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Prior Bad Acts: Who Can Testify in Bill Cosby’s Criminal Trial?

Bill Cosby is the elder statesman of American comedy whose life has turned into a bad drama, now including a criminal case. Next month, Cosby will return to criminal court in Pennsylvania for pretrial proceedings on three charges of felony indecent assault of Barbara Constand and faces ten years in prison if convicted. Despite the dozens of accusations of abuse that have surfaced from women all over the country, this is Cosby's first criminal prosecution. The case was filed just two days before the 12-year statute of limitations on such claims in Pennsylvania expired, according to USA Today. It raises many interesting legal questions, all complex. Today, let's consider prior bad acts and whether Cosby's other accusers can testify against him. Prior Bad Acts Generally speaking, a crime cannot be proven based on a defendant's behavior in other situations. While a criminal record informs sentencing, each crime must be proven based on the facts of the case at hand and not based on evidence of similar acts in the past . But for every rule in the law, there are important exceptions because a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. That is to say, sometimes it makes sense to consider external evidence if it is highly relevant to the matter at hand. In a case like this one, where there are about 50 women saying that Cosby drugged and touched them without their consent, the prosecution will no doubt argue that it's relevant. Prosecutors will seek to admit evidence from other women whose stories are consistent with Constand's. To the extent that there are questions about the alleged victim's credibility because she waited a year to report the crime and thus there is no physical evidence, a slew of witnesses telling the same story would certainly support her claim that Cosby drugged and touched her against her will. Admitting the Evidence Admitting evidence of prior bad acts is not a given, however. The defense will no doubt fight it, relying on precedent to show that the stories would not be considered consistent evidence. The burden of proof on prosecutors is high -- they must show the evidence is more relevant than prejudicial. Dennis McAndrews, a former prosecutor, who teaches criminal law at Villanova University explained to reporters, according to USA Today: "It's very challenging because courts are reluctant. They hold the prosecution to a tight burden to establish that (the testimony) is highly relevant, that the facts of other cases are close to the case (on trial), and that the probative value significantly outweighs the prejudicial effect." In light of this, it is not yet clear that the judge will allow the testimony of other women to prove Bill Cosby assaulted Barbara Constand, But it's certain the Cosby's defense lawyers will challenge admission of that evidence at every turn. If he is convicted, admission of prior bad acts will be a major issue in the inevitable appeal. Accused? If you have been accused of a crime, don't delay. Meet with a criminal defense attorney today. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your case. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Cosby Counterclaims Against 7 Accusers (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Cosby Complains in Court: Insurers Threaten Defamation Claim (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Model Drops Playboy Assault Case Against Cosby (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Janice Dickinson Sues Bill Cosby for Defamation (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
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Arresting Officer in Freddie Gray Case Found Not Guilty

Baltimore policeman Edward Nero, implicated in the death of Freddie Gray last year, was found not guilty of all criminal charges. Nero was tried before a judge and is the second officer of six charged to stand trial for Gray's death. But Nero is the first to resolve his case, according to Slate. A trial last year for Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury and the case will be tried again. Perhaps informed by Porter's experience, Nero opted for a bench trial, meaning this case was argued before a judge only and not a jury. It was a good choice for him, considering he was found not guilty. The State's Arguments The judge reportedly accepted Officer Nero's defense and was said to be unconvinced by the state's case throughout the five-day trial. His hesitation may have stemmed from the state's arguments, which essentially blamed Nero for his involvement in an arrest with no probable cause and called for judicial scrutiny of day-to-day policing. Prosecutors said Nero, who was on bike patrol and asked to chase Gray, should not have aided in the arrest without inquiring as to the circumstances. Nero should have asked why his fellow officers were chasing Freddy Gray, rather than just following orders and going after the fleeing suspect, the state argued. But Judge Barry Williams was not buying it. According to Slate, he "made [that] abundantly clear ... at one point asking Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe whether she was suggesting that every time there is an arrest without probable cause, it is a crime." The Defense's Arguments The defense argued that Nero had a limited role in the arrest and did not arrest or cuff Gray. Judge Williams apparently accepted this, in part based on witness testimony corroborating the claim that Nero did not contribute as much to Gray's arrest as other officers. Next Up Another officer is scheduled to stand trial next month, on June 6, and there are four more cases to resolve after that. The Baltimore Police Department issued a statement after Nero's case concluded today, saying he will remain under internal investigation and on administrative duties until all of the officers implicated in Freddie Gray's death have resolved their criminal cases. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Can You Choose Not to Have a Jury Trial? (FindLaw Blotter) 4 Updates on Recent Police Shootings (FindLaw Blotter) What Are the Charges in the Freddie Gray Cases? (FindLaw Blotter) First Freddie Gray Death Case Ends in in Mistrial (FindLaw Blotter)
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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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Repo Gone Wrong Ends in Manslaughter Charges

