Sunday, December 08, 2013

Why We Don't Have the Greatest System in the World

Anyone who has served on a jury has heard a speech from a judge about our criminal justice system is the greatest in the world because the citizens participate and act as finders of fact.  The judge doesn't distinguish our system from genocidal regimes in which the citizens participated and found facts (as in Nazi Germany or Rwanda).  Here's what you may not know about the jury system in our country.

Jurors are told that they are the judges of the case, while his or her honor simply presides neutrally over the trial.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The jury only hears facts that the judge has predetermined that they can hear (much of the evidence is excluded from every criminal trial).  Sometimes this benefits the accused but more often the prosecution.

The judge will further tell you that you can only judge facts as s/he will give the jurors the law which they have a duty to follow.  That is a blatant lie.  What the judge doesn't tell you is that while you may have a duty to follow the law as determined by the judge you have the right not to do so, particularly if you perceive the law to be unjust.

Similarly juries are not allowed to consider punishment.  Punishment is the judge's domain.  That means ultimately the jury is not the judge of the case.  It is the judge.  In many trials if the jury knew how draconian the punishment is their decision about whether or not to apply the law would be affected (which is why they don't want you to know the punishment).

The judge will also tell you that you have to evaluate the testimony of police officers in the same way as any other witness.  Then the cops come in one by one in full uniform with a gun conspicuously at their hip and give the official version of the case.  You can not help but be influenced by the pomp and circumstance of the officer's appearance.  So you will tend to believe a cop even if you really try to be neutral and you will say to yourself "something must have been done and badly done or we wouldn't be having a trial.

This leads to the biggest joke of all which is that the defendant is not obligated to take the stand and the jury shall not take his/her silence as evidence of guilt.  In most criminal trials the accused does not take the stand and despite the instructions of the judge the jurors are affected by that.  I have never tried a case, win or lose, where jurors didn't say to me afterwards "why didn't we get to hear his/her side."

These are a few reflections on our system.  This discussion is only the beginning.  It doesn't take into account racial bias, unrepresentative jury panels, capricious judges or prosecutors who lie.  When all this is taken into account I can think of a number of justice systems that work better than ours.  I am just not allowed to say that to the jury.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Over the last 5 or 6 years Avvo has succeeded in convincing consumers that attorneys graded highly by Avvo will give them free help and advice.  Of course many of us regularly answer legal questions in our field so the promise is partially true.  But where Avvo has gone over the top is in trying to set standards for the legal community which is actually regulated by the state bar associations.  Avvo pretends to judge the quality of attorneys who donate their time by standards but they won't reveal why except to say (like every one else on the Internet) "we have an algorithm."

First look at the list of highest ranked attorneys (I am one).  Some of them regularly answer questions but the majority have never made any contribution to the Avvo community.  How do these attorneys rate a 10 when they don't participate?  Beats me.  Then look at the answers over a broad range of categories.  The most popular answer is "Hire an attorney,"  seconded only by "I agree with my colleagues."  What that contributes to the discussion is dubious.  But many attorneys earn high Avvo rankings by typing out these empty headed answers.  And they receive the same Avvo credit as an attorney who gives a pertinent and helpful answer however long or short.

Avvo has now started censoring answers by taking down an attorney's comment it doesn't like.  The excuse is "violates community guidelines."  But in what way and which guideline?  Avvo won't say.

Now the real motor that drives Avvo is the answers provided by attorneys for free; by what standard does Avvo (which is not a company of attorneys) judge these answers?  Occasionally a more than usually stupid question may be answered sharply.  For fear of offending consumers Avvo takes these down, again according to unstated principles.

The biggest scam is that you will see the word PRO by some attorney listings.  This seems to be an endorsement but it is not. PRO simply means that the attorney pays Avvo a monthly fee supposedly to have his account activity monitored.  All fine and good but the designation PRO is false and misleading.

