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Constitution

Is Mooning Someone Illegal?

Perhaps you just meant it as a prank among friends. Or maybe you were really mad and meant to insult a neighbor. Does that intent matter under state laws on indecent exposure? Do your bare buttocks count as "genitals" under state statutes? Here's what you need to know about mooning and indecent exposure laws. No Ifs, Ands, or Butts Most indecent exposure laws, like California's for instance, require intent by the exposing party to sexually arouse, or sexually insult or offend. The Golden State statute broadly makes it a crime to willfully expose your genitals to someone else, motivated by a desire to sexually gratify yourself or offend or insult the other person. So if you're not trying to offend or insult someone with your bared buttocks, you're probably alright. Even if you are trying to get a rise out of someone, the law also only applies to exposing one's genitals. Most courts have ruled that showing a bare female breast is not considered exposing your genitals, thus protecting breastfeeding mothers from prosecution on indecent exposure charges. So as long as you're showing your butt, and only your butt, it generally will not constitute indecent exposure under most indecent exposure statutes, including California's. Cheeky Free Speech In 2006, a Maryland court similarly determined that indecent exposure relates only to exposure of the genitals, noting that even if mooning is a "disgusting" and "demeaning" act, it was not illegal. "If exposure of half of the buttocks constituted indecent exposure," the court held, "any woman wearing a thong at the beach at Ocean City would be guilty." The Maryland court also held that mooning is a form of speech, protected by the First Amendment. Relying on a 1983 case where a woman was arrested for wearing nothing but a cardboard sign that only covered the front of her body during a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the court ruled the man could not be guilty of indecent exposure, even if the mooning took place in front of a mother and her 8-year-old daughter. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) BofA Exec Can't Moon His Boss and Keep His Job, IL Court Rules (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Foxy Brown Cleared of 'Mooning' Charges: Witness Refused to Testify (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) State Indecent Exposure Laws (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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Top Legal Questions About the President’s Power

There were certainly questions about presidential power during Barack Obama's presidency, especially when it came to Obamacare and his executive actions on gun control. But those questions have reached a fever pitch under President Donald Trump, as he has attempted to remake the presidency in his own image. So what are the limits on the president's power, if any? 1. Can President Trump Change the Constitution? As a candidate, Trump proposed quite a few constitutional amendments. Now that he's president, can he make them happen? Even though a president can't unilaterally change the text of the Constitution, he can direct executive agencies in their interpretation and enforcement of its provisions. 2. What Power Does the President Have Over Deportation Policy? There are reports of immigration officials pulling undocumented persons out of hospitals. Is this a new practice? And how much impact can President Trump have on choosing who to deport and why? 3. Can the President Really Curb Speech of Federal Agencies? Trump's White House issued directives to several federal agencies, looking to limit public statements and social media posts regarding matters that the previous administration supported. But do those orders violate federal employees' First Amendment rights? 4. Ethics Rules for White House Employees There are strict ethics rules regulating what government officials should do when they have a personal financial interest in a certain business or industry, generally requiring the official to disclose their interest and recuse themselves from work where there could be a conflict of interest. But the Trump administration appears to be playing fast and loose with those rules. 5. Can Trump Cancel the Iran Deal? Previous President Barack Obama's administration brokered a historic nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015, an accord current President Donald Trump has called "the stupidest deal of all time." Does that mean the current administration can back out of the deal? Related Resources: Find Civil Rights Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Trump's First Week as President (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Do Restrictions on Protests Violate the Constitution? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Trump's New Travel Ban Blocked Like the Old Travel Ban (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Is the President Immune From Defamation Lawsuits?

