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excessive force

Controversial Louisiana Law Makes Targeting Police a Hate Crime

A new law in Louisiana makes it a hate crime to target law enforcement and emergency personnel. The bill making these professions a protected class -- dubbed Blue Lives Matter -- was reportedly proposed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement criticizing police brutality in the black community. It is the first of its kind in the country. Hate crime legislation makes punishments more severe when crimes target a protected class, such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. Critics say that adding law enforcement to this list of protected classes dilutes the value of this type of legislation by basing it on a mutable or changing characteristic, such as a profession, rather than an unchangeable one like race or national origin. Protecting Blue Lives According to NPR, crime statistics show an overall decline in officer killings. Still, the Louisiana law making police, firefighters, emergency medical crews, and other first responders a protected class reportedly passed easily. Anyone convicted of intentionally targeting someone in this protected class will be punished more severely than previously based on the now-protected status. "Coming from a family of law enforcement officers," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement. announcing the signing of the bill into law, "I have great respect for the work that they do and the risks they take to ensure our safety." State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson expressed his support of the law, too, pointing out the heroism of law enforcement and first responders who run toward trouble when others are running away. Edmonds said, "For those individuals who choose to target our heroes, the message formalized in this legislative act should be clear and the consequences severe. On behalf of first responders throughout Louisiana, we thank the legislature and the governor for helping to make this law a reality." Diluting Hate Crime Legislation? Critics say, however, that this legislation dilutes hate crime laws by enlarging the protected class to include people who are not targeted for what they are but for what they do for a living. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, opposed the legislation and explained the basis for its opposition to what it called the "Blue Lives Matter" bill before it was signed into law. In a statement issued earlier this month, it wrote, "The ADL strongly believes that the list of personal characteristics included in hate crimes laws should remain limited to immutable characteristics, those qualities that can or should not be changed. Working in a profession is not a personal characteristic, and it is not immutable ...This bill confuses the purpose of the Hate Crimes Act and weakens its impact by adding more categories of people, who are better protected under other laws." There is something to that argument. After all, people can choose to be blue. But there is little choice about being foreign or black or having a handicap or any of the more traditional protected classes. Accused? If you are accused of a crime of any kind, talk to a lawyer. Get help with your defense. Many criminal defense attorneys 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) Understanding Criminal Law -- How to Read a Statute (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Are Judges Becoming More Critical of Excessive Force? (FindLaw Blotter) Top Legal Questions on Hate Crimes (FindLaw Blotter)
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What Is Resisting Arrest? Are There Any Defenses?

What is resisting arrest, and what defenses can potentially be used to defeat the charge? A San Francisco public defender was arrested Wednesday after she refused to let police photograph her client in a court hallway. Notably, a police officer told her before she was placed in handcuffs that she would be arrested for resisting arrest. Eventually, Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson was arrested, though a cellphone video shows that, far from "resisting," she let police cuff her and lead her away. So how can she be prosecuted for resisting an arrest that hadn't happened yet? Calif. Penal Code Section 148: It's More Than Just Arrest The statute in question, California Penal Code Section 148, isn't limited just to resisting arrest, even though that's the shorthand name for it. Like similar laws in other states, it prohibits "willfully resist[ing], delay[ing], or obstruct[ing] any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician ... in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment." Any action a person takes that impedes an officer -- even standing in his way -- could qualify. Resistance isn't limited to just physical contact. It can be verbal, as in a person's refusal to identify himself or herself during booking at the police station. It can also be a passive act, like going limp when being arrested. As one California appellate court observed, "[A] person who goes limp and thereby requires the arresting officer to drag or bodily lift and carry him in order to effect his arrest causes such a delay and obstruction to a lawful arrest" as to violate the statute. Potential Defenses Some potential defenses to resisting arrest include proving that you were not resisting, or that you were acting in self-defense against an officer's unreasonable use of force. Another defense is the claim that the arrest wasn't lawful in the first place. Courts have held that, although people are required to submit to a lawful arrest, an officer making an unlawful arrest isn't discharging a duty of his or her office because police don't have the right to make unlawful arrests. California, however, closed this little loophole -- which has existed since English common law -- by enacting a separate statute making it a crime to resist any arrest, lawful or not. The only exception to the other statute, Penal Code Section 834a, is that a person can use force to protect himself from death or injury from an officer's use of excessive force. Even if a person thinks an arrest was unlawful, that question is ultimately up to a judge to decide, and if the judge decides it was lawful, then the arrestee can be hit with these other violations. Was This Really a Crime? The burning question is whether Tillotson was obstructing an officer's performance of his duty. That part isn't entirely clear and would hinge on whether photographing a person who's not detained or arrested is a "duty" (which the dictionary defines as "obligation").This question will probably never be answered, though, as it's unlikely the San Francisco District Attorney would make such a huge P.R. blunder as charging a public defender for trying to do her job by advising her client. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw) 2014 in Review: Top 5 Blog Posts About Dealing With Police (FindLaw's Blotter) Resisting Arrest: Dad Reportedly Tells Kids to Bite Officers' Faces Off (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Staged Child Abduction Triggers Investigation, Outrage (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Iraq Vet to Get $4.5M for Occupy Oakland Shooting

