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Opioid Lawsuits: What You Need to Know

As more and more people fall victim to opioid addiction, more and more lawsuits are being filed. States are suing drug companies, addicts are suing doctors, and the federal government is starting its own investigation into the crisis. But who's liable for opioid addiction? The addict? Doctors? Drug manufacturers? All three? Here's what you need to know about opioid lawsuits and addiction liability. 1. Can I Sue My Doctor for Opiate Addiction? Physicians owe their patients a duty of care, and can be liable for medical malpractice if their prescription of opioids -- either the dosage, the type of drug, or the failure to notice your developing addiction -- constituted a breach of this duty. 2. Can Doctors Be Liable for Patient Overdoses? As noted above, normally patient overdoses are dealt with in a medical malpractice claim, or, unfortunately, in a wrongful death claim. But in rare instances, doctors also have been charged with and convicted of murder in overdose cases. 3. Can You Sue a Drug Company for Opioid Addiction? Successful lawsuits blaming a drug manufacturer for addiction are rare; courts often find addicts liable for their own addiction and the drug companies too far removed from the use to be liable. But that could be changing in the opioid context. 4. Are Drug Companies Liable for Side Effects? Drug companies have a duty to warn of known dangers. So if you're claiming that a drug manufacturer knew how addictive an opioid was and failed to warn either doctors or patients, you may have a better shot at proving the manufacturer's liability. 5. Liability for Drug Overdoses Tragically, some addictions end in overdoses, and many of those can be fatal. Wrongful death lawsuits can look a little different than a standard medical malpractice or product liability claim, so it's important to know how liability may be different as well. If you or someone you know is dealing with an addiction to opioids, get help now. Then consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Cherokee Nation Sues Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens for Opioid Abuse (FindLaw's Injured) West Virginia Counties Sue Drug Manufacturers Over Opioid Crisis (FindLaw's Injured) Ohio Is the Latest State to Sue Over Opioid Crisis (FindLaw's Injured)
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Federal Criminal Prosecutions Fall to 20 Year Low

According to new research released by the PEW research center, federal criminal prosecutions are on the decline. The new numbers show that federal criminal prosecutions have been on a consistent decline since 2011, and have even fallen to a 20 year low. Much of this is credited to the visionary approach implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder to not prosecute every federal crime, but to focus on those where there is a substantial federal interest. Since 2011, there has been an approximate 25 percent reduction in new federal criminal cases. Federal prosecutors have gone from charging over 100,000 new cases a year, to charging about 77,000. The most common type of federal crimes that get prosecuted involve drug charges. Despite the recent trend among states to legalize marijuana, there are many other types of illegal drugs, and federal drug charges still account for the majority of federal prosecutions. However, over the past 5 years, there has been nearly a 25 percent reduction in drug prosecutions alone. Federal Crimes Prosecuted Less Most criminal prosecutions are handled by state and local prosecutors. However, when an individual violates federal criminal laws, such as those related to drugs, guns, or financial crimes, federal prosecutors can bring criminal charges in the federal court system. Also, deportation cases are also considered to be federal criminal prosecutions. Although violent crimes make up only a very small percentage of federal criminal prosecutions, that does not mean violent criminals get a pass. Typically, violent crimes are prosecuted by the states. According to the PEW research center, over half of all state prisoners have been sentenced due to violent crimes, compared to less than 10% of federal inmates. The only area where federal prosecutions were noted to have increased involved a small increase in prosecutions for gun and violent crimes. Looking Forward Although the newly appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is taking a strong stance and wants to increase federal criminal prosecutions for drug and gun crimes, he will have to do so with a shrinking budget as the DOJ is one of the many agencies that has impending budget cuts. Related Resources: Daylight Savings Time Could Reduce Crime Rates (FindLaw Blotter) 10 States With the Highest Rates of Violent Crime (FindLaw Blotter) Gang Membership Up, Violent Crime Rate Down (FindLaw Blotter) What Is a Special Prosecutor? How Does It Relate to Recusal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview with Caroline Judge Mehta