Before he was President Donald Trump, he was host of the reality TV series "The Apprentice" Donald Trump. But his actions then may come back to legally haunt him now. Summer Zervos, a former "Apprentice" contestant, is suing the president, claiming his denials of her sexual harassment claims amounted to defamation. But Trump's attorneys are planning to argue that the president is immune from this and other civil lawsuits while he remains in office. Is that argument going to work? Defamatory Statements Zervos appeared on Trump's TV show in 2006, and was seeking a job with the Trump Organization when the president allegedly groped her breast and began to kiss her aggressively against her will. Trump denied the allegations, calling them a "total fabrication" and a "hoax," while calling Zervos a "phony" and labeling other women making similar claims of sexual harassment "liars." Zervos then sued in New York state court, claiming Trump's attack caused her emotional distress and lost business, and that Trump knew his denials of her allegations were defamatory, because he knew the truth of their interactions and "engaged regularly in this kind of unwanted sexual touching for years, and that was, in fact, how he treated women routinely and how he lived his life." Defamation, legally speaking, refers to any false statement that hurts someone's reputation. In order to win a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that someone made a statement, the statement was published, the statement caused an injury, the statement was false, and the statement did not fall into a privileged category. Presidential Immunity Bill Clinton attempted to mount the same immunity defense when he was sued by Paula Jones for sexual harassment. Back then, the Supreme Court ruled that litigation against a sitting president can proceed if it is over conduct unrelated to his public office. While conceding that point generally, Trump's attorneys are asking for deference in scheduling and for the court to stay the lawsuit until after Trump's presidency. Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz also wrote: "Defendant Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, intends to file a motion to dismiss this action on the ground, among others, that the United States Constitution, including the Supremacy Clause contained therein, immunizes the President from being sued in state court while in office." As the Washington Post points out, this issue of presidential immunity in state courts remains unresolved, as the Paula Jones case involved federal sexual harassment claims. So while the president might not be immune to defamation claims, those claims may need to be filed in federal court. In an interesting twist to the case against Trump, one of the lawyers who successfully argued against Clinton's immunity was George T. Conway III, husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway and nominated by Trump to lead the Justice Department's civil division. Related Resources: Find Defamation Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Trump Claims Immunity From 'Apprentice' Contestant's Lawsuit (USA Today) Do You Know How Slander, Libel and Defamation are Different? (FindLaw's Injured) Is It Worth Suing for Defamation to Protect Your Reputation? (FindLaw's Injured)
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Christina Swarns argues racial bias before U.S. Supreme Court

Christina Swarns, director of Litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. argued Buck v. Davis before the United States Supreme Court in October of this year. Buck is a case which involved the Fifth Circuit’s denial of a Certificate of Appealability (COA) to a Texas death row inmate on his death sentence appeal based on the argument that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly presenting a defense expert who testified that Buck’s identity as a black man increased the likelihood of his future dangerousness (likeliness of future dangerousness is a factor used in Texas courts to justify the death penalty over life in prison). It of course defies all logic why Buck’s counsel would have called a witness to provide this testimony, but such illogical and self-destructive tactics lay at the heart of Buck’s ineffective counsel argument. What made the denial of the COA so egregious was that the state of Texas had, in 2000, released a statement indicating that it would not object to death penalty appeals made on the basis of this exact expert’s testimony (notably, all of the other appeals had been based on the prosecution’s use of the “expert,” making the defense’s use of the expert all the more bewildering). Yet, during the argument before the Supreme Court the Solicitor General for Texas tried to distinguish that assurance between cases where the State called the expert versus when the defense had called the expert. That argument didn’t appear to be persuasive, as having your own attorney introduce such racially charged and damaging evidence would certainly seem to support an ineffective assistance of counsel argument. By all accounts the Justices seemed inclined to rule in Buck’s favor, with even Justice Alito commenting that the use of the testimony was “indefensible.” While the arguments and pending decision in Buck are highly relevant to those who work in the defense bar, what was also highly notable about Swarns’ argument in Buck was that it was one of very few occasions that a black woman has argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. Over the history of this country, those attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court have usually been white and usually been men. But this once highly exclusive club is changing, albeit slowly. Diversity in the highest court both on and in front of the bench continues to be an aspirational goal, and Swarns’ argument in October is a great step forward. Christina Swarns is an inspiring example to all female attorneys and attorneys of color desiring to help in the cause of justice. Swarns started out at the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan, and then began dedicating herself to death-penalty work at the capital unit of the Philadelphia Federal Community Defender’s Office. She later joined the Legal Defense Fund, first as Director of the Criminal Justice Project in 2003. In 2014, Swarms became the organization’s Director of Litigation. Swarns is considered a national expert on death penalty and race and speaks throughout the country on the issue. She was profiled in an ABA article titled Lady of Last Chance as well as in the Washington Post. In 2014, Christina was selected by the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School to be an Honorary Fellow in Residence, an honor given to an attorney who makes “significant contributions to the ends of justice at the cost of great personal risk and sacrifice.” Christina Swarns is an attorney whose ongoing dedication to living out a commitment to public service on behalf of defendants makes her a true champion of justice. The post Christina Swarns argues racial bias before U.S. Supreme Court appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Why Voter Fraud Doesn’t Matter, but Allegations of Rigged Elections Do

