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Worst Legal Mistakes Parents Can Make in Divorce

Divorce can be hard on anyone. And when you add children into the equation, the process can only get more emotionally and legally challenging. Dealing with custody, support, and yes, even tax issues on top of an already difficult divorce can lead even the best parents to make some bad decisions. Here are a few of the worst legal decisions you can make during a divorce and how to avoid them. 1. Not Respecting Child Custody Decisions and Guidelines You may not trust your ex or the courts to do the right thing, but, unfortunately, you must respect any legal rulings regarding child custody and your former spouse's parental rights. Failure to do so may amount to parental kidnapping, and could mean losing what visitation can custody rights you do have. (And, just as importantly, make sure you pay child support if the court orders it.) 2. Not Following Marital Property Decisions How your property gets divided in the divorce will often come down to where you live and the circumstances of ownership before, during, and after the divorce. You may not lose exactly half of everything you own, but be prepared for a split that will generally try to leave both parents equally well off. Things can get tricky regard the home and the family car, but divorcing parents are usually allowed to construct a fair property split agreement on their own. 3. Dragging Your Ex on Social Media No, that's not a misprint -- "dragging" in this sense means disrespecting someone online. And what happens on social media tends to stay on social media, forever. Meaning that the mean things you post about your former spouse or soon-to-be ex on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else online will be visible to everyone from your kids to the court. So follow some simple rules for social media use during a divorce and keep those arguments offline and IRL. 4. Not Clearing Up Who Gets to Claim Children Come Tax Time The easy part: Only one parent can claim a child as a dependent on their taxes. Now comes the hard part: which of you will do it? And what if you have multiple children? If this sounds like a simple or inconsequential question, think again. The IRS takes dependency claims seriously and will punish parents for doing it wrong. 5. Not Hiring a Lawyer The legal ins and outs of divorce are always complex, and getting divorced with children will only make it more complicated. Make sure you find a divorce lawyer that you trust to protect your parental and legal rights. Related Resources: Dealing with a divorce? Get your case reviewed for free now. (Consumer Injury - Family) Top 5 Parenting Tips During Divorce (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 10 Common Divorce Mistakes to Avoid (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Top 5 Marital Property Questions During a Divorce (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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College Students Arrested Allegedly Selling Xanax to Undercover Officers

Four college students at DePaul University in Chicago have been arrested for selling over 100 Xanax pills to undercover officers. The sales occurred on four separate occasions, for various quantities and prices, over the last few weeks. While Xanax is commonly used to help individuals with serious anxiety or other mental health issues, the drug is also sought after by recreational users. Despite the fact that it is legally available to individuals with a prescription, an individual cannot legally distribute or sell Xanax, or any other prescription drug for that matter, to any other person. Unfortunately for both legal and illegal Xanax users, the drug is reportedly highly addictive, which can lead to severe dependency issues. Selling Prescription Drugs Is Illegal Although individuals can legally purchase prescription drugs if their doctor provides a prescription, without the prescription, it is illegal to buy, or even possess, prescription drugs. This is because prescription drugs are considered controlled substances, similar to the traditionally illegal drugs, like cocaine or heroin. As such, they're regulated by the federal government, as well as state law. Like most state and federal drug laws, penalties for possession and illegal sale of prescription drugs will vary depending on the type and quantity of the drugs involved, as well as the circumstances surrounding the sourcing of the drugs. For instance, if an individual is discovered manufacturing an illegal prescription drug, they could be facing much more severe penalties than for simply possessing, or buying, an illegal prescription. Penalties for Selling Prescription Drugs Since prescription drugs can be legally obtained via a prescription, many times individuals will steal prescription pads in order to get their supply from a legal drug store. However, doing so can result in serious related criminal charges for fraud, or even conspiracy. Also, doctors who are found to be complicit in prescription drug schemes can face censure and serious penalties from medical licensing boards, in addition to serious criminal charges related to drug dealing. For first-time possession offenders, frequently the penalties will not be severe, or rise beyond the level of a misdemeanor. The penalty may not even include any jail time, unless there are extenuating circumstances, like a stolen prescription pad. For first-time distribution offenders, penalties usually will include jail time, and are likely to be charged as a felony. Related Resources: Hit with a drug charge? Have the charges reviewed free. (Consumer Injury - Criminal) If Roommate Sells Drugs, Can You Get Arrested? (FindLaw Blotter) Ice Cream Truck Driver Sold Oxycodone Pills from His Truck (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Drug Trafficking/Distribution (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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How to Keep Your Kids Safe From Sex Offenders on Halloween