Caroline Judge Mehta, a member of Zuckerman Spaeder’s Legal Profession and Ethics Practice in Washington, DC, is an experienced advocate who represents individuals, business organizations, and other entities in criminal, regulatory and administrative investigations. She also advises lawyers and law firms on a variety of issues before the District of Columbia Bar and federal agencies. She has been recognized by The Best Lawyers in America and Legal 500 US, in White Collar Criminal Defense. But her day doesn’t end with her legal work; she also writes a blog that’s published on Huffington Post, which she started at age 40. Her topics reflect what’s close to home, she says, and much of them relate to some of the topics in this interview. “Like so many lawyers, I love to write and express myself in ways that briefs and motions don’t allow,” she explains. Our conversation on topics both professional and personal will no doubt strike a familiar chord with many of you. How did you get experience in handling white collar matters? I’ve been so fortunate to be trained by the best trial lawyers anywhere.  I took every meaningful litigation opportunity you can get at a “small” trial firm – civil or criminal – and got on my feet in court every chance I could.  I’m at one of the few firms that wants to train lawyers from the bottom up.  That means pushing young people out in front, early on, making them an equal player on the team in the client’s eyes, and trusting younger lawyers to handle larger and larger portions of cases. What do you see as the biggest hurdle for women in the white collar field? Keeping younger women in the profession.  It’s still an extremely tough tightrope walk, and I get why many women leave.  But we won’t have a healthy white collar bar unless we keep making strides on gender equality.  In the private sector, that means generating business, and it means mentoring and supporting each other and the women of the next generation. Has there been a representation of a client that has most stayed with you through the years and why? I think they all stay with me.  One of the best moments of my life was calling a client who had been the target of a criminal antitrust investigation that dragged on for about four years.  We made a last pitch to DOJ, along with the company’s outside counsel (who both had the temerity to fight and stood up for the individual executives), and we got a declination – and that was after we’d all received target letters.  I reached my client in his car, and he had to pull over because he was overcome with emotion.   There aren’t enough days like that, but when they happen you cherish them and remember why you chose to do this work. What part of defending a client most fuels you? Drains you? Like most of us, I want to win.  But I’m fueled by the challenge of helping a person navigate one of the most difficult crises he or she will face in life.  I get to do everything in my power – a unique power we as lawyers wield in society – to help my client get to the other side of that crisis. And what drains me?  In a way, the very same thing.  You carry that weight with you throughout, and you never put it down.  You’re either on that journey with your client, or you should be in a different line of work. Is there any unique aspect about being a woman that either helps or hinders you when you are defending a client? It’s hard to answer that without falling prey to stereotypes.  But I often observe that women will sit back and listen a lot longer before they insert themselves into the conversation.  You learn a lot more by listening than by talking.  I’ve often had male colleagues ask, “How did you know ___?”  And the answer will be that I heard the client or a witness or an opposing counsel say it. This is a profession in which all of us like to talk, and that’s a lot of the fun of it.  But I always think of that quote by Maya Angelou, who stayed silent for five years after a childhood trauma.  In that time, she read all of Shakespeare, Poe, Kipling, Burns. ...
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Can the Feds Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Fingerprint?