A lot of accusations get tossed around come election time, and this year has been no exception. Some are old -- accusations of voter fraud have been thrown around for at least a decade and have spawned strict state voter ID statutes. Some are new -- few candidates, if any, have claimed outright that an election is rigged and refused to say they will accept the results of an election if they lose. Both claims sound serious, striking at the heart of our democracy. But the negative effects of one of these charges have been disproven, while the consequences of the other may be right around the corner. The (Mostly) Myth of Voter Fraud The claim goes something like this: unscrupulous voters could register to vote in more than one place, vote in districts where they don't live, vote more than once, or provide false information to election officials. And as Justin Levitt noted in the Washington Times, this can be a real concern: "This sort of misdirection is pretty common, actually. Election fraud happens ... Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam." And then there's pretending to be someone else at the polls, which Levitt describes as a "clunky way to steal an election." Levitt began tracking allegations of voter fraud, and looked at "general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014," a data set containing at least 1 billion ballots. And in all, found just 31 specific, credible allegations of voter fraud at the polls. To put that number in context, all 31 of those votes would not have been enough to swing the state of Florida for Al Gore in the 2000 election. As Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., put it, "You're more likely to get struck by lightning in Texas than to find any kind of voter fraud." The Very Real Voter ID Law Response In response to allegations of voter fraud -- or for more sinister reasons that courts have touched on below -- some states began passing voter ID laws requiring voters to present some form of identification at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Voter ID laws can vary from state to state, from strict photo ID requirements in some states to no ID requirement at all in others. In general, courts have upheld these requirements. In 2008, the Supreme Court looked at Indiana's ID law that required a person to present a U.S. or Indiana ID in order to cast a ballot. (Voters without a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot, and had to visit a designated government office within 10 days with a photo ID or a signed statement saying they cannot afford one in order to have their votes counted.) The Court found the law constitutional, even though the state failed to produce any evidence of the kind of fraud the law was passed to prohibit. But some courts have started to push back on overly restrictive ID laws. The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down North Carolina's voter identification requirement, but for reasons that may be unique to the state. Along with requiring photo ID in order to vote, the North Carolina law also abolished same-day voter registration and ended preregistration. But it wasn't just the text of the law that the court had a problem with -- it was the context: ... the General Assembly enacted [the laws] in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting. The district court clearly erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence, all of which supports a finding of discriminatory intent. Because the law was passed with discriminatory intent, the court ruled it invalid. Given the near absence of any in-person voter fraud, it's fair to wonder whether these voter ID laws accomplish the goal of preventing fraud, and, if not, what they actually do prevent. Critics of the laws point to a disparate impact on minority and senior voters -- those less likely to have an ID -- and many believe voter ID laws were passed with that purpose in mind. The Fourth Circuit felt the same in its opinion on North Carolina's ID law: "Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices" the court noted. The state's General Assembly then acted on that data in multiple ways, "all of which disproportionately affected African Americans." The Dangerous Allegation of Election Rigging Since August, Donald Trump has been suggesting that the "election is going to be rigged." And the type of fraud he's alleging -- "People are going to walk in and they're going to vote 10 times, maybe, who knows?" -- is exactly the kind that voter ID laws are intended to stop and the kind that happens just 31 times in fourteen years. But the fact that an election can't be rigged or could not effectively be swayed in the way Trump imagines doesn't make his claims any less serious. The legitimacy of any representative democracy is the belief that the government officials selected to represent the people were chosen fairly, and that their presence in government is the will of their constituency. To suggest a rigged election, or a corrupt election process, is to undermine that legitimacy. Absent the legitimacy of elected officials, the laws they enact and represent also lose their legitimacy. And, according to recent psychological studies, the perceived legitimacy of law effects whether people follow it or not: ... people who respond to the moral appropriateness of different laws may (for example) use drugs or engage in illegal sexual practices, feeling that these crimes are not immoral, but at the same time will refrain from stealing. Similarly, if they regard legal authorities as more legitimate, they are less likely to break any laws, for they will believe that they ought to follow all of them, regardless of the potential for punishment. Delegitimizing the election's process and results can have dangerous consequences, both during and after the election. ...
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Dismissal of FedEx Criminal Charges Should Embolden Corporate Defendants