For most parents on Halloween, it's not the costumes that scare them. Among the biggest fear that parents have on Halloween is that their child will be abducted or worse. The fear of kidnapping on Halloween seems rational as children are dressed in costume, are out in large numbers (often unsupervised), are out at night, and the whole holiday provides cover for would-be criminals. To help mitigate the concerns of parents, many states and localities have laws regulating the actions of sex offenders during Halloween. In California, for example, sex offenders on parole are required to be at home from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., with any exterior lights turned off, and are not allowed to open their door for anyone except law enforcement. Although laws prohibiting sex offenders from participating in Halloween are not in every state, parents can take other actions to protect their kids. Check the Local Sex Offender Registry While many states have specific laws about sex offenders and Halloween, there are many that do not. Even in states that have laws about this, parents may want to proactively warn their children about which houses to stay away from as most states do not require that sex offenders post "no candy" signs asking people to stay away. In recent years, parents have been utilizing sex offender registries to keep their kids safe on Halloween. Each state has a sex offender registry and database that the public can access via the internet. The databases allow parents to identify where the sex offenders live so that they can advise their children to stay away from those houses. Give Kids a GPS Enabled Cell Phone Some parents may be concerned that simply telling their child to stay away from a house won't actually be enough, or their child won't remember which house. For these parents, letting your child use a GPS enabled cell phone that you can track on a computer or another device can provide much needed peace of mind. Additionally, you can require your child to call or text you to check in every so often, or when they reach certain waypoints, so that you can remind them which houses to skip. For the exceptionally paranoid parent, hiding a GPS tracking device inside your child's costume may be necessary to ease that paranoia for long enough to let your child learn some independence and have some fun. Also, there are several apps that can help you closely monitor your kids while they're out trick-or-treating. Related Resources: Candy or Meth? It May Be Hard to Tell (FindLaw Blotter) Avoid Dangerous, Illegal Halloween Decorations (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 5 Silly Halloween Laws to Make You Scream (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Can You Refuse a CPS Drug Test? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Guest Post: Marjorie Peerce’s Commitment to Clemency Project Should Be an Inspiration to All

Every once in awhile, we meet people who truly inspire us to be better people and better lawyers. Marjorie Peerce is one of those people. As a partner in the New York office of Ballard Spahr she focuses her practice on white collar, regulatory and commercial defense. Yet since 2014, in addition to her busy practice, she has made time to work tirelessly to recruit and train volunteer lawyers to provide free legal assistance to federal inmates who may be eligible to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President of the United States. Over 3,000 attorneys across the country have volunteered their time to work on this project, including 100 lawyers from Ballard Spahr. Every application submitted by Ballard Spahr is reviewed by Marjorie. She recently saw the first fruits of her labor and that of her colleagues when, on March 29, 2016, Obama granted clemency to 61 federal inmates, 25 of whom came through Clemency Project 2014 and two of whom were represented by Ballard Spahr attorneys. To put this in context, on April 23, 2014, former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced the DOJ’s initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President. Under the clemency initiative, the DOJ is prioritizing applications from inmates who meet the following criteria: • Currently serving a federal prison sentence and likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; • Non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels; • Have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence; • Do not have a significant criminal history; • Have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and • Have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment. Approximately 35,000 inmates responded to a Bureau of Prisons questionnaire indicating that they believe they meet the clemency criteria. After the clemency initiative was announced, the Administrative Office of Courts determined that inmates do not have a 6th Amendment right to counsel for the purpose of seeking clemency. As a result, federal money cannot be used to pay attorneys employed by the Federal Defenders or through the Criminal Justice Act to represent inmates under this initiative. In an effort to address the need for federal inmates to obtain legal assistance in submitting clemency applications, Clemency Project 2014 (“CP 2014)” was formed by lawyers from the Federal Defenders, American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”). CP 2014 lawyers screen inmate requests to determine if they meet the clemency criteria, assign a volunteer lawyer to prisoners who appear to qualify, then assist the inmate in filing the clemency request. To date, 250 clemency applications have been granted by the President; approximately 60 of those applications came through CP 2014. I spoke to Marjorie about the two individuals recently granted clemency by the President who had been assisted by Ballard Spahr attorneys. Kevin County, a 43 year old African American, was convicted in New Orleans for selling small amounts of crack cocaine and heroin. Because he had a prior felony conviction, he received a sentence of 20 years (240 months) in prison and has already served 167 months. He was scheduled for release in 2020. Under current law, Mr. County would have been sentenced to 70-80 months in prison. Last week, Marjorie, together with Joanna Jiang and Erica Leatham, the Ballard Spahr attorneys who worked directly with Mr. County, called Mr. County in prison to tell him that he had been granted clemency by the President and would be released in July. Mr. County’s response was simple but powerful: “God bless you! Thank you!” Marjorie spoke to the New York Times after the announcement and praised President Obama for commuting the sentences of 61 federal inmates including Mr. County and stated “[t]he war on drugs from the 1990s resulted in inordinately harsh and long prison sentences for offenders who did not deserve to serve that length of time.” The other Ballard Spahr client, Angela Laplatney, was represented by Ballard’s Salt Lake City office, including Blake Wade and Melanie Clarke, also received a grant of clemency from a 20 year sentence for selling methamphetamine in Wyoming. Ms. Laplatney had served over 10 years of her sentence and was scheduled to be released in 2022. She, like Mr. County, will be released in July. Marjorie is grateful to Ballard Spahr for supporting the work of CP 2014, and noted that “pro bono is ingrained in the DNA of the firm.” She likewise praised the work of her NACDL partners, Jane Anne Murray and Norman Reimer, who serve on CP 2014’s Steering Committee with her, through which they certify that applications submitted through CP 2014 meet the clemency criteria. Marjorie told me that in over 30 years of practicing law, her work with CP 2014 has been “the single best thing” she’s done. She is on a mission to help as many federal inmates as possible who are serving sentences that, under current law, are “obscenely severe.” The recent grants of clemency by the President have further fueled Marjorie’s drive to help these inmates, and there is no doubt that her efforts in recruiting, training, and mentoring volunteer attorneys will pay off and change the lives of people who, until now, have been resigned to spending many more years in prison. Marjorie’s enthusiasm for CP 2014 is contagious. Lawyers who, like Marjorie Peerce, are willing to give up some of their time to work on this project will cherish the rare opportunity to change lives. By: Sharon L. McCarthy Partner, Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP New York, New York The post Guest Post: Marjorie Peerce’s Commitment to Clemency Project Should Be an Inspiration to All appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Cops Track Suspects Using Spotify and Netflix Accounts

