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April

Can Victims of a Mass Shooting Sue the Government?

The best answer is, it's unlikely. True, litigants sue the government every day, over alleged civil rights violations, controversial laws, run-of-the-mill personal injury claims against government agencies and employees, and more. The real question is usually less about whether you can you sue the government, and more about the likelihood of success. Suing the Government Is an American Tradition Overall it's fairly common to sue the government. Special needs students may challenge a school district's educational offerings. People deprived of their rights by government policies may challenge those policies in court. Even ordinary claims for money damages -- arising out of personal injury, death, or property damage -- can be litigated before an administrative agency or judge. What's less certain is what happens in exceptional cases. Most (successful) lawsuits against the government rely on recognizable claims, alleging violations of well-accepted rights or duties, seeking relief for identifiable injuries or losses. Suing the postal service after a mail carrier crashes their mail truck into your house, for example, is pretty routine. But lawsuits based on novel legal theories, expanded notions of rights, or for damages that are difficult to ascertain are a different matter. They're not impossible. Some of the most celebrated cases in legal history were filed on a prayer. Mass shooting lawsuits fall into that bucket. What About Mass Shootings? The obvious person(s) to sue is the person(s) responsible for resulting injuries. The reality is that they're often judgment proof. And it's unusual for courts to find someone else -- even governments -- legally liable for their crimes. Maintaining safe premises in schools or office buildings is one thing. Responsibility for someone else's intentional, criminal acts enters into a different realm. Related Resources Find a Civil Rights Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Can A School Be Sued for a Shooting? (FindLaw's Injured) Injury Claims Against the Government (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Kids Around the World are Suing Their Governments for Ruining the Planet (Quartz)
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Is It Illegal to Let a Friend Borrow Your Gun?

Your gun, your rights, your problem? It's pretty common in America to let someone borrow, use, try, or otherwise handle a firearm. Hunters do it in the woods, shooters at the range, purchasers at trade shows, and kids at summer camps. Put those scenarios to one side, then consider the other side: criminal defendants arguing about who used whose gun to shoot so-and-so, or an otherwise responsible owner having to explain how his gun ended up in a kid's backpack at school. So what's the law on letting someone borrow your gun? America's Patchwork Gun Laws There's an old legal adage that everything is legal unless prohibited. While it's not necessarily true, it's a fairly good guide when it comes to gun laws. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution grants individuals a right to possess a firearm for lawful purposes, and this applies to states as well. Federal Gun Laws Federal law bans anyone convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm. That's one of the more common federal criminal prosecutions out there. It's also illegal to ship a firearm out of state without a license. Certain types of firearms - assault weapons, military grade hardware, etc. -- are either banned or tightly regulated. It's important to know who you'd be giving your gun to. Note any specific laws about the type of weapon as well. State Gun Laws From there, it really depends where you live. State gun control laws vary considerably. Buying, selling, or transferring ownership of a gun might be regulated where you live. Virtually all states prohibit possessing a gun near a school. Big cities and urban areas may have more restrictive policies than the countryside. Gun laws are for the most part state and laws, and it's difficult to generalize. Related Resources Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) America's Gun Culture in 10 Charts (BBC News) State Gun Control Laws (FindLaw's State Laws) Legal How-To: Giving a Gun as a Gift (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Tips for Students to Help Prevent School Shootings

It unfortunately seems that the frequency of school shootings has increased. Just yesterday, at least 17 people were killed during a school shooting in Florida. Every time there's a school shooting, the debate on gun control comes to the forefront of the news. While this is a valid debate, it seems that more is at play than just preventing people from being able to buy guns. There may be things that parents, staff members at school, and other students can do to help prevent these tragedies in the future. Can Anything Be Done to Prevent School Shootings? A school shooting can't always be prevented, especially if the shooter doesn't exhibit any signs of violent tendencies or indication that he or she is planning a school shooting. However, there are signs sometimes that someone is planning something, and if you notice such signs, it's a good idea to pay attention to these signs and take them seriously. This is true for parents, school staff, and students. For example, the suspect in the Florida school shooting -- Nikolas Cruz -- was described by students and neighbors as a troubled teen.Tips for StudentsTo help prevent school shootings, students should:Know the warning signs of a mass shooting.Alert a teacher, parent, of law enforcement officer as soon as you become aware of a threat.Understand that "reporting" is not the same as "snitching" because the goal of reporting a crime is to protect students, while the goal of snitching is to get someone in trouble.Remember that you can be charged with failure to report a crime if you know about a threat and don't do anything. Students can be especially helpful since they spend more time around each other than they do with school staff, and usually have access to classmates' social media accounts. In the case of the Cruz, the Associated Press reports that he threatened and harassed peers and has disturbing photos on social media. Parents Can Be Liable It's often not clear what leads a person to commit a school shooting. It could be the home environment or being bullied at school or mental illness, or a combination of all of these things. While people often have the knee-jerk reaction of blaming parents for such tragedies, it's not necessarily their fault.But it's important to note that there are times that parents can be held accountable for school violence committed by their child. One prime example is if parents are careless with their firearms and their child uses the firearm in a school shooting. Related Resources: Find an Attorney Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Suspect in Florida school massacre charged with 17 murders (Reuters) Weapons at School (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Do You Have to Report a Crime If You See One? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Student Loan Forgiveness Options May Disappear Under New Budget Plan

