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First Amendment

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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Connecticut May Soon Employ Deadly Police Drones

A Connecticut bill that originally focused on simply banning all weaponized drones recently had a controversial exemption carved out that's garnering national attention. That controversial legal exemption to the ban on weaponized drones would only apply to law enforcement agencies, allowing only police in the state to use weaponized drones. While it may seem logical to only allow police to use weaponized drones, if the bill passes, it would be the first law in the nation that actually authorizes police to use drones equipped with lethal weapons. North Dakota passed a law in 2015 that permits law enforcement to use drones equipped with non-lethal weapons like tear gas or pepper spray, and other law enforcement agencies use drones for surveillance purposes. Standard Drone Protocol If the bill passes, the state's law enforcement training council will be required to devise a standard operating procedure for when and how law enforcement can use weaponized drones. The bill itself contains some regulations regarding drone use, but leaves the specifics on training and use to be determined by the council. This type of regulatory framework will allow some leeway in how law enforcement use drones as the technology advances over time. Proponents have rallied their support around the contention that allowing law enforcement the right to use weaponized drones could help stop a terrorist attack, or other serious threat. However, there are equally strong contentions that allowing the use of drones will result in civil rights violations against certain segments of the population, as well as misuse by police. Police Drones While there have been plenty of other concerns raised about law enforcement's use of drones, particularly when it comes to surveillance and searches, equipping drones with weapons is a new frontier for policing. Although there is clearly a benefit to sending in a robot over a human in a situation where gunfire is likely to be exchanged, anyone who's seen RoboCop or any other similar fictional work involving robotic police, is aware of the ethical dilemma that can be expected when the human element is removed from policing. Related Resources: N.D. Farmer Convicted in 1st Domestic Drone Case (FindLaw Blotter) No First Amendment Right to Drone Surveillance, Conn. Court Holds (FindLaw's Technologist) Who's Afraid of Domestic Drone Strikes? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Drone Operator Attacked: Are They the New 'Glassholes'? (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
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Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online?

Since the assimilation of social media into everyday life became nearly unavoidable, lawmakers have been working to strengthen the laws prohibiting cyberbullying, cybercrime, and online threats. Potentially in spite of the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that reversed the conviction of a man who posted his own original rap lyrics about his fantasy of killing his wife on social media, state's around the country continue to embrace new laws that create for a safer, less hostile online environment. The Supreme Court's stance on online threats seems to land more in favor of characterizing even the most despicable speech as protected under the first amendment. Despite the Supreme Court's stance that the online harasser's intent matters, states can still regulate and prosecute people they believe have made credible online threats. Context Matters When it comes to evaluating whether an online threat is illegal or not, the context is highly relevant. If the threat is clearly made in a way that makes it appear to be a joke, satirical, or sarcastic, then it probably won't be considered a threat. However, if the language appears to be serious, then it must be looked at more closely to determine whether it is legal or not. Also, context changes with the times. When a recent school shooting is still fresh in the news, making a joke about it, while you may think it's just in poor taste, could very well be viewed by others as a threat, and that can get you arrested. What Makes an Online Threat Illegal? While some states don't have specific laws about online threats, all have laws against making criminal threats and bullying. Determining which online threats are illegal requires looking at the individual characteristics of each threat. If an online threat would rise to the same level as an in-person, or telephonic, criminal threat, then the online threat will likely be considered illegal. Usual considerations include: Who the threat is directed to? What is being threatened? Who is making the threat? Is the threat credible? What did the speaker really mean or intend? If the threat is directed at a specific person, with a specific threat of harm, from an easily identifiable source, and appears credible, it is likely the threat will be considered illegal. When the threat does not target an easily identifiable person or group, or does not specify a type of harm, or is just terminally vague (i.e. "Chicago Cubs fans are going to get it"), this is not likely to rise to the level of a criminal threat. However, as the 2014 Supreme Court decision advised, a speaker's intent can make all the difference in determining whether a post is considered a threat or protected expression. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What Is Cyberbullying? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Top 7 Internet Crime Questions (FindLaw's Blotter) Specific State Laws Against Bullying (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in January 2016