You might've thought enabling Touch ID on your iPhone made it more secure. After all, it's harder to fake your fingerprint than to guess a passcode. But when it comes to the law enforcement searches, your smartphone might've gotten a lot more vulnerable. According to Forbes, federal law enforcement officers recently served a warrant on a California home which gave them "authorization to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES and falls within the scope of the warrant."Essentially, cops could force everyone in the residence to open their phones. Is this really legal? Fourth Amendment Concerns The Fourth Amendment protects people "against unreasonable searches and seizures," and generally requires law enforcement officers to get a warrant before searching someone's home or personal effects. In order for the Fourth Amendment to apply, a person must show that he or she has a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the place being searched or thing being seized. But courts have consistently found that a person has no expectation of privacy in physical characteristics like fingerprints, and that a police may therefore require that a person give fingerprint samples. So requesting a fingerprint to open a phone likely doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness requirement. In terms of search warrants, they must be based on probable cause, and "particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." This has generally been interpreted to mean the warrant must be narrow in scope, but, as Electronic Frontier Foundation staff Andrew Crocker told the Washington Post, a warrant that "extended to include any phone that happens to be on the property, and all of the private data that that entails" could stretch those limits. Fifth Amendment Concerns The Fifth Amendment, on the other hand, protects people against self-incrimination and could apply to warrants for biometrics in certain circumstances. In general, courts have not found fingerprints, by themselves, to be self-incrimination because they aren't "testimonial" in the sense that they don't amount to a statement about something. But does that necessarily mean that officers can force you to use your fingerprint to unlock your phone? Law professor and blogger Orin Kerr looked at three such scenarios and opined that, as long as the officers already know that the phone is yours, the answer is probably yes. At that point your fingerprint would not be telling officers anything they didn't already know, or, as Kerr put it, "No testimonial statement from the person is implied by the act of placing his finger on the reader." But when -- as in the case above that involves a search of a residence with multiple phones and multiple people -- cops don't know which device belongs to whom, being forced to unlock a phone could be testimonial: It amounts to testimony that says, "yes, this is my phone," or at least, "yes, this phone was set to recognize a part of my body as a means of access." It further says: "I am familiar enough with this phone to know that the fingerprint reader was enabled and which part of me was used by me to program the fingerprint reader." According to Forbes, the warrant in this case is "unprecedented," but we may see similar warrants as more people use their fingerprints to secure their smartphones. If you've been subject to a similar search, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Do You Have to Let Cops Search Your Cell Phone? (FindLaw Blotter) Cell-Phone Fingerprint Ruling: 5 Things You Should Know (FindLaw Blotter) Geo-Tracking: Should Phone Location Info Require a Warrant? (FindLaw Blotter)
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California’s Gender Neutral Bathroom Bill

While some states have been suing the federal government for the right to discriminate against transgender people when it comes to bathroom access, California is going in the other direction. The same state that led the way on transgender student access to bathrooms in schools just passed a bill requiring all public, single-occupancy bathrooms in the state be gender neutral. The new law would allow anyone to access these bathrooms, regardless of gender identity. So will the Golden State's take on transgender bathroom access be the norm, or remain an outlier? Equal Rights, Equal Access California already has laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender people, including restroom access. That law allows a person to access common bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The new bill would take the law further, barring single-use restrooms in businesses, government buildings, and public places from being reserved for either gender. (Proponents of the law also point out that gender neutral bathrooms will reduce wait times, since anyone can now use bathrooms that were previously reserved for either more or women.) But the bill hasn't become law quite yet. While the measure passed California's House on a 55-19 margin, it must still get through the State Senate and governor. And no date has been set for either consideration. California in Context Transgender bathroom access has become a hot-button issue in recent years, with some states expanding access and others pushing back. Most infamously, North Carolina recently passed a law prohibiting people from using bathrooms with gender designations different from those on their birth certificates. But the federal government, who has the last word on civil rights issues, has been fighting discrimination against transgender people. The Department of Justice responded swiftly to the North Carolina law, filing a discrimination lawsuit against state officials in an effort to block the law. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently advised business to allow bathroom access to employees based on their chosen gender identity. If California's history holds, the gender neutral bathroom bill will soon become law, and we'll all have an easier time going to the bathroom. If you have questions about bathroom access where you live, you can contact an experienced civil rights attorney near you. Related Resources: Find Civil Rights Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Transgender 1st Grader Wins Restroom Ruling (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Legal Rights and Issues for Transgender Children (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Transgender Bathroom Laws in Public Schools: A National Overview (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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Drug Dealer Busted by Online Package Tracking