Avvo is not going to go away but before you hire attorney look further than the Avvo ratings because they mean nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

SF DA Nancy Tung Has History of Distorting Evidence

I discovered the following account of previous misconduct on the part of Tung in an article written by Jack Cashil, who also wrote "What's Wrong With SF," which I haven't read. You can find the article which I have reprinted at

"In reading the parole hearing transcript for Steven Nary, I sensed the depth of the injustice about to unfold when San Francisco Deputy District Attorney, Nancy Tung, described Nary’s “victim,” 53 year-old Juan Pifarre.
In the way of background, Nary, an 18 year-old U.S. Navy airman at the time of the incident, has spent nearly 14 years in prison for killing Pifarre, his would-be rapist.
Pifarre, Tung testified under oath, “was an Argentinean immigrant . . . a senior financial analyst for the city of San Jose and a publisher of Horizantes, a Spanish language news periodical. He was an advocate in the San Francisco community for the Latino community . . . an advocate for low income and impoverished people and also for immigrants, populations that don’t often have a voice . . . and yes, he was gay.”
If the San Francisco DA’s office were interested in pursuing justice, and not in pacifying the city’s gay and Latino communities, Tung would have told the truth about Pifarre.
Yes, Pifarre was an immigrant, an illegal one, who got a green card through a sham marriage. Yes, he worked for the city of San Jose, but it was something of a no-show job as he was also working full time in San rancisco 50 miles away.
Yes, Pifarre was gay, but he was an angry coke-head and gay predator, who prowled co-ed dance clubs looking for vulnerable prey.
Tung also failed to mention Pifarre’s serious priors for unwanted sexual advances. As she knew, his one time attorney and neighbor, Ralph Johansen, testified at Nary’s 1999 trial that he had once defended Pifarre on an assault charge.
Apparently, Pifarre had grabbed the crotch of a 19 year-old male and asked for oral sex. This led to a fight in which both were charged with battery.
Johansen had lived downstairs from Pifarre. Many a night he saw Pifarre come home with what appeared to be young military types.
Often he heard “lots of noise, lots of screaming,” and at least once he heard a full-blown fight that culminated in a fist going through a window. Tung mentioned none of this.
Although generally fair, the presiding commissioner Jack Garner has apparently lived in California too long. After Nary confessed that he had frequented prostitutes, Garner asked, “On the morality scale . . . what was so different about the situation with Juan that caused you to do what you did?”
Nary’s appointed attorney, Gertrude Akpenyi, should have jumped up and shouted, “Outside of San Francisco, there is still a qualitative difference between soliciting a female prostitute and being anally raped by a lying, coke-crazed fat man, even if he is an advocate for the poor.”
Akpenyi, however, had been caught off guard. Garner had told Nary at the beginning of the hearing, “We’re not here to retry your case,” and Akpenyi took him at his word.
As in most parole hearings, the attorney’s role was to discuss the prisoner’s record while incarcerated, and Nary’s had been “impeccable,” Akpenyi told the panel.
In his favor, Nary had some two-dozen letters of support, offers of jobs and places to live. His psychiatric report noted “low risk for violence in the free community” and was among the best anyone had seen.
Nary had converted to Catholicism years ago, helped facilitate spiritual programs and tutor other prisoners. He had all but completed his AA degree from Coastline College, had gotten five certificates from Microsoft, and had “laudatory” marks in program after program.
“He’s a model inmate,” said Akpenyi in conclusion. “He has proved that the rehabilitation system really does work.”
“I don’t know when you had time to sleep,” said Deputy Commissioner Diane Lushbough to Nary. “You’ve done an awful lot. I want to just acknowledge that.”
None of this interested Tung. She had studied the case in depth and driven the 200 miles from San Francisco to Avenal State prison explicitly to retry the defenseless Nary.
At the beginning of the hearing, in fact, Tung presented grisly crime scene photos that took everyone by surprise. “I’m wondering why the DA has submitted this,” Akpenyi asked the equally confused commissioners.
Tung conceded that Nary had been hopelessly drunk, that Pifarre had lured him to his apartment under false pretenses, and that a sleepy Nary had pleaded with Pifarre to stop trying to penetrate him from behind.
Said Nary, who was almost assuredly slipped a date rape drug, “I was just laying there, couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.” When Nary finally got his wits about him, he hit the relentless Pifarre over the head with a glass mug by the bedside, and a fight ensued, the first in Nary’s life.
“The victim was helpless,” said Tung of a man his friends admitted at trial could be ferocious when high. Pifarre came after Nary with a towel rod. Nary wrested it away from him and jabbed him with it. When Nary slipped, Pifarre tried to gouge his eyes out, and Nary responded by choking him, likely to death.
Only In San Francisco, only with a gay and/or minority “victim,” only with a male defendant, could choking a rapist pass for “Murder in the Second Degree with Use of a Weapon.” The “weapon” was the towel rod.
In their questioning, both Tung and Garner seemed bewildered that anyone would find homosexual advances troubling.
Asked Tung, “Did this murder happen because of your temper?” In their questioning, she and Garner implied that Nary should have asked Pifarre to cry “uncle” once subdued and let him be.
“Did you have any level of curiosity about how things were going to evolve,” asked Garner of a confused, drunk, 18 year-old fighting for his life.
Tung chastised Nary for not calling 9-1-1 after he had fled Pifarre’s apartment in the early hours of the morning. That he had called the police of his own accord days later scored him no points.
Despite the absurd questions, Nary was as incapable of defending himself as Akpenyi but for a different reason: he was there to prove his very genuine remorse.
As a serious Christian, he had come to understand that his behavior leading up to that night was “sinful,” a word the commissioners had not likely heard very often.
“I felt no real purpose,” said Nary of that time in his life, “and life seemed to be a party where I could live from one experience to the next.”
He then offered a plea for contrition too comprehensive and profound for the commissioners to understand even if they had wanted to. “Every inch of my body, mind, and soul cries out for forgiveness,” said Nary.
In a state where interest group dynamics trump individual justice, Nary never had a chance.
“The panel feels that you haven’t fully explored the totality and magnitude of this commitment offense,” said Garner at hearing’s end.
“You’re unsuitable for parole because you remain a present and unreasonable risk of danger if released and require an additional five years of incarceration.”
And we wonder why the state is bankrupt?"