Do you think you're being sneaky? Think again. Big Brother is always watching. In the old days, police tracked debit and credit cards to find the bad guys. Now, that most on the run criminals know not to use their credit cards, the authorities have a new tactic. They're tracking your Spotify and Netflix accounts! Mother on the Run In a case of parental kidnapping, Brittany Nunn, of Wellington, Colorado, allegedly abducted her six- and four-year-old daughters, skipping town during a contentious custody dispute with the children's fathers. Nunn and her husband Peter Barr managed to elude authorities for eight months. The family was finally found in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, after the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, with a warrant, tracked Nunn's IP address through her Spotify and Netflix account. Mexican authorities arrested the couple and deported the whole family back to the United States. Nunn and Barr were arrested in Colorado on charges of violation of custody, and the two girls were placed in their fathers' custody. Privacy Rights Are you worried about the government tracking you now? Unless you've committed a crime, you probably don't have to worry. Police need a search warrant to search and track your private accounts. Warrants The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." To search your home or private information, including your Netflix account, police, generally, must have a warrant. To get a warrant, police must show that they have probable cause. Probable cause exists if the facts currently known to the police give them a reasonable belief that a search will reveal relevant evidence. Ideally, warrants specifically describe what will be searched and what police expect to find. According to reports, the Sheriff's Office had a warrant to search and track Nunn's Spotify and Netflix accounts, and the courts don't just give out warrants willy-nilly. Learn from Nunn and Barr's mistake. If you ever do go on the run, leave your credit and debit cards at home and your Spotify and Netflix accounts signed off. Related Resources: Spotify account leads cops to alleged child abductors (Engadget) Valid Search Warrant? 3 Things to Look For (FindLaw's Blotter) Probable Cause (FindLaw's Learn About The Law) Woman Gives Cop Fake Name, Gets Arrested on Warrants (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview with Evan Jenness