Higher education is important to many people, but it doesn't come cheap. In order to get a college or graduate degree, many people need student loans. Of course, the hope is that once you receive a degree, you'll be able to get a job, and repay your student loans.However, this isn't as easy as it theoretically seems. For this reason, there are various repayment options for people who take out student loans. But, under President Trump's new spending plan proposal, there are many changes to repayment options for those who owe money for federal student loans. What Would Be Changing? The budget plan, as currently written, would do away with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and curtail income-based loan repayment plans. The plan would also cut funding for federal work study in half, and embolden the government to go after students who aren't paying their loans. These changes to student loans would apply to those students who borrow after July 1, 2019, and would not include loans provided to borrowers to finish their current education. In regard to income-driven repayment plans, they would be reduced from four options to one option. Under the one option, a student's monthly payment wouldn't be more than 12.5% of his or her discretionary income. One positive aspect of the income-driven repayment plan under the new budget is that undergraduate students would have their loan forgiven after 15 years. For reference, these types of loans are currently forgiven after 20 years. What Happens If You Can Repay Your Student Loans? There are some options for those who can't pay back their student loans, and those options will vary depending on whether you have private or public loans. Under the new budget plan, people who fall into delinquency repaying their federal loans would be subject to more stringent enforcement. More specifically, the new budget plan calls to "streamline the Department of Education's ability to verify applicants' income data held by the Internal Revenue Service." If you're concerned about repaying your student loans, or want to find out about your repayment options, it may be a good idea to speak with a local attorney. Related Resources: Find an Attorney Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Higher Education (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Pennsylvania Attorney General Sues Nation's Largest Student Loan Servicer (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Non-Dischargeable vs. Dischargeable Debt in Bankruptcy (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Is It a Crime to Mail White Powder Even If It’s Harmless?

You can never be too careful, opening your mail. Sure, much of it is junk and some of it may include requests for money from your long lost third cousin you never knew you had. But the U.S. Postal Service delivers 506.4 million pieces of mail each day, sent by and to people of all walks of life. So some crazy stuff can get sent through the mail. Including stuff sent by crazy people, like ricin, anthrax, narcotics ... and corn starch, as Donald Trump Jr.'s wife has recently discovered. What Can't Be Mailed? It's (obviously) a crime to mail deadly chemical and biological weapons to people. And using the postal service to commit a crime -- any crime -- is never smart. It is the federal mail, and doing it across state lines can make it an interstate crime. That can land you in federal court facing federal charges. The postal service also has detailed regulations on what and how to mail stuff. Explosives, ammunition, gasoline, and air bags are prohibited. Other items are restricted, and may have to be clearly marked or shipped in limited quantities. These include firearms, propane, alcohol, and prescription drugs. What About Threatening or Suspicious Letters? Threatening, disturbing letters sent through the mail can constitute criminal threats, terroristic threats, stalking, and similar crimes related to making threats. That's the kind of behavior lower-level criminal offenses are designed for, to stop someone before threats become attacks, and are illegal under state laws. Federal crimes cover some specific threats, such a threatening the President or other officials. What About Harmless, Suspicious White Powder? Turns out, there's a handy federal offense covering this sort of thing. 18 U.S.C. section 1038 makes it a crime to "engag[e] in any conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information [that] may reasonably be believed [to indicate] that" a biological agent is present. It also makes doing so a civil action, i.e. allows someone to sue. Which is lawyer-talk for: no, you can't send threatening letters and add sugar, flour -- or corn starch -- to make it legal. Related Resources Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) USPS Logs Mail for FBI, and It's Legal (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life) Is It Legal to Mail Marijuana? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Florida Woman Sentenced for Kidnapping Newborn