SF DA Nancy Tung Misconduct Results in Dismissal of All Charges in DV Case

Recently I concluded a domestic violence case in SF after ADA Nancy Tung admitted that the prosecution was based on fabricated evidence. She waited until the jury was empanelled to do so, costing my innocent client 5 months in the county jail and his job. There follows my letter of complaint to Ms. Tung's supervisor which sets forth all the facts.

"This is the first such letter I have written in 31 years as an attorney. I try to overlook most examples of inappropriate behavior in the interest of not escalating conflict. Presently I am a felony conflicts attorney for the Bar Association of San Francisco. The prosecutorial misconduct in the above-referenced case is so egregious that I cannot help but call it to your attention.

My client, T. G., was arrested on charges of domestic violence on September 15, 2010. The alleged incident occurred during the night of 8/20 to 8/21, 2010. It was not reported by the CW until September 3, 2010. As far as I can tell your ADA Nancy Tung interviewed the CW, had her sent to a hospital for a physical and without further investigation filed felony charges against my client. Due to the exaggerated claims of ADA Tung bail was set at $100,000, a sum my client could not meet.

Mr. G. is a white male, 35 years old, small in stature with no previous criminal record (except a misdemeanor marijuana conviction from the state of Virginia when he was very young). He is committed to non-violence, founded a men’s group which focused on awareness of domestic violence and has lived peacefully in San Francisco since 1998. As a result of this unfounded prosecution he lost his job, his home and a 5 month chunk of his life.

From the beginning the defense asserted that the alleged victim was psychologically unstable, alcoholic and bent on revenge since Mr. G. broke off relations with her. She had stalked him at the restaurant where he worked until the SFPD was called in (Lieutenant Moore of the Richmond station has a vivid memory of the alleged victim’s instability. She was so concerned that she called the Berkeley [where the victim lived] mobile crisis unit on a 5150 suspicion.

Nevertheless when I tried to get ADA Tung to investigate these claims she adopted an attitude that “women never fabricate so I don’t believe you.” After a mighty struggle we obtained the phone records of both parties and provided copies to ADA Tung. These records showed several things which supported the defense theory of the case. The alleged victim had called Mr. G. between 345 and 60 times a day since their break up. On occasions when he would not answer she appeared the next morning at his San Francisco home. She was insanely jealous of his female roommate (who incidentally was a lesbian) and attacked her one evening as she got into her car.

More significantly the cell phone records showed that the two parties were not even in the same city the night of the alleged incident.