An Iraq vet whose skull was fractured by a projectile shot by police during an Occupy Oakland protest has agreed to receive $4.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit with the city of Oakland. During the protest, 26-year-old Scott Olsen was hit in the head by a beanbag round fired by a police officer standing less than 30 feet away from him, The Associated Press reports. The large settlement amount stems from a variety of factors, including the nature and severity of Olsen's injuries and the negligent training of the officers. Why Not Go to Trial? Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said that a jury might have awarded Olsen more money if the case had gone to trial. So why didn't Olsen and his attorney go to trial? People opt to settle cases before trial for a variety of reasons. In this case, it seems a settlement was more preferable because the litigation was taking a toll on Olsen. As he said, "It's been very a very difficult two and a half years for me, everything from being in the hospital, to relearning how to talk to dealing with a lawsuit, that's been a lot of stress." Trials are tough on people. The litigation process can be long and exhausting. Even though going to trial might have secured Olsen a larger damages award, he and his attorney were likely keen on reaching a quicker resolution so that he could move on and focus on his health. Why $4.5M Settlement? Because of the beanbag shooting, Olsen suffered permanent brain injuries and has not been able to return to his career as a computer systems administrator. He had to relearn how to walk and talk, the AP reports. The damages stemming from Olsen's injuries played a central role in the large settlement award. They included economic damages -- such as lost wages and past, present, and future medical costs -- as well as noneconomic damages such as emotional distress and pain and suffering. Another major factor in the settlement was the police officers' use of excessive force. An independent study in June 2012 reported that police were ill-equipped to handle the Occupy Oakland protest because of inadequate staffing as well as poor planning and training, according to The AP. The tragic injury will affect Olsen for the rest of his life, but the $4.5 million award is designed to help ease the financial burden of his arduous road to recovery. Related Resources: Oakland to pay Iraq War vet $4.5 million for Occupy shooting (Oakland Tribune) Can Occupy Oakland Vet Sue Police for Injuries? (FindLaw's Injured) 2 Occupy Protestors File Excessive Force Suit (FindLaw's Injured) UC Davis Pepper Spray Suit Settled for $1M (FindLaw's Injured)
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Supreme Court Calendar: 5 Cases to Watch in March