Kidnapping is a serious crime, usually classified as a felony in most states. Just ask Gloria Williams, who was arrested in January 2017 for kidnapping Kamiyah Mobley as a newborn. Instead of going through a trial for the kidnapping, Williams has decided to plead guilty to the crime she committed 20 years ago. What Exactly Happened? In 1998, Williams, posing as a nurse, walked into University Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida and kidnapped Mobley. She changed Mobley's name to Alexis Manigo, and raised her as her own daughter. After more than two thousand tips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Mobley was found in South Carolina, and her DNA matched the DNA of her birth parents. The victim has met her birth parents, but has chosen to continue using the name that Williams gave her. Kidnapping Laws in Florida Under Florida's kidnapping laws, kidnapping is defined as the abduction, confinement, or imprisonment of another person against his or her will. The kidnapping must also be committed "forcibly, secretly, or by threat" and without lawful authority. In the case of children who are less than 13 years old, "against his or her will" means that the offender confined the child without his or her parents' consent. Depending on the circumstances, a person may be committing kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping. In Williams' case, she committed aggravated kidnapping since Mobley was under 13 years old when Williams took her. Had Williams gone to trial and been found guilty, she could have been sentenced to life in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, she's facing up to 22 years in prison. She's set to be sentenced in May, although it's been reported that Mobley hopes that Williams gets a sentence of less than 10 years. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) After 20 years, woman admits to kidnapping Florida baby (Associated Press) Criminal Law (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Mom Jailed for Not Vaccinating Son (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Can You Sue a ‘Naturopathic Doctor’?

Mario Rodriguez was a twenty-one year old physics student in Spain. So when he was diagnosed with leukemia, he did what you might not expect him to do. He spent �4,000 on alternative medicines and shunned a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. He later died of an intestinal infection, and his father sued the naturopathic doctor who prescribed his treatment. Can this sort of lawsuit happen in the U.S.? What Is Naturopathic Medicine? Naturopathic medicine, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, "focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnoses and treatment." It's alternative medicine that emphasizes herbal supplements, boosting the natural immune systems, and other not-exactly-mainstream treatments in place of more traditional medicine. State regulation of the naturopathic profession is limited to eighteen states, according to the American Medical Profession (they're not a fan). And scientific support for their methods can be suspect, as can be coverage from health insurance plans. Naturopathic Doctors and Medical Doctors As you might imagine, naturopathy is controversial in the health care field. Many Naturopathic practitioners receive four-year degrees and are licensed, but many naturopath practitioners are not. Training can differ considerably from place to place and person to person, as can their treatment plans. That said, many people swear by naturopathic treatments. They remain a semi-popular alternative to traditional medicine. Suing Naturopathic Doctors Medical practitioners are responsible for providing sound care to patients. When they fall short, whether through negligence or otherwise, a medical malpractice lawsuit can result. And the same is true with naturopathic doctors. Fraud cases might be brought against naturopathic treatment providers, and, generally, juries are less sympathetic to naturopaths than medical doctors when things go wrong. Related Resources: Find a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) FTC Forces Homeopathic Drug Makers to Tell the Truth (FindLaw's Common Law) Creator of Bogus Celebrity Diet Faces 3 Years in Jail (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Turmeric IV Infusion Implicated in Woman's Death (FindLaw's Common Law)
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Tips for Talking to a Lawyer on the Phone