One would think that such information would cause ADA Tung to investigate the defense claims. She did not. She didn’t even read the cell phone records we gave her in mid-December. She plunged on ahead, insisting that Mr. G. was a danger to public safety and she wanted a felony against him.

After fruitless attempts to settle the case with ADA Tung, it came on for trial on January 25, 2011. A jury panel of 85 citizens (after hardships) was empanelled and pretrial motions heard. On January 27 we were scheduled to voir dire the jury. As it turned out the night before ADA Tung undertook for the first time an investigation of defense claims. She first of all ran a criminal history on her victim and found that she the victim had been arrested as the aggressor in a DV incident with another man in Berkeley in 2008. Until the eve of trial she had failed to run a comprehensive criminal history on the CW. Had this been done after the event was reported I believe it would have raised a red flag in the mind of an honorable prosecutor and led to an in depth investigation of the CW that would have persuaded her not to pursue Mr. G.

At this point ADA Tung began for the first time seeking verification of the defense story. Over the course of the night she discovered that each and every claim we had made were true. The next day, while 85 citizens waited in the hallway, Ms. Tung gave trial judge Bolanos a rambling 45 minute explanation of why she wanted to dismiss the case. By this time the MTC judge had gotten wind of this waste of judicial time and effort and demanded that ADA Tung request the dismissal in Dept 22. Again there followed a rambling incoherent speech which tended to say she could not have known earlier. Judge Lee recognized this statement for what it was and said “if Mr. Kaman could have discovered these facts you could have too.”

Judge Lee pronounced Mr. G. totally exonerated and apologized to him, a gesture ADA Tung did not have the grace to make. Judge Lee went on to say that if ADA Tung had tried this case she would have earned a not guilty verdict which would have been an embarrassment to Ms. Tung and the Office of the District Attorney.

While I am aware that prosecutors have total immunity in their charging function, this is not so with regard to their duty to investigate. ADA Tung has not only shamed herself she has opened up the City and County to a claim for damages which would be supported by case law. Shoddy investigation, or, in this case, none at all, rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct which the law will not protect."

To date no response from my letter. Ironically the next week the same conduct repeated itself involving another defendant and ADA. That case was dismissed mid-trial when it turned out that the woman had fabricated the whole thing.

What's going on in the SF DA's domestic violence unit???

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Palmer, Reiffler & Associates

Palmer, Reiffler is a Florida firm that specializes in sending civil demand letters to those accused of shoplifting. The idea is that the store has suffered damages due to the crime, even if the goods are returned undamaged. In my view these demand letters, while legal under PC § 490.5, are also empty threats, as no action is ever taken on the demand. Moreover they are deceptive as the letters arrive in the context of a criminal prosecution and many people pay thinking Palmer, Reiffler is working for the DA. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, paying a civil demand has no effect whatsoever on a criminal prosecution.

I posted my views in a legal guide on Avvo, the lawyer guide (another scam which will be subject of a later post). Natt Reiffler contacted me by e-mail to protest, portraying his firms efforts as legal and accomplishing a social good. I responded and asked for some documentation, some of which was provided. Most importantly I asked whether Palmer, Reiffler had ever filed suit in CA and for identifying case numbers if they had. To this question I got NO response so it is safe to say the letters threaten action that will never and has never been taken.

The rest of the documents concerned Attorney General opinions in CA about the practice, stating generally that they are legal. I never disputed that point so the documents do not refute my position. The other document was an order on a motion for summary judgment in a class action suit against Palmer, Reiffler. No details are given and it is thus impossible to tell what propositions this order stands for, if any.

Nonetheless, I told Natt I would print his response and here it is:

"Thank you for your comments and agreeing to post this reply on the Avvo site below your comments. Litigation is a choice for clients on a case by case and state by state basis. You clearly have a choice when advising your clients about what retailers may choose to do in the future. However, in light of our ever changing economy and the over 15 billion dollars estimated to result from theft in the US annually, the phrase often used by stockbrokerages about how “past performance should not be considered an indicator of future performance” seems in my opinion worthy of consideration.