Would you die to save your car from a repo agent? That is what happened this week when a woman in Pleasant Grove, Utah crashed her vehicle during a high speed chase — she was trying to get away from a man who came to her door to repossess the vehicle. Now Ashleigh Best, 35, is dead, and Kenneth Drew, 49, is in jail on manslaughter charges. He denies driving Best to her death, reports the Daily Mail. Let’s consider this tragic accident and the legal limits on repossession. Mother Under Pressure Ashleigh Best was under pressure. It seems life in Pleasant Grove was not all pleasant. The mother of three was living with her husband and family at her parents’ house in order to get their finances together. When Kenneth Drew came knocking on the door to repossess the car, her husband begged Drew to wait and let him call the bank. The repo man reportedly said no and Ashleigh Best drove off in the car, hoping to save it from him. Drew gave chase, though the repo man denies he drove at high speeds, and Best crashed her car into a tree. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The company Drew works for, On Demand Repo, stated that its policy is not to chase people. As for their agent, they said Drew didn’t have a mean bone in his body and asked that people wait until the investigation concludes before deciding what happened. Pleasant Grove Police Lieutenant Britt Smith, however, told reporters, “I’ve never, in my 15 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen a repo agent be this aggressive. I’ve never seen anything like it. It doesn’t justify chasing her down through the roads, city streets, at high rates of speeds, causing fatal traffic accidents. The end doesn’t justify the means.” Repossession Rules Smith’s statement raises the question — just how aggressive can a repo agent be? The rules for repossession depend on state statutes and these vary in the details. Some states require agents to notify police of any actions they will take. Others outline specific methods of approach. No state permits a breach of the peace. There are limitations on agents and that they cannot break the law in order to repossess property. Still, On Demand Repo also makes an important point, and one which is the cornerstone of criminal law. Kenneth Drew is accused of manslaughter, but he has not been proven guilty of causing the fatal accident. For now at least, he is innocent. Accused? If you are accused of a crime, don’t delay in getting legal advice. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk about your case. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw’s Lawyer Directory) The Rich Aren’t That Different: They Have Repo Men Too (FindLaw’s Legally Weird) 3 Potential Ways to Sue a Repo Agent (FindLaw’s Injured) How to Get a Repossessed Car Back (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
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What Can and Cannot Be Expunged From Your Criminal Record?