When the federal government alleges or investigates criminal conduct against a corporation, it is rare for the corporation to put up a sustained fight against the allegations. Because the government can seem to have leverage to affect the public image and investor perceptions on corporations, those corporations often want to resolve criminal investigations before charges are ever brought and even before the criminal investigation is ever made public. In many cases, attorneys representing the corporation cooperate with the government from the outset of the investigation. And if the criminal investigation is made public, any criminal issues are resolved through either a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA), a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), or the company pleading to an agreed upon Information and penalties. Prior to such an agreement, companies and their outside counsel often conduct their own internal investigations and hand over evidence gathered and legal conclusions directly to the federal government in the hopes that the government will not bring criminal charges, or at the very least agree to a reduced penalty, based on this cooperation. With this atmosphere, the officers and directors of a corporate defendant may wonder how it is possible to provide the federal government with all the evidence it needs to make its case while at the same time defending itself. And even when the government compiles its own evidence many companies decide that it is far too risky or costly (it is unclear if this is true considering that companies rarely test this belief) to go to trial to defend themselves, and so opt to settle with the government rather than put up a fight. What has resulted is an environment where evidence and theories of prosecution remain unchecked and unchallenged. Anyone can champion a winning theory or positive summary of their evidence in a conference room – where it matters is in the courtroom. So it came as a refreshing change of pace when FedEx chose to fight criminal charges brought against it for its alleged role in delivering pharmaceuticals illegally prescribed through online pharmacies. FedEx faced potential criminal fines of $1.6 billion but had the courage to require the Department of Justice to prove its case in the courtroom. It also came as no surprise that when gearing up to fight the charges, Fedex retained an attorney known as a fierce defender, Cris Arguedas, of Arguedas, Cassman & Headley, LLP. Arguedas and the defense team won their first major victory in March of this year when the judge dismissed many counts because the prosecutors charged the wrong entities and the statute of limitations limited their ability to amend the charges. The parties agreed to a bench trial before United States District Judge Charles Breyer for the Northern District of California which started June 13th. After only a few days into the trial, the prosecutors dismissed all remaining charges against FedEx, giving the company and Arguedas a major and well-deserved victory. What does this mean for the future of corporate criminal investigations and cases? I personally hope it will serve as a wakeup call to other corporations. I have often wondered what would happen if all corporations and outside counsel just refused to continue conducting internal investigations on behalf of the federal government. The system would collapse as we know it, because there simply aren’t enough prosecutors and investigators to support it. The federal government has done a masterful job of outsourcing investigations to the private sector and the loser is not only the corporation, but all citizens. Our system is at its best when it is adversarial. That is what our constitution intends. That means that evidence is challenged and tested. That means the government has the burden to introduce its own evidence and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has taken place. But, instead, what has developed over time is a government who acts like an emboldened bully, forcing corporations to hire outside counsel to do its work for them and assume a non-adversarial posture for fear of losing cooperation credit. It’s time that more and more companies stand up to the bully in the room – thankfully we still have companies like FedEx and attorneys like Cris Arguedas who are willing to do just that. The post Dismissal of FedEx Criminal Charges Should Embolden Corporate Defendants appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Oklahoma Bill Punishing Doctors for Abortions Vetoed