I have enclosed the two Attorney General opinions as well as the order granting our firm summary judgment against the plaintiffs in the suit your referenced. Our letters use cautionary language and as expressed earlier, I disagree with your characterization of them. While you have every right under the 1st Amendment to express your opinion regarding what they mean or the context of the letters, I would ask that you use greater care in choosing your words characterizing the letters. Looking at the overall context and in light of the Attorney General’s 1979 Opinion, I respectfully disagree with you. A civil “penalty” release is offered in exchange for a voluntary payment of statutory civil damages. There is no intent to confuse and the letters are clear that the requested payment only resolves a potential statutory civil claim. We can’t change that the civil remedy in California happens to exist in the Penal Code. My preference would have been for the civil remedy to be codified in the civil law.

Once again I reiterate in response to your statement about our letters that you published on the Avvo website; “It will be very demanding, threatening lawsuits and wage garnishments”, there are no letters that threaten wage garnishments!

Natt O. Reifler"

If you think that response justifies preying on poor people who fear their liberty will be lost I'd like to hear from you. I'm not persuaded.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I can't take credit for this; it comes from Mr. Pfeifer's blog. I couldn't produce a link so I am presenting it whole with credits to its author.

Why your lawyer won’t take or return your phone calls – top 10 reasons

by William L. Pfeifer, Jr. on February 19, 2010

© 2010 by William L. Pfeifer, Jr.

"The most frequent complaint about lawyers is they won’t take or return phone calls. Articles on this subject usually sugarcoat the issue, give some blah blah blah about professional responsibility, or try to it wrap up in a touchy-feely feel-good win-win conclusion. No one really wants to tell you what is going on. You want the truth about why your lawyer doesn’t want to talk to you? Here are the top ten reasons your attorney won’t return your calls.

10. Your lawyer is busy on something more important. While you may think and act like you are your lawyer’s only client, the reality is that a lot of other people hired the same attorney as you. Your business alone will not pay your lawyer’s bills. Lawyers have to meet crucial deadlines. They spend hours standing around in courtrooms, and more hours researching and preparing to stand around in courtrooms. They are in meetings with clients, interviewing witnesses, taking depositions, and a million other important things. Your whiney question about a case that won’t be going to trial for two or three years is not as pressing as the case set for trial tomorrow.

9. There is nothing new to tell you. Many people believe that there are always new developments in their case, or that there should be. In reality, most cases involve many periods of intense activity but also include many times of little or no activity. For example, if you send interrogatories to the opposing party, there is probably nothing going on until they submit their answers a month from now. If all discovery has been done and you are just waiting for trial, you could experience months of inactivity in a case just waiting to get in front of a judge. If there is nothing to tell you, your call inquiring about the status of the case may not get returned until there is absolutely nothing else of any importance that the lawyer needs to do.

8. You talk too much. Some people act like a lawyer has all the time in the world, and want to chat endlessly about trivial matters that just aren’t relevant. Lawyers quickly learn which clients can be efficient and which ones are time hogs. If you know how to get to the point, get your answer, and move on, your lawyer is much more likely to return your calls than if he or she knows that your call will go on forever. Lawyers are busy, they only have a limited number of hours in a day, and they can’t spend all day listening to you blab on and on. It’s nothing personal, you are just a waste of time. If the lawyer starts the conversation with, “I’ve only got 5 minutes before I have to do X,” that may be a warning sign that you are a time waster. Make your calls short and to the point, and you’ll hear from your lawyer sooner and more often.

7. Your lawyer has issues. Surprisingly few people do much research before hiring a lawyer. This lack of diligence works out well for lawyers with substance abuse problems, mental illnesses, or a poor work ethic. What do you really know about this person who has been entrusted with the most important matters in your life? Statistics indicate that lawyers suffer from alcoholism and depression at rates significantly higher than the general population. In fact, lawyers have the most alcoholics of any profession. You may have hired a fantastic attorney who is swamped with work, or you may have hired an alcoholic lawyer who is too drunk to talk to you right now.

6. Your lawyer screwed up. While still fairly rare, this does happen more often than people realize. Your lawyer could be avoiding telling you the unpleasant truth that your case has already been lost. How can this happen? The most common way is that the lawyer missed a filing deadline. If there was a statute of limitations on when your case had to be filed with the court and the lawyer missed that deadline, then you are screwed. Your lawyer doesn’t want to tell you because he or she doesn’t want to have to admit to committing malpractice. So he stalls, delays, and avoids you until he can figure out a way out of this mess.

