Ian’s Random Summer Legal Fact 7/10/17: The Massachusetts Constitution

The Massachusetts Constitution is the world’s oldest continuously-operative constitution, having been approved in 1780 (9 years before the U.S. Constitution). Its principal author was John Adams, who insisted the state be referred to as a ‘commonwealth’. It was also the first to be created through constitutional convention rather than by a legislature, after an earlier draft constitution was rejected by voters in 1778. It has been amended 120 times, most recently in 2000.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/24/17: The Twenty-Third Amendment

Ratified in 1961, the Twenty-Third Amendment grants the District of Columbia electors in the Electoral College, so that residents of D.C. may vote in the presidential and vice-presidential elections. The Amendment grants D.C. the equivalent number of electors it would have were it a state, but no more than that of the least populous state (currently Wyoming, with 3 electoral college votes). The presidential election of 1964 was the first in which residents of D.C. could vote, and the District has cast its three electoral votes for the Democratic candidate in every election since then — including the 1984 reelection of Ronald Reagan, in which only D.C. and Minnesota voted for his Democratic opponent.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/18/17: Lawyer’s 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.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 4/10/17: Slow-Motion Video and Juror Bias

A recent study has shown that jurors who are shown surveillance video, in slow motion, of criminal acts committed by defendants often suffer from ‘intentionality bias’. Even when reminded that the footage was artificially slowed down, unanimous juries were four times more likely to convict when they viewed slowed-down video than juries who did not. The study shows that jurors ascribed greater premeditation and intent to these defendants, despite the reminders, resulting in higher conviction rates as well as more severe sentences.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/3/17: Good Samaritan Laws and Pets

Currently six states have ‘Good Samaritan hot car laws’, which protect people from liability for breaking into a locked car to rescue a pet that was left unattended. Typically these laws require a good faith belief that the animal was in danger, an attempt to locate the vehicle’s owner, notification of law enforcement or emergency services, and the use of no more force than is necessary to enter the vehicle. As of November 2016 MA is one of these states, as Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 174f grants civil and criminal immunity for entering a motor vehicle to remove an animal if certain requirements are met, such as making reasonable efforts to locate the vehicle owner and notifying law enforcement.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/27/17: Succession of the Vice-President

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was adopted in 1967 and establishes that the Vice President succeeds the President in the result of the President’s death, resignation or incapacity, and also establishes a process for filling a vacancy in the office of the Vice President. It was adopted in order to address the ambiguous language in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution which did not make clear the role of the Vice President under such circumstances.

 

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/20/17: Gifts and Windfalls

In U.S. tax law there is a distinction between gifts and windfalls. A windfall — historically referring to fruit or trees blown down by the wind which then become public property — now refers to any sudden, unearned gain such finding money on the street or buried treasure. A gift, however, is a gain given by a donor and motivated by generosity, affection, respect or the like. A key distinction is that the recipient of a windfall is taxed, while the recipient of a gift is not.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/13/17: The Twenty-Fourth Amendment

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment restricts the federal government and the states from requiring a poll or other tax in order to vote in federal elections. It was approved by Congress in August of 1962, and ratified by the states in January 1964. At that time, five states — Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi — still had poll taxes used to disenfranchise African-American and poor white voters. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that any poll taxes, for any level of state or federal elections, was unconstitutional as per Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966).

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/27/17: ‘On the Lam’

The expression ‘on the lam’meaning to be a fugitive from the law, has a murky past. It is often thought to be urban slang from the 1920s used by members of the criminal underworld. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang traces it back to the mid-19th century, while noting it appears related to the Old Norse word lemja, meaning ‘to depart hastily’.  Another theory traces its origins to Elizabethan England, where it meant the same thing as ‘beat it’, an idiom still in use and immortalized in a song by the late Michael Jackson.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/20/17: Presidents who have served on the Supreme Court

In honor of the President’s Day holiday: William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States (1909-1913), remains the only president to also serve on the Supreme Court. He lectured in legal ethics at BU Law from 1918-1921, and then served as the tenth Chief Justice from 1921-1930.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/6/17: Husband Killing as Petty Treason

Until 1828 in the U.K., a wife killing her husband committed ‘petty’ or ‘petit’ treason, not murder, as the law deemed this a crime against the social order. The penalty was burning at the stake, until replaced by hanging in 1790.