The U.S. Supreme Court's calendar for March includes seven days of oral argument, but there are a few calendared cases that deserve a bit more of your attention. Here are five appeals that are being closely watched: Monday, March 3, 2014: Hall v. Florida The High Court is hearing arguments today in Hall v. Florida, which challenges Florida's standards for making sure the state doesn't execute "mentally retarded" persons. In Florida, there is a bright-line rule which allows the state to execute inmates with IQ scores above 70. Hall -- a death-row inmate whom courts initially deemed "retarded" but later found not to be retarded, according to The Atlantic -- is claiming that this rule constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia. Tuesday, March 4: Plumhoff v. Rickard In Plumhoff v. Rickard, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider how much force is "reasonable" for officers to use in a civil suit for excessive force. In the case, a suspect and his passenger were killed in a crash after a high-speed police chase in which officers fired 13 shots at their fleeing car. The High Court will also determine whether officers in this case are entitled to qualified immunity. Tuesday, March 25: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby This case is extremely important for those who are concerned with religious objections to Obamacare's contraception mandate -- as well expanding the civil rights of corporations. Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby poses an interesting question to the High Court: Does a corporation have rights to religious freedom? Hobby Lobby is a privately held company. Tuesday, March 25: Conestoga v. Sebelius Conestoga v. Sebelius will be heard the same morning as Hobby Lobby because both cases deal with corporations asserting First Amendment religious freedom as a reason for opposing Obamacare's contraception mandate. The Conestoga case involves a family business and its closely held for-profit corporation. Wednesday, March 26: Wood v. Moss When the Court hears Wood v. Moss in late March, it will consider whether the Secret Service, during the George W. Bush administration, was within its rights to move a group of anti-Bush protesters while leaving a pro-Bush group alone. At the heart of this debate will be whether the anti-Bush demonstrators had their First Amendment free speech rights violated. Keep your eyes on the U.S. Supreme Court and your calendars this March -- especially on these five cases. Related Resources: Argument Calendars - Supreme Court of the United States (U.S. Supreme Court) Supreme Ct.: Nuns Can Skip Obamacare Form, Pending Mandate Appeal (FindLaw's Decided) Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in Feb. (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 Term: 5 Crucial Cases to Watch (FindLaw's Decided)
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Police Dashcam Video Can Be Key to Your Case

Police dashcams are tiny eyes on almost all law enforcement encounters, and they may be key to winning your criminal case. In the past, police misconduct might go unreported because there was no evidence -- like the classic "your taillight is busted" scenario. Now officers who act illegally are being caught by their own dashcams, and defendants are using them to dismiss cases. How can a dashcam video affect your defense? Here are three ways they can potentially be used in litigation: 1. To Prove No Law Was Broken. Especially in DUI cases, it is important for the prosecution to prove that a suspect's car was pulled over on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. If the officer states that a defendant was pulled over on suspicion of breaking a traffic law (e.g., changing lanes without signaling), then a dashcam video should confirm that. However, if the dashcam video shows that a defendant made no traffic violations before police pulled him or her over, any charges may be dismissed. If a traffic stop was performed illegally, any evidence which was obtained after the stop can be excluded from trial. If the evidence which would be excluded is the primary evidence in the case, a defense attorney can move for dismissal. 2. To Illustrate Police Misconduct. Dashcams can be useful to clear a defendant of wrongdoing and also to prove that the cops did do something wrong. In a New Jersey case, Marcus Jeter, 30, was cleared of resisting arrest and assault charges after a dashcam video revealed that two police officers were the actual aggressors, ABC's "Good Morning America" reports. Not only can dashcam evidence of police brutality and excessive force be key to getting your own criminal charges dismissed, it can be the smoking gun in a police brutality lawsuit. 3. To Highlight Problems With Your Case. Obtaining a dashcam video may also help your criminal defense attorney to better understand the flaws in your defense. If the dashcam video shows you drunk and belligerent, your attorney may attempt to file a motion to exclude that evidence. Failing that, you and your attorney can strategize about how the prosecution will use the dashcam footage -- possibly painting you in a poor light -- and can plan accordingly. For better or for worse, dashcam footage is compelling evidence and may make all the difference in your case. Related Resources: Dashcam Clears Bloomfield Man Of Resisting Arrest; 2 Officers Charged (New York's WCBS-TV) Family Releases Video of Man Being Run Over by Cop (FindLaw's Blotter) N.M. Cops' Minivan Shooting Comes Under Fire (FindLaw's Blotter) Randy Travis Sues Over DWI Dashcam Video (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
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Woman Jailed for Recording Deputy Plans to Sue

