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grand jury

How to Fact Check Legal Issues in the News

It seems like every big news story has a legal angle. What are the limits for free speech when it comes to racism and public demonstrations? Can the president do anything he wants when it comes to immigration, and are courts allowed to stop him? What is a grand jury subpoena? Knowing the nuts and bolts of the laws underlying these controversies may affect how we view them, but not all of us have law school degrees, so how do we assess the legal assertions made in news coverage of the biggest stories? Lucky for us, we have the American Bar Association, who just launched their Legal Fact Check website, designed to "separate legal fact from fiction." Fact and Fiction The site quotes late U.S. senator Daniel Moynihan, who said: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." But in the era of fake news, media bias, and everyone screaming on Facebook and Twitter, those facts can be hard to come by. Especially when the topics are as controversial (and potentially esoteric) as free speech, affirmative action, and the separation of governmental powers. "In a world with multiple sources of information, it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and opinion," said new ABA president Hilarie Bass. "Through our new ABA Legal Fact Check, the American Bar Association will use case and statutory law and other legal precedents to help set the record straight by providing the real facts about the law." Find Legal Facts While Legal Fact Check is still getting off the ground, it's already tackling topics like "whether individuals can be punished for burning the American flag" and "who has the constitutional authority to redraw U.S. Circuit Courts and offer explanations on the power of presidential pardons and hate speech." As it expands, the ABA's site will no doubt be one of the best resources for the legal background on the day's hot-button topics. Until then, you can also peruse the pages of FindLaw's Learn About the Law section, as well as our Legal Blogs, which cover breaking news and backgrounds legal issues relating to criminal, personal injury, and small business law as well as everyday legal issues. And we can also put you in touch with a good lawyer should you need help. Related Resources: ABA Creates Fact Checker Website For Legal Issues in the News (Bloomberg Law) What Power Does the President Have Over Deportation Policy? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Can the President Make Flag Burning Illegal? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Facebook 'Hate Speech': Is It Free Speech? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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No Indictments in Sandra Bland Death, but Prosecutor Says It’s Not Over

A Texas grand jury this week issued no indictments associated with the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead by an apparent hanging in her jail cell this past summer. Bland's death made national headlines because the African American woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, allegedly got into an altercation with the officer over a lit cigarette, and was found hanging by a trash bag in her jail cell after only three days in custody in Texas. Local officials vehemently denied that Bland was mistreated, and the grand jury's failure to indict in the criminal case seems to support those claims. But Darrell Jordan, the special prosecutor, said that "the case is still open," and that grand jurors would reconvene next month to discuss other aspects of it, according to the New York Times. Bland Family Responds Bland's family suspect that Sandra was mistreated because she was black. Her parents filed a wrongful death suit in August against a Texas trooper, the Waller County Sherriff's office, and her jailers -- they blamed authorities for their daughter's death and do not believe she would commit suicide. Bland's family responded to the grand jury's decision through their lawyer, Cannon Lambert. "We are unfortunately disappointed by the fact that our suspicions regarding this sham of a process have come to fruition," said Mr. Lambert, who is based in Chicago. Mr. Lambert said he was unsure of what to make of Mr. Jordan's statement that the grand jury would return to work in January, saying, "We would like very much to know what in the heck they're doing, who they're targeting and if it has anything to do with Sandy and her circumstances." Background on Bland Sandra Bland, who was from the Chicago area, was in Waller County, Texas this past summer because she had accepted a job at her alma mater, the nearby Prairie View A&M University, a historically black institution. Bland's family does not believe she would commit suicide because she was an activist, recording videos about racial issues, including policing. The last video Ms. Bland was known to appear in, unfortunately, is that of the trooper who used a dash cam to record her traffic stop for a failure to signal lane change. In it, the trooper physically struggles with Bland after she refuses to put out her cigarette and is reluctant to exit her car, slamming her head and expressing pleasure about it, among other abuses of power. For those disappointed that the trooper, the county, and Bland's jailers appear to have gotten away with something this week -- possibly even murder -- special prosecutor Jordan said, "The case is not over. That's what I'm stressing right now. The case is not over." Criminal Defense Counsel If you face charges as a result of a traffic stop or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney about your charges and get help getting them resolved. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Traffic Arrest FAQ (FindLaw) Can the Police Set Up roadblocks for any Reason? (FindLaw)
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Ga. Dad Indicted on Murder Charges for Toddler’s Hot Car Death

A Georgia father who left his toddler in a hot car, leading to the boy's death, was indicted Thursday on eight counts, including malice murder and felony murder. Justin Ross Harris, 33, had initially pleaded not guilty to murder and child cruelty charges in mid-June, but CNN reports that this new grand jury indictment supersedes the previous charges. Prosecutors have alleged that Harris intentionally strapped his child into his overheated SUV to die, claiming that he "wanted a childless life." What does this new indictment mean for this hot-car murder case? Malice, Felony Murder Alleged The grand jury returned with three counts relating to murder: two counts of felony murder and one count of malice murder. While it is unclear what evidence that the grand jury was presented to come to these charges, since the proceedings are secret, we can explain a bit about these two different types of murder indictments: Malice murder. In Georgia, as in many other states, murder may be proved by showing that the defendant had malice aforethought -- the intention to take the life of another human being -- and caused that person's death. This intent can often be implied by a defendant's actions (or inaction) if the circumstances of the killing "show an abandoned and malignant heart." Felony murder. A separate charge of murder can be applied when a defendant causes the death of another during the commission of a dangerous felony. This charge requires no finding of malice. The jury in Harris' case will likely be asked to consider first-degree cruelty to children as an inherently dangerous felony. These murder charges may leave Harris to face life in prison if convicted, or even the death penalty. Other Charges The grand jury's indictment reveals details that make this macabre story of a toddler's death even stranger. In addition to child cruelty charges, Harris was also indicted on attempt to sexually exploit a minor and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors, reports CNN. Prosecutors allege that Harris was sexting with women while at work -- one of whom was underage. All the while, Harris' son was strapped in a broiling car parked at his father's workplace. With murder charges looming, these sexting allegations seem to be the least of Harris' worries, but they may certainly make it harder for a jury to believe he was a hapless -- and not malicious -- father.Prosecutors are set to discuss the charges at a news conference this afternoon, CNN reports. Related Resources: Ross Harris indicted on murder, 7 additional charges (Atlanta's WSB-TV) Ga. Toddler's Hot Car Death: Why Is Dad Charged With Murder? (FindLaw's Blotter) Baby Dies in Hot Car, Young Father Arrested (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad, 32, Charged in Toddler's Hot Car Death (FindLaw's Blotter)
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