Last week, Oklahoma's governor vetoed a bill that would have made it a felony, punishable by three years in prison, for doctors to provide abortions. Republican Governor Mary Fallin said the bill would not survive constitutional challenges, Reuters reports, and abortion rights groups had already promised to fight it hard. The Oklahoma bill would have revoked medical licenses for doctors who performed abortions, but did make allowances for the procedure under certain medical circumstances to save a mother's life. The governor, who is considered staunchly anti-abortion, complained in a statement that the bill was too vague and ambiguous. Constitutionally Challenged The controversial legislation proposed to criminalize abortions and strip doctors of their medical licenses for performing them. Although Oklahoma would not have been the first state to try to ban abortion despite the US Supreme Court's holding in Roe v. Wade in 1973 legalizing it, this proposed legislation was unique insofar as it relied on doctors' professional code of conduct. If the bill had not been vetoed by Governor Fallin, Oklahoma would have become the first state to use professional conduct codes to, basically, ban abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It seems that Oklahoma sought to make performing an abortion a violation of medical ethics punishable as a felony with prison time and loss of a license, with the charge hinging on the conduct codes. But the bill did not pass because, Governor Fallin said, it's insufficiently clear. "The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered 'necessary to preserve the life of the mother,'" Fallin said in a statement, Reuters reports. Costly Lawsuits It is believed that Fallin vetoed the bill in part because it was sure to bring battles, and Oklahoma can't afford that. The cash-strapped state is already ailing and this law would have led to lawsuits promised by abortion rights groups. They seem pleased with the decision to veto the measure. "Governor Fallin did the right thing today in vetoing this utterly unconstitutional and dangerous bill," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group. But this is probably just a momentary reprieve, and the fight over abortion rights is likely to continue in Oklahoma. Reportedly the state has been a leader in increasing restrictions on abortion since Governor Fallin took office in 2011. In the words of Think Progress, Governor Fallin "has rarely met an abortion restriction she didn't like." Related Resources: Abortion Laws (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) After Roe v. Wade (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Birth Control and the Law Basics (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Abortion Rights FAQ (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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Top 9 Search and Seizure Questions

Now that the FBI has been caught bugging two California courthouses, many people are wondering about the limits of police surveillance. Recording conversations falls under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures." So what's considered unreasonable? It's been a long time since the Constitution was written, and society and technology have changed quite a bit since then. Here are some of the limits of police search and seizure today: 1. Valid Search Warrant? 3 Things to Look For If police have a warrant, the search or seizure will almost always be reasonable. But how do you know if the warrant is legit? 2. When Are Warrantless Searches OK? While police need a warrant to search, seize, or conduct surveillance in most instances, there are quite a few exceptions to the warrant requirement. 3. Can Police Read or Search Through Your Mail? The privacy of written communication was one of the leading interests behind the Fourth Amendment. But it only protects the contents of the letter, and only until you throw it away. 4. Legal for Police to Read My Text Messages? State law on electronic searches can vary, and many allow searches of cell phones if you've been arrested, but the Supreme Court has ruled that police will need a warrant to do so. 5. When Can Police Search Your Home? Police almost always need a warrant to search your home, but can come in without one if you give them permission, if they see something in plain sight, if you've been arrested at home, or there's an emergency. 6. Can My Home Be Searched If I'm on Parole or Probation? Some states require that parolees and probationers sign an agreement giving officers permission to search their homes for contraband. 7. Is it Legal to Search Based on The Smell of Marijuana? Is every officer a K-9? It may depend on whether police smell marijuana in your house or in your car. 8. Can Police Follow You Without a Warrant? What if cops are really searching you, but just keeping an eye on you? What kind of surveillance requires a warrant? 9. When Can Police Conduct a Strip Search? Strip searches and cavity searches are extremely invasive and can be humiliating and embarrassing as well. But they are allowed in some cases. In most cases, if police perform an illegal search or seizure, that evidence can't be used against you. To find out if a particular search was legal, you should ask an experienced criminal defense attorney about your case. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What are my Rights During a Traffic Stop? (FindLaw Blotter) Can Cops Pose as Cable Repairmen and Search My Home? (FindLaw Blotter) Wrongful Arrest? ...
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Can the President Bypass Congress on Gun Control?