A Florida woman plans to sue the Broward County Sheriff's Office after she was forced to spend a night in jail for recording a deputy during a traffic stop. Brandy Berning, 33, began recording Lt. William O'Brien when she was pulled over for driving alone in a carpool lane. After a dispute over the recording, in which O'Brien told Berning she'd "just committed a felony," Berning was arrested and spent one night in jail, the Sun-Sentinel reports. She was never charged with any crime. The case highlights an issue people often wonder about: Is it legal to record law-enforcement officers during traffic stops? And if so, can you sue when that right is violated? Recording Police at Traffic Stops Generally speaking, you have a First Amendment right to film an officer during a traffic stop. However, you can't stall or interfere with an officer's investigation. Shoving a camera or an iPhone in a cop's face during a traffic stop may be enough to get you arrested for obstructing an officer. In addition, Florida is a "two-consent" state, the Sun-Sentinel explains. That means both parties are required to know about the recording. In Berning's case, she recorded about 15 seconds of her conversation with O'Brien before informing him that she was filming their encounter. If you find yourself in a similar situation and wish to record an officer at a traffic stop, make sure you're in the legal clear and consider these tips: Before you hit the record button, tell the police you are recording them; Keep your camera out of the way (low and close to your body); and If necessary, calmly remind the officers of your right to film them. Again, if you're not interfering with the officers' investigation, you have a right to record police performing their duties. Suing Police Over Recording If officers confiscate your phone or camera, or if they arrest you for lawfully recording your traffic stop, it's best not to get combative (which can lead to charges if things get out of hand). Instead, remember the details of what the officers did, as you could potentially sue the police for violating your constitutional rights. (Note, however, that there is a legal process in place for suing law-enforcement officers and agencies.) In this case, Berning plans to file a lawsuit against the sheriff's office because O'Brien allegedly told her she was committing a felony, demanded she hand over her phone, grabbed and sprained her wrist, and placed her under arrest. The most extreme issue is her spending the night in jail. Berning could potentially claim a host of civil rights violations, including false arrest, false imprisonment, and excessive force. A spokesman for the sheriff's office declined to comment about the incident, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Related Resources: Woman who recorded traffic stop spends night in jail (Miami's WPLG-TV) Deaf Man Sues Over Police Beating, Taser Use (FindLaw's Injured) NYPD Interrogated Boy, 7, for 10 Hours: $250M Claim (FindLaw's Injured) Browse Civil Rights Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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Coaches Sued Over Teen’s Hazing, Brain Injury

A high school football player's parents are suing over their teenager's brain injuries, blaming his coaches for allegedly sanctioning a dangerous hazing ritual. Head football coach Britton Devier and assistant coach Todd Bringman of Woodmore High School in Elmore, Ohio, are named in a suit brought by the parents of a 16-year-old student, The Associated Press reports. As a result of the alleged hazing, the teenager now suffers learning and memory problems, the lawsuit states. Can some football practice horseplay be the source of a federal lawsuit? Hazing Allegedly Led to Concussion The teen's parents filed their lawsuit in federal court in Toledo on Monday, asserting the coaches and the Woodmore school district subjected the boy to a dangerous hazing ritual. According to the complaint, the teen -- referred to as "D.E." in the suit, as names of minors are typically not revealed -- was required to allow other boys to hit him "as hard as they could" without attempting to defend himself. During this incident, D.E. allegedly struck the back of his head on the ground, began vomiting, and later collapsed. After his collapse, D.E. was helped to the locker room but no ambulance was called. It wasn't until D.E. returned home that his parents took him to a local hospital, the lawsuit states. Just like a suit for police misconduct, D.E.'s parents are suing the school and the coaches for excessive force, claiming that this practice ritual required their son to take deliberate injury in violation of his rights. The suit essentially claims that the coaches were acting under the government's authority (because Woodmore is a public school) when ordering the intentional striking of D.E., and that D.E. is entitled to recover for his injuries. Potential Liability for Hazing D.E.'s case is similar to a 2009 case involving a coach who required a player to be a live tackling dummy for his team. In these cases, the typical arguments about assuming the risk of injury from football go out the window. Those assumed risks include the normal bruises and injuries that come from standard play and practice -- not bizarre hazing rituals. Participating or recklessly allowing hazing in Ohio is a crime, but according to the AP, the two coaches were not indicted for their actions in criminal court. Despite the lack of criminal convictions, a judge or jury may still find that the coaches were liable for D.E.'s hazing injuries. Neither the coaches nor the school district's superintendent could be reached for comment by the AP. Follow FindLaw for Consumers on Facebook and Twitter (@FindLawConsumer). Related Resources: Woodmore Schools, football coaches sued after alleged hazing that led to player's brain injury (Toledo's WNWO-TV) NY Boy, 15, Dies at HS Football Practice (FindLaw's Injured) Max Gilpin School Football Death Suit Settles (FindLaw's Injured) Browse Brain Injury Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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