Evan Jenness is a criminal defense attorney from Los Angeles, California. For over twenty-five years she has focused her career on defending clients and corporations accused of criminal offenses. She has extensive experience in federal court and focuses primarily on representing clients charged in white-collar matters. Before starting her own firm, she served as a deputy federal defender in Los Angeles. Evan is a past board member of NACDL and is currently co-chair of the Ethics Advisory Committee. She lectures and publishes extensively on both federal criminal defense and ethics. She has been recognized in Best Lawyers in America and Southern California Super Lawyers. Evan has earned a national reputation in the white-collar field and is known and respected as a tenacious advocate with a very strong knowledge of the law. Many years ago, I was introduced to Evan Jenness on a list serve. I remember asking a friend, “Who is that guy posting such intelligent content on the list serve, I save all his posts?” and I was thrilled to learn it was in fact a woman. And as I have been known to say when I am in the company of a true defender….she is the real deal! What do you love most about being a criminal defense lawyer? The challenges of taking on powerful entities and individuals in defending my clients and vindicating their rights.  Victory is easy to love, but I would be a criminal defense lawyer even if I succeeded less often. What is the most significant shift that you have seen for women in criminal defense over the twenty-seven years you have been practicing? There were very few women criminal defense attorneys when I started practicing, and most were junior lawyers.  The first generation of women defenders has now ascended, the second wave is coming of age professionally, and there is a large and increasing community of new female lawyers focusing on criminal defense practice.  It’s been a beautiful evolution to experience. Do you think women bring unique skill and attributes to defending the criminally accused? I’m not sure I could pinpoint specific skills, but I feel confident that women’s participation in the practice area has enhanced the field. Have you had women role models? How has this impacted your career? Women in high profile positions across the spectrum have always been a source of inspiration for me – from influential or powerful ones like Aung San Suu Kyi and Angela Merkel, to the late vocalist Miriam Makeba, who reflected the indefatigable spirit Soweto during Apartheid and thereafter. When I think about succeeding against the odds, I’m often inspired by considering the many women who have succeeded against odds greater than any I encounter. And, of course, there are the many talented women judges and defense attorneys I’ve been privileged to work over the years. What do you think it takes for a woman to succeed in private practice in this field?  A love of the practice and willingness to work hard.  It’s a challenging field and unpredictable circumstances are often the norm – whether it’s a client’s offices being raided in the early morning, investigation surprises, a document dump of tardy discovery right before trial, surprise witnesses, or any of the many other twists and turns of criminal matters.  It’s also still a largely male-dominated practice area.  Maybe some women can successfully transcend the gender barrier, but I’ll never make it into any boys’ club. One positive consequence is the sisterhood that has developed among many women defenders.  I’ve also found that gender is mostly a non-issue with clients, who care more about the quality of their defense than social issues. What advice would you give a young woman who wants to specialize in white-collar defense? Be persistent and take every opportunity that arises for getting a foot in the door. What do you see as the paths to specializing in white-collar defense? Be a public lawyer for a few years, whether a public defender or a prosecutor. What is your proudest moment in representing a client?  The highest profile proud moment that I’ve had was when a jury returned not guilty verdicts across the board for my client following a lengthy federal trial after his corporate employer had pled guilty.  I knew he deserved vindication, but the prosecutors and judge were formidable opponents throughout the case. If you could go back and give yourself one piece of career advice what would it be? ...
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DNA Exonerates 2 Men Wrongfully Convicted of Murder

Three decades after being convicted of raping murdering an 11-year-old girl in North Carolina, two mentally disabled half-brothers have been declared innocent and ordered released from prison. The two men -- one of whom was sentenced to death, the other to life in prison -- were convicted based in large part on confessions that the men claimed were coerced and which they immediately recanted, reports The New York Times. What was the new evidence that finally convinced a judge the two men were telling the truth about their innocence? Post-Conviction Analysis of DNA Evidence Similar to other recent overturned convictions, the convictions of Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown were overturned after DNA analysis of evidence collected during the original investigation implicated another man in the crime. In this case the other man was Roscoe Artis, who, according to The New York Times, lived just a block from where 11-year-old Sabrina Buie's body was found. Artis later admitted to raping and murdering a teenage girl. He was convicted and is now serving life in prison for that crime, but has never been charged in relation to Sabrina Buie's death. Case Previously Cited by U.S. Supreme Court Even before the men's exoneration, their convictions had become newsworthy due to the moral divide over death sentences in cases where the defendants are mentally retarded or challenged. Although the Supreme Court denied review of the case, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Blackmun decried McCollum's death sentence as "unconstitutional" given that McCollum "has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old." Previously, the case had also been cited by Justice Antonin Scalia in his opinion denying certiorari in a different death penalty case, 1994's Callins v. Collins. In his opinion, Scalia described McCollum's death sentence as "enviable" and "a quiet death" compared to the death of Buie. However, now Brown and McCollum's case is equally noteworthy as the latest murder conviction overturned through the use of DNA evidence. According to The New York Times, the men were set to be released from prison today. Related Resources: After 30 years in prison, two mentally challenged men exonerated in North Carolina rape-murder case (The Washington Post) Ohio Man Freed by DNA Evidence After 29 Years in Prison (FindLaw's Blotter) DNA Evidence Clears 2 Men After 30 Years (FindLaw's Blotter) NYC Reviewing 800 Rape Cases for Evidence Errors (FindLaw's Blotter)
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