'Tis the season for furiously clicking that "Track Package" button in sales confirmation emails. Whether you're worried about outgoing gifts making it to their destination on time or excited about an incoming present, tracking a package online can become a daily or even hourly obsession. And it can get you arrested, if you happen to be tracking a package full of drugs from China. Track Your Order Harold Bates was doing just that, and it led federal investigators right to his door. Ars Technica tracked down a judge's order from Bates's case, and it's a doozy: In October 2013, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) investigators opened a package in Hollywood, Florida that contained 500 grams of a "white crystal-like substance" that turned out to be the synthetic stimulant methylone. Investigators determined that a computer with an IP address registered to the Rockland, Massachusetts home of Harold Bates was tracking the parcel's whereabouts, and USPS notifications about the parcel's progress from Hong Kong, where it originated, had been sent to Bates's e-mail account. Moreover, they learned that Bates had tracked as many as five other USPS Express Mail packages sent from Hong Kong and China over the previous two months. Track Your Charges Bates was arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty to importing methylone, or "Molly," in 2015. In the meantime, law enforcement says Bates continued to try and import drugs and even smuggle them into the jail where he was confined. Federal prosecutors say Bates "proceeded to change his email and Skype passwords in order to prevent law enforcement from monitoring any future communications he might have with his Chinese suppliers," and just a few weeks after his initial arrest Bates used a false name to retrieve yet another package from China. When Bates was indicted on drug charges and turned himself in, he allegedly tried to "smuggle drugs into the correctional facility where he was to be detained." Don't import drugs from China, kids. And if you do, maybe be careful about how you track those imported drugs. Finally, if you find yourself in Mr. Bates's position, you should probably contact a criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Internet Crime (FindLaw Blotter) Can Cops Pose as Cable Repairmen and Search My Home? (FindLaw Blotter) Calif. Couple Busted Over Alleged Pot Sales on Silk Road 2.0 (FindLaw Blotter)
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Joan Meyer negotiates NPA for Swiss Bank Client

Just last week the Justice Department announced that three more banks reached resolutions under the Swiss Bank Program. All three banks entered Non Prosecution Agreements (NPA’s) with the Department of Justice. The financial settlements ranged from over 3 million to 59 million, and totaled approximately 81 million in penalties recovered by the US Government. Joan Meyer of Baker McKenzie represented Bank CIC, which entered into an agreement to pay over 3 million dollars in penalties. Joan is the chair of Baker & McKenzie’s North America Compliance and Investigations Practice Group, and she handles investigations and white-collar matters. A more detailed account of the Swiss Bank Program is described here.  Under the program, banks meeting the following requirements are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement (NPA): Make a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities; Provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have direct or indirect interest; Cooperate in treaty requests for account information; Provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed; Agree to close accounts of account holders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations; and Pay appropriate penalties. If you read the particulars of the cooperation in the press release and the NPA’s here, you will see that, as a component of that cooperation, the  banks also provided information on individuals — an extra step that was not strictly required. Is this the Yates Memo in action? I am not the only one who is asking those kind of questions, as they are also asked in an interview conducted with the law professor who wrote “Too Big to Jail.” It is certainly food for thought. But most importantly I wanted to congratulate Joan on a job well done for her client. The post Joan Meyer negotiates NPA for Swiss Bank Client appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview with Amy Walsh

