Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/25/16: ‘Wobbler’ Offenses

A ‘wobbler’, otherwise known as a ‘hybrid crime’, is one that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. These crimes are said to ‘wobble’ between these two categories, as they can be charged as either based on a prosecutor’s discretion. The penalties are therefore dictated by whether the defendant is charged and convicted of a felony or misdemeanor. Examples include assault and DUIs (both of which may be charged as felonies if they result in serious harm or death) or grand theft (depending on the value of the property). California likely has the most wobbler offenses, as it has over a hundred on the books.


Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/18/16: Taxes!

The Sixteenth Amendment, passed in 1913, is probably one of the least well-known and yet most unpopular amendments, as it grants Congress the ability to levy a federal income tax. While the first federal income tax was levied during the Civil War as a result of the Revenue Act of 1861 (replaced the following year), the annual income tax has been alive and well for over a century. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s quote in its defense — “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society” — is engraved on the front of the I.R.S. headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/11/16: Be Kind to Lawyers Day!

Distressingly, there is no official “Lawyer’s Day” in the U.S.–despite the fact that nearly half of the members of Congress are lawyers. In fact, a member of Congress in 2015 was 66x more likely to be a lawyer than the average American.  The second Tuesday in April is, however, informally known as “International Be Kind to Lawyers Day” and has its own website. It was designed to fall in the week between April Fool’s Day and U.S. Tax Day.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/4/16: The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Of the 197 members of the United Nations, only the U.S. has failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989, the CRC is now the most widely ratified international treaty. The CRC would also become the first universally ratified human rights treaty if the U.S. ratified it. President Clinton signed the treaty in 1995 but it has yet to be submitted to the Senate for the two-thirds vote required for ratification.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/28/16: The 28th Amendment

The proposed amendment currently closest to ratification is the “Lawyers’ Rights Amendment” (LRA), which if ratified would become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The LRA would make lawyers a protected class, and treat “comments, jokes and statements that tend to denigrate or otherwise sully the reputation of legal practitioners” as a form of hate speech. It has currently been ratified by 29 state legislatures, out of the required 38, and has no deadline for ratification.

April Fools!

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/21/16: Reading the Riot Act

‘To read the riot act’– meaning to warn someone that their current actions will not be tolerated — has its origins in an actual legislative enactment. Formally entitled An Act for preventing Tumults and riotous Assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the Rioters (U.K. 1715), but known more generally as The Riot Act, it was passed in response to widespread social unrest after the death of the last Stuart monarch of the U.K., Queen Anne. The statute had a procedural safeguard built into it, whereby no one could be prosecuted for violating it unless they remained on the scene of the riot for at least an hour after the Act was read to them in warning. It was repealed in 1973 but continues to live on as a popular idiomatic expression.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/14/16: Insanity!

The words “insane” and “insanity” are legal, rather than medical, terms. Contemporary legal definitions of insanity are derived from the M’Naghten test, formulated by the House of Lords in 1843, which set out the test as whether (a) the defendant knew what he was doing, and (b) if so, knew that it was wrong. It was adopted by the U.S in 1851, and remains the test in about half of the states. A handful of states–currently Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Utah and Vermont–do not allow for an insanity defense.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/29/16: Leap Year!

While technically there is no legal issue with respect to having a leap year birthday, people born on February 29th (often called “leapers”) may face some problems, particularly with regard to medical or government records. Some computer systems do not accept February 29th as a valid date, or alternatively do not take into account leap years and print invalid expiration dates (such as February 29, 2015, which did not exist) on their driver’s licenses, insurance policies, and other documents. Because of the potential social issues related to having a birthday that is only officially recognized every four years, instances have been recorded of physicians altering birth certificates so that the birth date would not fall on February 29th — a practice that is illegal.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/22/16: The Right to Privacy

While the Constitution contains no explicit reference to privacy, the Supreme Court has held it is found within the “penumbra” of the Bill of Rights as an implied right. Specifically, the Court had pointed to the 1st  Amendment (privacy of beliefs), 3rd Amendment (privacy of households from demands of quartering troops), 4th Amendment (privacy of persons and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures), 5th Amendment (protection of personal information through the right against self-incrimination), 9th Amendment (protecting other rights than those specifically enumerated), and 14th Amendment (liberty clause).

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/15/16: ‘Ladies Nights’ as Discrimination

The practice of holding a “ladies’ night’‘ as a promotional event at bars and nightclubs has been often challenged on state and federal grounds. While challenges under the Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 have failed, four state courts have found they constitute unlawful gender discrimination under state or local law: California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/8/16: Jury Sequestration in New York

For more than a century New York state required that juries be sequestered during the deliberation phase of all trials for violent felonies. This extremely unpopular law was repealed in 2001. Missouri still makes jury sequestration mandatory in trials involving a charge of first degree murder where the state seeks the death penalty.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 1/25/16: Reporter’s Privilege

Related to the spousal privilege, attorney-client privilege, and priest-penitent privilege, the reporter’s privilege (also known as a ‘press shield law’) is provided for in 48 states and the District of Columbia, either statutorily or through judicial decisions. Federal courts have also upheld a press shield law in the absence of a federal statute. The press shield law provide various degrees of protection to reporters to wish to keep the identity of their sources confidential.