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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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White House Shooter Sentenced to 25 Years

The White House shooter was sentenced to 25 years in prison for weapons charges and for placing lives in jeopardy. Although Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 23, of Idaho Falls, Idaho was originally charged with attempting to assassinate the president, but the charges were reduced pursuant to a plea bargain, according to Reuters. Ortega-Hernandez's criminal charges are considered terrorism-related acts. Ortega-Hernandez's Defense Ortega-Hernandez fired shots at the White House back in 2011 because he was convinced that he was on a mission from God to assassinate President Obama. While it was speculated that the White House shooter would offer up an insanity defense, his attorney stated that at the time of the shooting, Ortega-Hernandez was under extreme depression and mental duress, according to Politico. Authorities state that Ortega-Hernandez believed President Obama was the "anti-Christ" and traveled to Washington, D.C. to kill him. However, Ortega-Hernandez's attorney said that his client was convinced that Armageddon was imminent and wanted to warn people about it. Perhaps evidence of Ortega-Hernandez's mental condition is what convinced a judge to give a slightly lighter sentence than the 27.5 years offered by prosecutors. Sentencing If Ortega-Hernandez had been charged with an attempted presidential assassination, he may have faced life in prison. However, the White House shooter pled guilty last year to weapons and terrorism charges. Under federal law, terrorism is defined as calculated actions seeking to influence or affect the conduct of government through intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. The federal criminal statute includes attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon -- like Ortega-Hernandez's White House shooting. At the same time, if a person willfully and maliciously destroys or injures a U.S. dwelling or places another person's life in jeopardy, that person may be imprisoned for 20 years. Some of the White House shooter's bullets struck the presidential abode -- a bullet was also lodged in a window on the south side of the White House, according to Politico. Secret Service officers were stationed outside the building at the time of the shooting and were also susceptible to being shot. Considering these facts and other factors about the defendant, the judge sentenced Ortega-Hernandez to 25 years in prison. Although the case may seem closed for the 23-year-old, Ortega-Hernandez still has the option to appeal the federal judge's sentence, according to Reuters. Related Resources: Idaho Man Who Fired at White House in 2011 Sentenced to 25 Years (Roll Call) Man's Call to Shoot Obama is Free Speech, Not a Crime (FindLaw's Decided) Ted Nugent Gets Secret Service Attention Over Obama Remarks (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Secret Service Do Anything Illegal in Colombia? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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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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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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