It's welcome news to many criminal defendants that they can have their record expunged. While expungement might not be perfect -- most law enforcement agencies will still be able to see your arrest history and any convictions -- it means potential employers will have a harder time seeing your mistakes. But which mistakes are eligible for expungement, and which will remain on your permanent record? General Information For the most part, expungement eligibility is determined by the severity of the crime and the person's criminal record. State law can vary, but expungement is normally available for crimes committed as a juvenile and most misdemeanors, so long as you don't have an extensive criminal history. Also, expungement is usually a one-time deal -- if you're convicted of crimes committed after expungement, those are likely to stay on your record. Arresting Information Just because you've been arrested doesn't mean you're guilty. But a record of your arrest may pop up on a background check. Luckily most states will expunge an arrest record, especially if there was no conviction. And expungement can be part of a negotiated plea bargain. Getting rid of that online mug shot, however, might be a tougher task. Conviction Information If you've been convicted of a crime, whether you can clear your record will come down to state and local rules on expungement. Some states allow you to expunge a DUI conviction, some do not. This can come up especially if you're trying to expunge an out-of-state conviction. And some states are more likely to expunge a conviction after a certain amount of time has passed. No matter where you live, however, felony convictions are very difficult, if not impossible, to get expunged. The main criteria for most expungement decisions is the severity and nature of the event for which expungement is sought. Felony convictions normally involve more serious crimes, making them harder to get off your record. The expungement process can be complicated, and it certainly helps to have an experienced criminal law attorney on your side. If you have questions about your criminal record or want to have it expunged, contact one today. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) The FindLaw Guide to Expungement (FindLaw PDF) Got Priors? How to Expunge Criminal Records (FindLaw Blotter) When Must You Disclose an Expungement? (FindLaw Blotter)
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How to Choose a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you're accused of a crime, you need a good criminal defense lawyer. But good doesn't come in one style, and what you need will depend on you and the specifics of your case. There are all kinds of counselors with different effective approaches to defense. People pick attorneys based on reputation, experience, word-of-mouth, price, advertising, the feeling they get when meeting counsel, and more. Here are some general principles to consider so you know what to look for when exchanging with defense counsel and deciding about representation. No Accounting for Taste There are many lawyering styles from the aggressive attorney to the zealous defender. Some lawyers are soft-spoken and persuasive, some are charming arguers, others are tenacious and creative and can find a solution where other attorneys see none. The lawyer for you depends on who you are and what your criminal case involves. An articulate attorney is key, however. You need to be able to talk to your lawyer and understand what they are saying and doing for you, even if it's through a language interpreter. Is the person inspiring confidence in you or do you feel like you're being hustled? Do you feel comfortable being represented by this individual based on how they speak and their apparent understanding of the issues? You will have to talk about difficult matters with a lawyer so don't go with someone who is a bully or in a big hurry because they seem slick. Really think about this relationship. It can mean a lot in your life. If, for example, you also have immigration or other legal matters pending, alert the attorney. Lay out all the possible concerns to get good guidance. Assessing Experience When it comes to deciding how much experience is right, this too depends on you. What you need is a dedicated attorney and one willing to work for the best resolution possible in light of your life. Some new attorneys are very good and some old ones have bad habits and vice versa. Look for someone who lays out multiple options or promises to do more research, for example. If the attorney starts by quoting a price and saying you likely have to plead guilty, proceed with caution. A defense attorney works for you. Sometimes that means telling you hard truths but you need explanations of process and some options, not another prosecutor. Consult With Counsel If you're accused of a crime, talk to a few lawyers. Call a few offices and find out what you can. Make an appointment with the lawyers that seem most promising. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk about your case. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What to Look for in a Criminal Defense Attorney (FindLaw Blotter) How Much Does a Criminal defense Attorney Cost? (FindLaw Blotter) 5 Questions for Your Criminal Defense Attorney (FindLaw Blotter)
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Do I Have to Disclose My Criminal Record on Housing Applications?

Living with a criminal record isn't easy. It's harder to get a job and get into college, and a criminal conviction may even get you kicked off American Idol. All jokes aside, housing is one of our most basic needs, so can landlords refuse to rent to people with a criminal record? And do you have to explain a criminal conviction on a housing application? Public Housing While federal and state public housing authorities may not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, etc., they can absolutely consider criminal records when renting public housing. They can also consider new criminal convictions when deciding whether to evict an existing tenant. The only requirement is that public housing authorities provide a copy of the criminal record to the tenant or subject of the eviction notice. At that point, the tenant can dispute the accuracy of the record at a grievance hearing or a trial. Private Rentals Private landlords generally have more leeway when screening potential tenants, but in this case, state law may limit landlord actions. While landlords can refuse to rent to someone because of a criminal conviction, some states (like New York) prohibit landlords of buildings containing four or more apartments from having a blanket policy against renting to anyone with a criminal record. Make sure you're familiar with your state's laws on leases and rental agreements. Expungement One way of avoiding having to disclose a prior conviction is to get your criminal record expunged. Expungement rules vary from state to state, but generally an expungement will remove your criminal history from public view. If you are able to get your record expunged, a potential landlord won't be able to see your criminal history, and you won't need to disclose prior convictions or the expungement. If you've been denied housing due to your criminal record, you may want to talk to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area. Related Resources: Browse Landlord-Tenant Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Do I Have to Hire a Felon? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise) Fair Housing Laws, Complaints, and Lawsuits (FindLaw) How to Get an Online Mug Shot Removed (FindLaw Blotter)
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