legal nuggets

The LA Times has a piece on the continuing controversy over the insanity defense. In Nevada, a young man who stabbed a friend without warning at a party and was acquitted by reason of insanity has been declared cured by his doctors after only ten months in a mental facility. Under Nevada law, he is now eligible for release.

In North Carolina, a former state Supreme Court justice has filed a lawsuit challenging the policy of granting large incentive packages to corporations so that they will locate in a given state. Justice Robert Orr claims that this practice violates the commerce clause, as it discriminates in favor of in-state activity. His complaint cited the 6th Circuit's ruling last year in Cuno v. DaimlerChrysler, which struck incentives granted to the corporation in 1998 to build a plant in Toledo.

Convicted murderer and Crips gang founder Stanley Williams has received the President's Call to Service award for his good deeds on death row. Williams has been an anti-gang activist during his many years on death row at San Quentin State Prison, where he was sent after being convicted in 1981 for killing four people.

Amnesty International is challenging the ongoing detention of two Yemeni men who were held and interrogated for 18 months without charges or any contact with the outside world. They are now being held in Yemeni prison, where prison officials say they have no reason for holding the men, other than the fact that it was a condition for their release from US detention.


David Gelernter, a computer science prof at Yale, wrote a guest column for the LA Times a few weeks ago calling for an end to affirmative action, and declaring that "[t]here are no more outsiders in American life." He also compared affirmative action to Vietnam, but I will leave that aside as too absurd (and demeaning) for comment. What wowed me about his column was his praise of Bush for nominating Roberts, a "garden-variety white male," which was apparently meant to be a beacon of hope to all those who thought discrimination still exists. The fact that Bush didn't nominate a minority means there is no more need to pay any attention to that, becuase there is no more discrimination! I must confess I have not yet achieved the good professor's lofty heights of logical reasoning.

You will perhaps not be shocked to learn that Gelenter is a white male who attended Yale as an undergrad, where presumeably he felt a little overwhelmed by legions of black and brown students pretty much running the show.


birth control illegal?

I have heard many friends say over the years that the other side would not have the nerve to go after birth control. Think again.

Republicans around the country are moving full steam ahead on their baby agenda. A bill recently introduced in Wisconsin prohibits University of Wisconsin campuses from prescribing, dispensing and advertising all forms of birth control and emergency contraceptives. That means college women, who are particularly susceptable to sexual assault, will be forced into extremely difficult circumstances.

Furthermore, pharmacists continue to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.

Oh, and lest you think you are safe in California, New York or Massachusetts, consider this: If the Supreme Court rolls back Roe and/or Griswald, the Federal Congress will be free to render these things illegal across the country (under the strong reading of the commerce clause that we have promoted for so long). That means that this is in your back yard.

why isn't wal-mart cheaper?

This page offers suggestions to communities that want to organize against Wal-Mart. One thing I was not aware of is that Wal-Mart does not actually have the lowest prices around, and in some cases, far from it. Ever wonder why Wal-Mart doesn't just blow Costco out of the water with its prices? Costco, after all, pays its employees extremely well, whereas Wal-Mart has bravely cut back in that area. Here is an exerpt:
How does the number-one retailer maintain an image of low prices? First, by actually making sure its prices are lower than its competitors, at least on key items. These items are called "price-sensitive" items in the industry, and it is commonly believed that the average consumer knows the "going price" of fewer than 100 items. These tend to be commodities that are purchased frequently.

A mid-size Wal-Mart supercenter may offer for sale 100,000 separate items, or stock-keeping units (skus). Wal-Mart and other major retailers believe that the general public knows the going price of only 1 to 2 percent of these items. Therefore, each Wal-Mart store shops for the prices of only about 1,500 items in their competitors' stores. If it is ever found that a competitor has a lower price on one of these items than Wal-Mart, the store manager will immediately lower his or her price to be the lowest in the area.

Price-sensitive merchandise is displayed in prominent places such as the kiosk at the entrance to the store, as well as on end caps, in dump bins, and in gondolas down the main aisles. Consequently, when Wal-Mart customers see the items of which they know the price, the ones always priced lower in Wal-Mart, they start assuming that everything else is also priced lower than at competing stores. This assumption is simply not true.

My barber has offered me a simple example. He sells a nonbreakable pocket comb for 25 cents that he procures from his vendor for eight cents. Wal-Mart sells a lower-quality comb for 98 cents, and one would assume that Wal-Mart pays less for it than the barber does. People keep buying Wal-Mart combs, however, because the average person does not know the going price of a pocket comb, and it is automatically assumed that the Wal-Mart price is the lowest.

Costco, by the way, has been catching flak for being such a great employer. Wall street is miffed that their iron clad rules of market forces are not playing out. Costco responds to this investor talk by pointing out that it saves tens of millions of dollars by strong employee retention and satisfaction rates - it doesn't have to constaintly retrain new people, employees rarely steal, and everyone is happy and friendly. Sounds good to me...

housing bubble

I have seen a lot of predictions about the end of the housing bubble, but this one caught my interest, probably because I have recently been doing research on predatory mortgage lending (where banks finance mortgages for very little money down in exchange for very high interest rates). Exerpt:
So, why would banks foolishly loan money to people who can't even scrap together a few thousand dollars for a down payment or who can scarcely meet their "interest-only" obligations?

