a non-binding treaty intending to reduce global carbon emissions. Before that, the U.S. famously invaded Iraq in 2003, though it lacked permission from the United Nations Security Council to do so.

image of US and international laws

The explanation for this phenomenon is entirely political; as the world’s dominant superpower, the U.S. cannot and will not allow itself to be cowed by international rules that don’t serve its interest. As a nation that is domestically governed by a strict set of institutions which relies heavily on law, this is a curious, if not altogether understandable position.

While the U.S. often refuses to sign treaties or enter partnerships which may later tie its hands, it is nonetheless a global force for good in terms of enforcing law and order. For instance, while the U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court, if often complies, at least partially with its judgments and recommendations. American treaties and court decisions more often than not seek to align themselves with morally defend-able positions, and act as important role models the world over.
What are your thoughts on international law, and American adherence to it? Should the United States become a member of the International Criminal Court? Does it already do enough – or even too much – in the name of international law? Leave a comment down below!

A Legal Right to Work?

A Legal Right to Work?

As the uncertain future of automation looms over broad sectors of the American economy, people from all economic walks of life have been left pondering worrying questions. How will automation impact my industry? How will it change my day to day life? Will I lose my job to a robot? Above all else, one question remains pertinent; do Americans have a legal right to work?

Even the most ardent advocates of automation will concede that robots can’t truly replace everyone; there will always be a plethora of jobs capable of being done only by humans. Nonetheless, massive quantities of jobs in our economy, particularly in areas such as manufacturing, retail, and transportation, are vulnerable to automation. How, then, will the coming wave of robotic automation change our nation’s economic and legal landscapes?

Right-to-work laws already exist in many forms throughout the U.S., yet these laws focus primarily on unionization, rather than automation. No legislation nor precedent as of yet exist to determine whether an American has a right to a job over, say, a robot. Nor is any such thing realistically likely to come into effect.

Nonetheless, labor unions and independent workers alike will certainly take steps to insure their economic well-being against automation, particularly in the field of law.

Legal actors should prepare themselves for a future where they may be dragged into a civil or criminal case regarding automation. If a company automates a position, and the robot or programming later causes a severe error or crisis to unfold, how might a prosecutor go about trying their case?

Lawyers will most likely be largely unsuccessful should they try to argue that their client’s right to a job supersedes a company’s right to automate. Yet they may find themselves more successful bringing lawsuits against those same companies when an automated function of their business causes personal or economic injury to another. A shrewd legal actor may argue that tragedy could have been averted, should there have been a human overseeing a job.

These kinds of scenarios are not hypothetical; thousands of manufacturing, service, and transportation jobs are already undergoing massive change due to advances in automation and programming. Lawyers and legal actors may even find their own jobs jeopardized by the onslaught of technological advance; routine paperwork can be done effortlessly by computer programs in a fraction of the time it takes a human, and complicated text can be quickly analyzed and interpreted by machines.

As the tides of time turn forth greater and greater advances in robotics and programming, legal scholars will be forced to confront questions such as these. Wise judicial actors should get a head start on these issues today, rather than suffer them tomorrow.

How might automation impact your job? Do you think legal actors have reason to fear computers taking their jobs? Leave a comment down below!

Children’s Personal Injury Lawsuits

Children’s Personal Injury Lawsuits

Seeing your child get injured can be one of the most traumatic experiences for a parent. It’s natural in such cases to want to get justice for an injury caused by someone else’s behavior. But when you do so, remember that personal injury lawsuits for children are different from the same kinds of lawsuits for adults. Below are three ways that the law treats children differently when it comes to personal injury cases.

1. The Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations set time limits on when a person can file a lawsuit. But children normally can’t file a lawsuit at all, because they’re considered to be under a legal disability. Because of this, the law generally extends any applicable statutes of limitations until the children reach adulthood. For example, if a six-year-old is hit by a car in state with a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury, the statute of limitations would normally expire by the time the child turns eight. But because children can’t sue, the statute of limitations for that six-year-old actually won’t expire until he or she is 20—two years after becoming an adult.

2. Settlements

For the same reason that children can’t sue on their own, they also can’t make contracts on their own. In fact, if a child were a party to a contract, the child could simply cancel the contract at any time. A child’s inability to contract extends to settlement agreements. So, the law provides a special requirement for settling children’s legal claims. Once the claim is settled, the adults involved must ask a court to approve the settlement agreement. They will also have to provide evidence that the settlement is in the best interests of the child at a hearing. That hearing is sometimes known as a “friendly hearing,” because both sides agree on what the outcome should be. Once the court approves the settlement, it is legally binding on the child.

3. Money

Whatever compensation the child receives, whether at the end of a trial or through settlement, must be handled in a particular way. Once more, the child’s minority means that he or she will be treated differently than an adult would be. Whereas an adult can take the money received from a lawsuit and do whatever he or she wants, compensation to a child must be placed into a special account. That account might be one maintained by the court until the child turns 18, or it might be a special education account that will help pay for the child’s college. Different states have different rules for this, but the bottom line is that the court will ensure the child’s funds are protected.

These three ways in which the law treats children differently from adults in personal injury lawsuits are all designed to help protect children when they need it most. Of course, if your child is ever injured by someone else, you should consult a local, knowledgeable attorney to learn how these differences apply in your case.