Almost everyone knows that you have a right to counsel if you've been charged with a crime. People will also be inclined to seek out a lawyer if they want to file a lawsuit, or if they're being sued. But, there are many other instances where a lawyer can be very helpful.For example, it's usually a good idea to consult with a lawyer while planning your estate because he or she can ensure that your estate plan is in compliance with your state's laws, and can advise you on how to reduce your estate taxes. But, how do you decide when to call an attorney? And how do you decide if the attorney you call is right for you? These are valid and important questions to ask yourself when you're thinking about hiring an attorney. Read on for some tips for talking to a lawyer on the phone. How Do I Find a Lawyer? If you have friends or family who have already used a lawyer (that they were happy with) in a similar legal matter, it's a good idea to ask them for the lawyer's contact information. But, maybe you don't feel comfortable asking someone you know for a lawyer recommendation because you want to keep your legal matter private. While recommendations are helpful, there are other ways to find a lawyer, including researching the attorney online. You can read reviews and it's also a good idea to research a lawyer's discipline record. The First Call Whether you found a lawyer through a recommendation or you found one through your own research, the first call can be very important. For this reason, it's important to be prepared for this conversation.First, you should have a list of questions ready to ask the lawyer, including questions about his or hers experience with legal matters such as yours. Second, you should have a fairly detailed summary of the legal matter that you're seeking counsel for. If you have any documentation related to your legal matter (such as a complaint you've been served), it's a good idea to have those documents in front of you.Finally, talking to a lawyer on the phone will help you to also get a feel for his or her personality, including the lawyer's ability to explain things clearly. Just remember that the initial conversation with a lawyer is not only the time for the lawyer to decide whether he or she wants to take the case, but also for you to decide if you want that particular lawyer for your legal issue. Related Resources: Find an Attorney Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Guide to Hiring a Lawyer (FindLaws' Learn About the Law) Should I Have an Annual Legal Checkup With a Lawyer (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 5 Reasons to Hire an Attorney Decades Before You Retire (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Should You Add Bitcoin to Your Estate Plan?

Even though many people may feel uncomfortable planning for death, it's an important thing to do, especially for your loved ones. In the absence of an estate plan, property will be divided based on state intestacy laws, which could result in your assets going to people you don't want them to go to, and it can be a hassle for your loved ones.Assuming that you've decided to plan your estate, you may wonder what you should include. Well, the more detailed you have, the better. And, if your property changes -- maybe you added new investments, such as Bitcoin -- it's best to add that to your estate plan as well. It's All in the Details Probate issues can easily become overly complicated because family members often end up fighting with each other over their deceased relative's assets. To avoid this, it's important to be as detailed as possible in your estate plan, both in listing beneficiaries for particular items or sums of money, and making sure to list all of your assets. This includes any investments, such as real property, stocks, or Bitcoin. When it comes to Bitcoin, or other types of cryptocurrency, it's important to be a little more detailed than you may be with other property. For example, when you have an investment account at a bank, it'll list the particular stocks you have in your portfolio and will usually allow you to designate a beneficiary. The nature of cryptocurrencies is secretive, so it can be much more difficult to get access to it once the investor dies. For this reason, it's important to not only list that you own Bitcoin, but also list where it was bought and how it can be accessed. Show You Care It's hard enough to grieve the death of someone you love, but also trying to sort through his or her assets, and possibly deal with greedy relatives, can make it unbearable. So, show your loved ones you care about them by planning your estate, or updating your estate to include any new assets. And, if you don't know where to start or need professional help to plan your estate, you can contact a local attorney who can guide you through the estate planning process and make sure you have a solid estate plan. Related Resources: Find an Estate Planning Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Estate Planning (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Digital Estate Planning: How to Prepare Digital Accounts for the End of Life (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Bitcoin and Estate Planning: Top FAQs (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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How Does Immigration Status Affect Child Custody?

Divorce is hard enough for anyone to go through, but add having to determine child custody, and it only gets harder. Sometimes parents are able to reach a custody agreement themselves, other times the parents may need to have a judge decide on the child custody arrangements.If you're an immigrant -- legal or illegal -- you may be concerned that your immigration status will impact a child custody agreement. After all, doesn't it seem likely that a U.S. citizen would be favored over a non-citizen when determining who gets custody? The answer is no -- immigration status is not generally a factor in determining who gets custody. How Is Child Custody Determined? Like most legal family matters, child custody is governed by state laws. There are, however, some generally accepted factors in determining child custody. The main factor in determining child custody is considering what's in the "best interests" of the child. This involves many considerations including looking at the mental and physical health of the parents, need for continuation of a stable home environment, and the wishes of the child (when he or she is old enough to capably make this decision). While the list of considerations for child custody is long, notably absent is immigration status. This is even true in the case of illegal immigrants fighting for child custody. While it may not be a factor in determining child custody, it bears mentioning that a pending deportation or an actual deportation can affect child custody, since it would impact the child's life.So, while a parent's immigration status doesn't directly factor into deciding who gets custody, there could be indirect effects, particularly if the parent is an illegal immigrant. To resolve child custody issues, contact a child custody lawyer or an immigration lawyer for help. Related Resources: Find Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How the Gig Economy Is Affecting Child Support (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 2017: The Year in Immigration Law (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Deportation Dispute: U.S. Refusing Visas for Countries Unwilling to Take Back Deported Citizens (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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