After a momentous 2015 that saw the Supreme Court save Obamacare (again), give same-sex couples the right to marry, and preserve the death penalty (for now), the Court's October term moves into 2016. While the January session doesn't appear as juicy as previous dockets, there are some cases that will no doubt have a lasting impact. Here are three cases to watch in January 2016 as the Supreme Court closes out the October 2015 term: 1. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (January 11) Even if teachers and other public employees don't want to join a union, they can benefit from the union's collective bargaining on their behalf. Therefore, the Court has previous held that public employees may be required to pay union fees, even if they have opted out of joining the union. These are called "agency shop" arrangements, whereby public employees are still represented by the union for purposes of collective bargaining, but those who opt out of union membership only an agency fee for a "fair share" of the union's costs and unions are prohibited from spending nonmembers' agency fees on "ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining." But a group of California teachers are saying that even public-sector collective bargaining is political speech and they shouldn't be compelled them to subsidize that speech. The Supreme Court will decide whether these "agency shop" arrangements and violate the First Amendment. 2. Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle (January 13) Is Puerto Rico part of the United States? Sort of -- it is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, but no star on the flag or senator in Congress. Puerto Rico has its own Supreme Court, but also a U.S. District Court. So how does double jeopardy work with these two court systems? Luis Sanchez Valle was indicted in a Puerto Rican court on gun charges, and then also indicted in a U.S. federal court based on the same facts. His lawyers argued that this was essentially charging someone twice for the same crime, violating the prohibitions on double jeopardy. The Supreme Court will decide whether Puerto Rico and the federal government are separate sovereigns for purposes of double jeopardy. 3. Heffernan v. City of Paterson (January 19) Can public employees get demoted if their boss thinks they support a certain candidate? In this case a city police officer (Heffernan) was demoted after another officer saw him holding a campaign sign for a mayoral candidate (Spagnola) who was running against his chief's chosen candidate (Torres). And here's where it gets even murkier: Heffernan is friends with Spagnola, but wasn't working with the campaign or even campaigning at the time -- he was picking up the sign for his bed-ridden mother. The Court will have to decide whether Heffernan has a valid First Amendment claim based on his boss's incorrect perception of his "speech." Keep an eye on FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog and Supreme Court blog as we update the oral arguments and the rulings in these and other major SCOTUS cases throughout 2016. Related Resources: The Big 4: Major Cases and Legal Issues of 2015 (FindLaw's Decided) The 5 Most Important Supreme Court Cases of 2015 (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Supreme Court Could Soon Ban the Death Penalty, Scalia Says (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in November (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Man Arrested, Strip Searched for Photographing Cops Gets $125K