Gun control advocates have long sought to close the so-called gun show loophole that allows people to buy firearms without submitting to the same background check requirements imposed on licensed dealers. But congressional attempts at passing such legislation have thus far been fruitless. So President Barack Obama may decide to take matters into his own hands. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Obama administration is considering the use of an executive order to expand background checks on gun sales. How do these orders work? And can the president really pass gun control laws without congressional approval? Going Solo It's no secret that Obama wants stricter gun controls. The president pushed for expanded background checks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting three years ago, but that legislation died in the Senate. He tried again after the Umpqua Community College shooting in October, but measures for more background checks and bans on sales to people on the government's anti-terrorist "no fly" list both failed. Now the White House is looking to circumvent the legislature altogether. According to reports, officials have been working on an executive order that would use existing laws to require all (or nearly all) gun purchases to be cleared by the same background check system.While the order has not been finalized, Obama is said to be looking at expanding license requirements by defining what it means to be "in the business" of dealing guns -- those deemed in the business are required to perform background checks while those that aren't don't. If occasional sellers like those at gun shows are required to obtain a license to sell firearms it would also expand background check requirements. Chief Executive Order Leaving to one side the question of whether tougher gun control laws will lead to fewer shooting deaths (even though evidence suggests that they do), the issue becomes whether this exercise of presidential power is even legal. An executive order is a policy statement that interprets and directs the implementation of existing federal statutes, congressional provisions, or treaties. Executive orders aren't so much new laws as they are changing or clarifying the policy on existing laws, and generally aren't used without some congressional approval. And executive orders are still subject to judicial review for constitutionality. Hence Obama's delay in formally announcing or implementing an executive order on gun control. Despite his desire to make it more difficult for violent people to purchase firearms, drafting an order that will accomplish that and appease enough congresspeople to be successfully implemented may prove as politically intractable as the legislature. Related Resources: Obama Looks to Expand Background Checks for Gun Sales (Time) Obama's Gun Proposals Target Mental Health Too (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Will Obama's Executive Order on Student Loans Pay Off for You? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Obama's Executive Order on Immigration: 5 Things You Should Know (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Legal Options for Marijuana Users Convicted Before Decriminalization

Before states passed laws decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, thousands of people were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail for possession. For many who were convicted for marijuana possessions, their crime is no longer a crime under new state laws, which allow adults to possess a small amount of marijuana. However, those already convicted are still in prison serving sentences for outdated law. Is there any legal recourse for those who were convicted before marijuana possession became legal? Ex Post Facto Laws Are Prohibited Under Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, ex post facto laws are prohibited. An ex post facto law is "a law that retroactively alters a defendant's rights especially by criminalizing and imposing punishment for an act that was not criminal or punishable at the time it was committed, but increasing the severity of a crime ... by increasing the punishment for a crime ... or by taking away from the protections afforded the defendant." So, laws cannot be applied retroactively to convict you of a crime that wasn't a crime when you committed it. Retroactive Amelioration Relief Similarly, a new law decriminalizing a crime cannot be used to decrease or end a conviction that occurred prior to the new law's passage, unless the law has a retroactive amelioration clause. For example, California passed Proposition 36 to amend the three strikes law to impose life sentence only when a third felony conviction is serious or violent. Before the amendment, many were sentenced to life in prison for non-violent crimes. The change wouldn't lessen their sentence. However, Proposition 36 also allowed courts to re-sentence offenders currently serving life sentences for non-violent third strike convictions. Proposition 36 allowed for retroactive ameliorative relief. Applying for a Pardon Unlike California's Proposition 36, Colorado and Washington laws decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana possession do not have any retroactive amelioration clauses. Instead, current convicts may be able to get relief by applying for a pardon from their state's governor. Applying for and receiving a pardon is a very hard process and a rare success. If you need help applying for a pardon, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Georgia Legalizes Medical Marijuana: A Roundup (FindLaw's Blotter) Under D.C.'s Recreational Marijuana Law, What's Legal, What's Not? (FindLaw's Blotter) Is it Legal to Search Based on The Smell of Marijuana? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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