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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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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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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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Sara Kropf Wins Inspiring Not Guilty Verdict for Protester Client in D.C. Street Riot Case

Just before year-end, Sara Kropf and her client got the best holiday gift ever –  an acquittal of all charges.  Sara, a Washington, D.C. defense attorney, was representing a street medic charged with rioting and destruction of property stemming from protests held during President Trump’s January 20, 2017 inauguration. Noting that her client attended the protests armed with bandages, Sara was quoted by Washington’s Tops News as stating, “According to the government, showing up with a fanny pack with Band Aids… is equivalent to the people who smashed the Starbucks window.” Sara’s inspirational closing argument was featured in news articles around the world.  A Washington Post article said Sara focused on a police radio report where a commander identified the demonstrators as “anarchists” and quoted her as stating“[t]his is about politics,” before the six-person D.C. Superior Court jury acquitted all the defendants on the felony charges on December 21. “This is about police and local prosecutors who work for the Department of Justice. And we know who they report to,” she said, referring to President Trump. The defendants included a nurse, a freelance photographer and a college student who were among more than 200 protesters arrested in a police round-up northeast of the White House. During the daylong protest, vandals had caused an estimated $100,000 in property damage, according to the government. Eventually, prosecutors charged 212 people in connection with the protests. Twenty pleaded guilty, and charges were dropped against another 20. In this case, federal prosecutors failed to link the six defendants with any violent or destructive acts. Instead, they argued that they had “provided cover” for the vandalism – an argument immediately challenged by Kropf and her colleagues on the defense side.  For example, they showed that the social media posts and “likes” of a detective who was one of the government’s key witnesses were critical of social protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. They also noted that the commanding officer of the police did not give a dispersal order to the protesters before encircling and arresting them – contrary to the department’s standard procedure. Most importantly, the defense attorneys pointed out that there was no evidence that any of the six participants had broken windows, caused property damage or encouraged others to commit illegal acts. Even before the government presented the case to the jury, Judge Lynn Leibovitz threw out the most serious charge – inciting a riot.  However, it took two full days of deliberations after the nearly four-week trial before the not guilty verdicts were delivered. As Kropf said in her closing, “All the government proved was that these individuals showed up and walked as protesters. And that is not a crime.”  We will always need lawyers and citizens willing to stand up against government over-reach. That is what happened here. What a courageous victory for both Sara Kropf and her client.  Huge congrats! The post Sara Kropf Wins Inspiring Not Guilty Verdict for Protester Client in D.C. Street Riot Case appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Teen Arrested for Throwing Kitten in Water, Joking About Abuse

There seem to be a lot of videos of animals doing cute or funny things on the internet these days. Unfortunately, that's not the case in one video that was posted on social media. The video is of Garratt Haile throwing a kitten into a body of water while joking about it. Shot about a year ago, it was recently shared on social media, at which point several people contacted the police, and Haile was arrested. Animal Abuse and the Law While it seems pretty clear that Haile's conduct constitutes animal abuse, it's important to note that animal abuse laws vary by state. However, animal abuse generally includes both intentionally hurting an animal and neglecting an animal. Many states treat animal abuse as a fairly serious crime, although there are a few that have weak animal abuse laws. Since the teen was arrested in California, let's take a look at California's laws on animal abuse. California Animal Abuse Laws California Penal Code Section 597 defines animal abuse as "maliciously and intentionally" torturing, maiming, mutilating, wounding, or killing an animal. This section also prohibits overworking an animal and depriving an animal of food, water, or shelter. Violation of this statute can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, and can result in imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $20,000.The statute doesn't provide much guidance on when animal abuse is charged as a felony versus when it's charged as a misdemeanor; however, it's safe to assume that the degree of abuse is what determines how to charge someone. In Haile's case, he has been charged with felony animal cruelty. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What Is Considered Animal Cruelty Under the Law? (FindLaw's Blotter) Is It Legal to Hit Your Pets? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Are There Any Defenses to an Animal Cruelty Charge? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Ohio Lethal Injection Execution Method Ruled Constitutional

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of Ohio's lethal injection protocol. In a unanimous ruling, a three judge panel upheld the district court's previous decision denying death-row inmates Raymond Tibbetts and Alva Campbell their request to enjoin their pending executions. It's the latest case in a string of stories concerning the state's method of execution. Ohio's Death Penalty Drama The Buckeye State's execution protocol has been a recurring news item. In November 2017, the state's attempted execution of Alva Campbell (one of the plaintiffs here) was cancelled when prison officials couldn't find a vein to inject the lethal mixture of drugs. Campbell was sentenced to death in 1998 after killing 18-year-old Charles Dials during a jail break attempt. Campbell's legal team has also requested execution by firing squad on numerous occasions, a request that state officials are (extremely) unlikely to grant. According to the state's current execution schedule, Raymond Tibbets's execution will occur next week, on February 13th, 2018. That's a date subject to change, however, as eleventh hour postponements are common. Tibbetts was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of his wife and landlord in 1997. Death Penalty and the Law State death penalty cases are among the most heavily-litigated cases. Trials commonly take years, appeals generally go through state and federal courts for decades, and last minute stay requests or clemency petitions are common. Challenges to the method of execution as violating the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause have been common in recent years. An approaching execution is a common time for reigniting America's long-running debate over the wisdom -- and constitutionality -- of capital punishment. Related Resources In re Ohio Execution Protocol Litigation (FindLaw's Cases and Codes) Appeals Court Say Ohio Lethal Injection Execution Method Constitutional (Cleveland.com) Ohio May Give Botched Execution Another Try (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Elon Musk Sells Flamethrowers: Are They Legal to Own?

Watch out for flamethrower bearing BBQers this summer. Elon Musk, the attention-grabbing entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, has fired up Twitter and legions of his loyal followers with a brand-spanking new toy -- a commercially available flamethrower. The Future Is Flamethrower? Musk's flamethrower has already become a hit. Pre-sales have quickly sold out online. There's no word about future flamethrowers hitting the market, so this might be a gag gift or the start of a new trend. But it raises interesting legal questions which, yes, we're here to blog about. It's Easier to Buy a Flamethrower Than a Gun You might be surprised to learn that only two states regulate flamethrowers. California requires flamethrower users and buyers to have a permit, while Maryland bans them entirely. But you shouldn't be too surprised. There's never been a wave of flamethrower-related violence to spur states and Congress to enact flamethrower laws. Hence their absence. All flamethrowers will ship with a complimentary boring fire extinguisher February 1, 2018 That might change soon, however. California is already rumbling about a ban on flamethrower sales, and we'd expect other states to follow if necessary. Use Your Flamethrower Wisely What's always prohibited are crimes -- no matter what's used to commit them. Most criminal laws criminalize actions - murder, kidnapping, assault, etc. -- and "add on" counts or prison time for using prohibited items. ELON I BOUGHT 6 FLAMETHROWERS NOW THE TSA IS TELLING ME I'M ON SOME SORT OF WATCHLIST?!? WHAT HAVE I DONE PLEASE HELP February 1, 2018 Those definitions are flexible: a car can be deadly weapon, as can be a surgeon's hands. A flamethrower might pose an interesting case for an appellate court someday, but it's not something we'd expect to be a winning argument. Related Resources Find Your Lawyer (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Is It Legal to Own a Flamethrower? (lifehacker.com) Flamethrower Drone Draws Government Ire. Can the FAA Regulate? (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)
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