A man who was arrested and strip searched after taking photographs of New York City Police Department officers has reached a $125,000 settlement with the city. Dick George filed a federal lawsuit against the city for police misconduct after being arrested for disorderly conduct in 2012, reports the New York Daily News. According to the lawsuit, George was arrested for documenting the officers' "stop-and-frisk" search of three youths. Why was George's arrest likely a violation of his civil rights? Injured? Exercise your legal rights. Get in touch with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney in your area today. Right to Videotape, Photograph Police on Duty Courts have generally found that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape or photograph police activity occurring in a public place. Furthermore, police generally cannot confiscate or demand to see your footage or photographs without a warrant. In this case, George claims that he was in his car when he saw three young people being searched by NYPD officers. He began taking pictures with his cell phone from inside his car. After the officers had finished searching the youths, George claims he instructed the youths to get the officers' badge numbers next time they were searched. Overhearing this, the officers allegedly pulled George from his car and arrested him for disorderly conduct. The officers also allegedly deleted the pictures on George's phone. False Arrest, Police Misconduct Lawsuits Lawsuits against police for false arrest and other incidents of police misconduct are generally filed under the Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. Under Section 1983, a victim of malicious or unlawful police action can bring a lawsuit in federal court for deprivation of a constitutional right. Although these lawsuits can be brought against individual police officers, they often name the city as a party as well, since the police department itself cannot be sued directly. However, before a lawsuit is filed, victims typically must first file a tort claim to give the government entity a chance to respond. If you believe you have been the victim of police misconduct or false arrest, an experienced civil rights attorney can help explain your legal options. Related Resources: New York man wins $125,000 settlement after being arrested for photographing police (The Verge) Videotaping Police is Your First Amendment Right (FindLaw's Blotter) Journalist Arrested for Recording Police Gets $200K Settlement (FindLaw's Injured) For the Record, SCOTUS Won't Stop Citizens from Recording Police (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
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What Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? It's at the center of two Obamacare-related U.S. Supreme Court cases scheduled for oral argument Tuesday. While the First Amendment guarantees persons the free exercise of religion, there are other legal protections for religious rights -- including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been the subject of recent court cases. So what exactly is the RFRA? Passed to Protect Religious Liberty Congress passed the RFRA in 1993 in response to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Employment Division v. Smith. The Smith case involved a Native American church in Oregon that was denied unemployment benefits for because of members' use of peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, as part of a religious ceremony. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that despite the protections of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Oregon could legally deny those church members unemployment benefits because of their peyote use. This worried lawmakers about the future of religious freedom in the workplace. The RFRA applies when a law "substantially burdens" an individual or religious group's free exercise of religion. For the burdensome law to apply to the person or group, the government must show it has a "compelling interest" in applying the law, and that the law uses the "least restrictive means" to achieve that interest. (This standard was used in religious exercise cases prior to Smith; RFRA's purpose was to continue to apply this standard -- even for laws which apply generally to all persons.) Laws like the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, are now being tested by claims under RFRA. But while the RFRA applies to individuals and religious groups, does it also apply to corporations? Can Corporations Sue Under the RFRA? Two corporations that object to Obamacare's contraceptive mandate have made claims under the RFRA, alleging Obamacare violates a corporation's right to free exercise of religion. On Tuesday, craft-store chain Hobby Lobby plans to argue before the High Court that its religious freedom is burdened by the requirements of Obamacare, and that the company has a right to judicial remedy under the RFRA. Lawyers for Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a kitchen-cabinet manufacturer, are expected to make similar arguments. Federal courts have disagreed about whether corporations are "people" intended to be protected by the RFRA -- a question the U.S. Supreme Court is now poised to consider. The Court has previously affirmed that corporations have free speech rights (see Citizens United), but can a corporation really have religious freedom rights? Justice are being asked to determine whether the RFRA applies to corporations, small closely-held companies, or merely to a company's individual executives and employees. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision may change how we view religious freedom and the RFRA for years to come. Related Resources: 5 questions about the Supreme Court cases on requiring contraceptive coverage (Pew Research Center) Top 5 Obamacare Court Rulings (FindLaw's Decided) Corp. Can't Assert Free Exercise in Mandate Claim, But People Can: D.C. Cir. (FindLaw's D.C. Circuit Blog) Birth Control Mandate Cases Reaching Critical Mass; Possible Outcomes (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
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What Are ‘Ag Gag’ Laws?