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Amy Walsh, a partner in the New York office of Morvillo LLP. Amy represents individuals and institutions in government investigations, enforcement actions, and prosecutions conducted by various government agencies. She was recently appointed as a monitor in the JPMorgan Chase’s settlement with the DOJ. Prior to entering private practice, Amy was an Assistant United States Attorney for 12 years in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York and was former Chief of the Business and Securities Fraud Section. Amy frequently publishes and speaks on various topics related to her practice, and has been named regularly in Super Lawyers in the area of white collar defense. I am thrilled to introduce you to Amy Walsh. She reminds us all that you don’t need to be a partner in BigLaw to be breaking the glass ceiling in white collar corporate work. Susan Bozorgi: What inspired you to become a criminal defense attorney? Amy Walsh: I was inspired to practice criminal law – first as a prosecutor, then as a defense attorney – when I was clerking for a federal judge. Although the civil cases were intellectually interesting, the stakes are so much higher for someone who could lose his or her liberty that the work seemed much more meaningful to me. SB: You are the only woman partner at your firm, which is typical for many women working in small to mid-size firms. How, if at all, does this shape your work or role in the firm? AW: Women often bring a different perspective to various aspects of a law practice: how to interact with a particular client, how to articulate an argument in front of a particular judge, and how to generate business. I’ve found that if the men in the room value that different perspective – and all of my law partners do – it can greatly enhance relationships with clients, other lawyers and professionals within the firm. SB: What do you think it takes to make it in private practice? Is the advice different for a woman? AW: I’m not sure the advice would be different for a woman or a man, but my advice is threefold: (1) Work on as many matters as possible, because, in my experience, work begets work; (2) No matter how busy you are, stay 100% on top of your matters and your interactions with other lawyers. (There’s nothing that turns a potential referral source off more than getting the impression that you don’t have your act together because it takes days to get a return email or you haven’t mastered the facts of the case); (3) Develop and nurture as many relationships with other lawyers as possible, which means connecting with lawyers that you’re working with at other firms, then following up with them and anyone else you know to go out to lunch, dinner, drinks, or whatever activity you think would be relaxing and fun to do together. SB: What has been your most successful business development strategy? AW: I love to socialize, so for me it has been developing relationships with other lawyers where we can have fun in an informal way but also can brainstorm about issues that are coming up in our cases. I actually think that this aspect of business development is something that women naturally thrive at, but the key is to realize that there’s no reason to be shy about asking someone to have lunch or expressing an interest in working together. Women usually want to work together! SB: Did you have women mentors? How did they — or the absence of women mentors — impact your career? AW: I had lots of women role models, but not necessarily a woman mentor. When I was in the US Attorney’s Office, I spent a lot of time watching other lawyers try cases and watching judges on the bench. For me, there was nothing better than identifying a style that I liked and thought could work for me, and then modeling my behavior after that style. There were many women AUSAs and judges in the EDNY that I admired and modeled my behavior after (and still do). SB: Of the women that you admire in the field, what do you find inspiring about them? AW: What inspires me most about the women I admire is their fearlessness. Which doesn’t mean that they’re jerky or arrogant. What it means is that they’re not afraid to take on a new case in an area that they’re not already an expert it; they’re not afraid to socialize in a room full of strangers and connect with at least a couple of people; and they’re not afraid to fail and try again. SB: What is the road you would advise best prepares a young woman to have her own white collar criminal defense practice one day? AW: I might be showing my bias for the path that I took, but I think it’s being a prosecutor. Working as a prosecutor gives you the greatest opportunity to try cases and enables you to understand in the pre-indictment phase how a prosecutor will react to certain arguments. Both of these skills are critical to representing clients in the white collar defense world. SB: I see that you were recently appointed to act as a monitor for JPMorgan Chase in one of its settlements with DOJ. How have you found that work? AW: The monitorship has been an incredibly interesting and rewarding experience so far. Acting as a monitor is very different from the usual role of acting as an advocate. ...
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Are There Limits to Presidential Pardons?

President Obama commuted prison sentences for 46 drug offenders on Monday, noting that their long sentences (lifelong in 14 cases) didn't fit their crimes. The commutations reflect a trend at federal, state, and local levels of relaxing harsh minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. These commutations also reflect Mr. Obama's view of America, which he called "a nation of second chances." As The New York Times pointed out, this brings the President's commutation total to 89, the most by any president since Lyndon Johnson, and more than the last four presidents combined. So what are the differences between commutations and pardons, and what are the limits to the presidential pardon? Commutations vs. Pardons A commutation is a form of clemency whereby an official lessens an offender's punishment after he or she has been convicted. Whereas a pardon removes the conviction and any civil disabilities that come from it (like restricted voting rights), a commutation just removes the remaining sentence. So while these 46 drug offenders will be released from prison, their criminal convictions will remain on their records. This is compared to the pardon that new President Gerald Ford gave to former President Richard Nixon regarding the Watergate scandal, which was a "full, free, and absolute" pardon, precluding any potential criminal trial and conviction. The Pardoning Power The power to pardon comes from Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the president "Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States." While the Supreme Court has interpreted the power broadly -- "It extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment" -- it is limited to those offenses falling under the jurisdiction of the pardoning official. Therefore, Mr. Obama has the authority to issue pardons for federal crimes. There are no statutory or judicial limits on the number of pardons or commutations a president can grant. (Lyndon Johnson commuted 226 sentences.) And while some commutations are often reserved for political allies, these 46 seem representative of larger criminal justice reforms. Related Resources: Pardons Aren't Just for Turkeys (FindLaw Blotter) Obama Commutes Sentences in 8 Crack Cocaine Cases (FindLaw Blotter) Obama Pardons Humans, Not Turkeys (FindLaw Blotter) Post-Conviction Proceedings (FindLaw)
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