The reason is simple; because they are not the one's taking the risk. Mortgage loans are acquired by investment banks and chopped up into various securities where they are sold in mutual funds, hedge funds and pension funds etc. To some extent, this takes the lenders off the hook, but it also means that the shock to the system will be much more widespread when the day of reckoning finally arrives. If we encounter a major glitch in the economy the shock-waves will be felt throughout the world. "Investors now hold $4.6 trillion in mortgage backed securities. That's more than the outstanding value of the US Treasuries." (NY Times) Think about it.



Yesterday I drove out to the small town of Forest, MS to visit a 16 year old client in jail for life for helping his half-sister shoot her abusive boyfriend. We think he is innocent, but we have our work cut out for us as he gave a confession. So that's depressing. However, on the way home I picked up a copy of the Scott County Times, a small county newspaper. In the 'Life' section, I read a really sweet article about a bus of Rainbow family members who stopped in town the week before. If you're reading this post close to July 27th, you can see a picture of the group here. As you may know, Rainbow folks are extremely hippified, dreadlocks, dumpster diving and all. Rather than treating them with suspicion, the town shared food and money so they could repair their broken bus and get back on the road. Who'd a thunk?

things that are frustrating

For the past week I have been reading cases non stop, gathering precedents for an innocence project appeal. Reading criminal cases for 12 hours a day can take its toll. While it's bad enough reading about horrible murders and attacks and robberies, it is beyond frustrating to see the court pulling BS like this:
Next, the defendant contends he invoked his right to counsel, but the police did not honor his requests. The defendant made two references to getting an attorney: "I think I might need an attorney," and later, "if I'm going to be arrested, I need an attorney." The defendant made the first statement after the polygraph examiner told him he had failed the test. The phrase joined the auxiliary verb "might" to the verb "need" to express possibility. When introduced by "I think," the meaning indicated a thought in process, but not yet concluded. The speaker was still considering or weighing the decision, was still testing alternatives. The statement was not a clear, unambiguous request for counsel.

The second reference to an attorney was also inconclusive. The statement, "if I'm going to be arrested, I need an attorney," is a conditional sentence. The subordinate clause "if I'm going to be arrested," established a condition upon the main clause. The statement told the police that if they were going to arrest the defendant, he wanted an attorney. Such a conditional statement was not a clear, unambiguous request.

Law enforcement officers must immediately cease questioning a suspect who has clearly asserted his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation. Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981). However, the defendant must make an unequivocal request. Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 458-60 (1994). We hold that the defendant never made an unequivocal request for counsel.

Here you see the court resorting to pedantic grammatical parsing in order to find that no request for an attorney was made. I could understand if the court simply said, "The defendant must use the following words: I request a lawyer. While other statements may indicate a desire for a lawyer, this is the phrase we need to see." But to claim that the defendant did not in fact clearly request a lawyer is just low.

[the quotation above is from Pritchett v. Commonwealth, 2000 Va. App. LEXIS 807, 7-8 (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 12, 2000)]

think globally

I am a general news hound, but there are a few things that I am oddly obsessed with, namely hurricanes and bird flu, which toggle with the seasons. Lately I've been poring over satellite images of Dennis and Emily and super Typhoon Haitang. However, today the bird flu wiki caught my eye, and it pointed me to a thorough Foreign Affairs article on the topic. The article discusses many aspects of the possibility of a global pandemic, and particularly focuses on its effects on world trade. There was one paragraph in particular that I found interesting. Having pointed out the degree to which SARS threw the world into a panic, he writes:
The pandemic-related collapse of worldwide trade and its ripple effect throughout industrialized and developing countries would represent the first real test of the resiliency of the modern global delivery system. Given the extent to which modern commerce relies on the precise and readily available international trade of goods and services, a shutdown of the global economic system would dramatically harm the world's ability to meet the surging demand for essential commodities such as food and medicine during a crisis. The business community can no longer afford to play a minor role in planning the response to a pandemic. For the world to have critical goods and services during a pandemic, industry heads must stockpile raw materials for production and preplan distribution and transportation support. Every company's senior managers need to be ready to respond rapidly to changes in the availability, production, distribution, and inventory management of their products. There is no model for how to revive the current global economy were it to be devastated.

I am not an anti-globalist, whatever that really means. However, the trend away from maintaining any local sustainable production and consumption seems to be a recipie for disaster. What happens when something goes wrong? Speaking of which, the price of oil is up on fears that hurricanes will disrupt oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. I have a suspicion that the weather is going to get a lot worse.


I have been trying for ages to articulate the paradox of "rationales" offered by war supporters of why we are in Iraq. A commenter on dailyKos has said it beautifully:
Has anyone else noticed this conflict between two of the supposed current goals of the Bush administration in Iraq?

On one hand, the US is supposedly intent upon creating a new democracy out of the ashes of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, Iraq is our "flypaper" for Islamic terrorists, where we are drawing them to fight in order to prevent them from attacking the US on its own soil.

But doesn't it seem as if there's a problem in setting up a stable nation in a war zone? I have a hard time reconciling those two plans. Unless the pool of potential terrorists in the Islamic world is just about empty (something I have a hard time swallowing) it seems like we're going to need active flypaper for some time to come (making the huge assumption that it actually works) either in Iraq or elsewhere. And that means developing a stable government, turning over true power to that government, and leaving Iraq is a long way off (assuming, of course, that it was ever planned).


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