So-called "ag gag" laws have allowed some states to muzzle animal rights activists, barring them from taking pictures or videos at livestock facilities. But many of these laws are being challenged in court. In the latest challenge, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting back against Idaho's "ag gag" law, citing illegal constraints on First Amendment rights, Reuters reports. So what are "ag gag" laws? Agriculture Anti-Whistleblower Laws The term "ag gag" is short for two things: agriculture and gag order. A gag order makes it illegal to speak or report about a certain topic. They're often issued by courts in order to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair and unbiased trial. In this case, the "gag" part of "ag gag" laws refers to a category of anti-whistleblower laws that relate to animal abuse in the agriculture industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, these laws have the effect of blocking advocates "from exposing animal cruelty, food-safety issues, [and] poor working conditions" in factory farms. These "ag gag" laws can take many forms, but they tend to criminalize: Taking photos or video of agricultural facilities without permission, Applying for an agriculture job under false pretenses, and Failing to report animal abuses to law enforcement. It may seem perfectly reasonable for states to punish those who silently assent to animal abuse at factory farms. But opponents note that these laws have more often been used to target and prosecute undercover investigators -- those seeking to end animal abuse. Current 'Ag Gag' Suits Idaho passed an "ag gag" law last month, making it a misdemeanor to interfere with agricultural production. This includes recording or photographing factory farms without permission as well as obtaining a job for the purpose of doing economic damage to an agriculture business. A complaint filed by the ACLU on behalf of various animal rights groups complains that the statute violates the First Amendment by unconstitutionally hampering free speech. A similar lawsuit was filed by law professors who believe Utah's "ag gag" law is unconstitutional, reports Food Safety News. There are currently seven states with "ag gag" laws, and all seem to be potentially vulnerable to free speech challenges that the laws are overbroad. Laws which effectively burden speech without a compelling government interest may be struck down as invalid under the First Amendment, which is what "ag gag" opponents are hoping for. Currently, however, there is no binding precedent for striking down an "ag gag" law. Related Resources: Idaho's ag-gag law challenged in federal court (The Idaho Statesman) Horn Honking Restrictions Violate Free Speech, Washington Court Rules (FindLaw's Decided) Begging Ban is Unconstitutional Restriction on Free Speech (FindLaw's U.S. Sixth Circuit Blog) Court Upholds Students' Free Speech Rights in Sleepover Pics Case (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
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Supreme Ct. Lets ‘I Heart Boobies’ Ruling Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the student free-speech case about a school's ban on "I Heart Boobies" cancer awareness bracelets, Reuters reports. That means the August 2013 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the students who wanted to don the bracelets, remains intact. It's a major victory for the students in the Easton Area School District in Pennsylvania. U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Appeal Upon receiving the school district's petition for certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a number of factors on whether to hear the case. Unfortunately, we don't know why the Court declined to hear the case. It rejected the case from the school district without comment, which is standard. Regardless, the decision leaves intact the 3rd Circuit's ruling: School officials can prohibit statements that are lewd or obscene. However, messages that might offend some, but also make a social or political statement, are protected by the First Amendment. What If the High Court Had Taken Up the Case? If the Supreme Court had accepted the case, it could potentially have joined the ranks of historic decisions issued by the Court on public school dress codes and the constitutional rights of students. The bracelets case referenced the following cases: Tinker v. Des Moines School District from 1969 (ruling schools can't ban student speech unless necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or rights of others); Bethel School District v. Fraser from 1986 (allowing schools to ban lewd and indecent messages); and Morse v. Frederick from 2007 (ruling a school that punished a student for displaying a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner during a school assembly didn't violate the student's First Amendment rights). The school district claimed the 3rd Circuit had invented a new test for student free speech by relying on the concurring opinion (not the majority opinion) in the Supreme Court's Morse decision. Though the Supreme Court passed on the "I Heart Boobies" case this time around, the issue is still split nationally and could bubble up again in the future. After all, even the 3rd Circuit showed a dramatic split over the matter. The court ordered an en banc review of the case -- as in, the entire circuit court -- because there was disagreement among the judges. Even en banc, the court was split 9-5 in favor of the students. Related Resources: Supreme Court declines 'I (heart) Boobies' (The Philadelphia Inquirer) 'I Heart Boobies' Appeal: Will Supreme Ct. Hear It? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Third Circuit Court of Appeals Hears 'I Heart Boobies' Arguments (FindLaw's U.S. Third Circuit Blog) The "I (Heart) Boobies!" Bracelets Controversy Goes to Court: Why the Students Are Right and the Schools Are Wrong (FindLaw's Writ)
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Facebook Posts New Rules for Gun Sales

Facebook is cracking down on posts for illegal gun sales, and other social media outlets may soon follow suit. On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it would step up its enforcement efforts regarding gun sales on its social network -- especially when the seller is trying to evade the law. What are Facebook's new rules for gun sales? Stopping 'No Background Check' Gun Sales Facebook's head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, laid out several "educational and enforcement efforts" that Facebook and Instagram would be implementing as part of a shift in policy. Among those efforts is a prohibition against posting offers to sell firearms with "no background check required." Although there are some loopholes that allow private sales of guns without a background check, Bickert stated that Facebook will encourage users to follow the law. Since there are no laws requiring background checks in these "loophole" private gun sales in most states -- more than 30 states to be exact, according to Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence -- Facebook may be requiring more of sellers than their states' laws might. Facebook will also be cracking down on offers that support gun sales across state lines. These federal regulations on interstate gun transfers won out over challenges in federal court in February, and Facebook seems happy to side with them. Not Just Guns, 'Regulated' Items Covered Too Although Facebook's new rules are aimed at curtailing questionable gun sales, the new rules technically cover private sales of any "regulated items." Surprisingly, some drug dealers have taken to social media to sell their illegal wares, and Facebook and Instagram have been popular venues. Despite the sale of pot being illegal (outside of a state-licensed retail center or medical marijuana distributor) in every state in the nation, Facebook's ad policy doesn't allow advertising for any "recreational" or illegal drugs. While that may sound provincial to some, Facebook is a private company and can determine what types of content it chooses to host. When Facebook tackled hate speech last spring, it faced claims of First Amendment and free speech violations, and no doubt gun advocates will not be far behind. Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said he was not deterred by Facebook's new rules. Cox noted the NRA and its members "will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms," reports Reuters. Related Resources: Facebook to delete posts for illegal gun sales (The Associated Press) NY Passes 1st New Gun Laws Since Sandy Hook (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Is It Legal to Mail Marijuana? (FindLaw's Blotter) Legal to Buy Prescription Drugs Online? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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