5. Your lawyer is an ass. Most lawyers are not as bad as the reputation of the profession would lead one to believe. In fact, most are ordinary people who just happen to be in a job that turns them into bitter, cynical asses who hate what they do every day. Most started out with high aspirations for all the good they could do in the world as a lawyer, only to discover so much of the job is just doing the bidding of some of the sorriest SOBs on the planet (such as you). This is very hard on one’s soul, and over time it can turn lawyers into rather unpleasant people. Note: It could also be that he was already an ass before becoming a lawyer, in which case joining the legal profession is like living a dream for him.

4. You are not the client. It is absolutely amazing how many people think they have a right to know what is going on in other people’s cases. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, ex-wives, employers – the number of people who call lawyers wanting to know “what is going on” would surprise most people. If you are leaving messages about someone else’s case and aren’t getting a return call, consider that the lawyer has no obligation to call you. The lawyer doesn’t represent you, can’t tell you anything, and really doesn’t have time to argue with you about why he can’t tell you anything. It doesn’t matter if you are the client’s momma, if you have written authorization, if you have a power of attorney for the client, or even if you are paying the bill. If you aren’t the client, mind your own business.

3. You are an idiot. This one is pretty self-explanatory. You are a dumbass who doesn’t understand anything you are told, or who disregards it to do whatever you want to do anyway. You are going to be getting into trouble for the rest of your life because you are just so dumb. Seen those “stupid criminal” videos? That’s you. Your lawyer is tired of telling you what to do, only to watch you disregard it to indulge your impulses or because you think you are smarter than everyone else. You aren’t. No one likes to waste time talking to a moron.

2. You won’t listen. This one often overlaps with “you are an idiot.” No matter how many times something is explained to you, you ask the same questions over and over because you don’t like the answers you received. You think that if you ask the same question over and over, at some point the answer will change into something you want to hear. This isn’t your mommy saying you can’t have a cookie and finally giving in because you asked for it 100 times. If you’ve been told the same answer a dozen times already, maybe it is because that really is the answer. Since the lawyer doesn’t want to tell you again, he just won’t bother talking to you.

1. You are an ass. The biggest reason that your lawyer doesn’t want to talk to you is that you are an ass. You are rude, demanding, pushy, arrogant, whiney, and annoying. You think that you can catch more flies with a flamethrower than with honey. Your lawyer is the only person who is trying to help you, and yet you want to treat him like this? Hating you is not a good motivator for trying to help win your case. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but it doesn’t get a returned phone call. Try being polite and pleasant, and you’ll have much better communications with your lawyer."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

West Memphis 3: New DNA Evidence

Johnny Depp added his name to the long list of celebrities and activists calling for authorities to re-examine the convictions of the West Memphis Three, a trio of young men convicted nearly two decades ago of murdering three children in West Memphis, Arkansas.

The often press-shy actor will appear in a pre-taped interview on CBS' "48 Hours Mystery" on Saturday.

"I firmly believe Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are totally innocent," Depp said, according to a New York Post report. "It was a need for swift justice to placate the community. Damien Echols is on death row to be killed by lethal injection."

The "48 Hours" episode will discuss new DNA evidence and alleged juror misconduct that could potentially clear the West Memphis Three, according to the report.

After the gruesome beating deaths of three 8-year-old boys shocked the small Southern town, many activists believe authorities rushed to convict the West Memphis Three based more on the trio's dark clothing and love of heavy metal than facts.

The sensational trial, conviction and aftermath — which has divided the community and the world at large for more than 16 years — were documented in a pair of acclaimed films by directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky: "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations." The pair went on to make "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" after the band provided music to their West Memphis Three documentaries.

Depp and Metallica are joined in their support for the West Memphis Three by Eddie Vedder, Winona Ryder, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and Henry Rollins, who organized a benefit album for the trio a few years ago, to name a few.

Last month, Demi Lovato offered her support via Twitter, writing: "Can everyone just take a second to read this please a truly worthy cause. Show your support!!" followed by, "FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE!!! :(."

Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were teenagers at the time of their convictions. The verdicts have continuously been challenged through legal channels, but they all remain in prison, with Echols on death row. Many believe that circumstantial evidence seemed to point to other potential suspects. Some members of the victims' families have publicly expressed their desire to see all of the facts in the case re-examined.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Medical Marijuana Limits

A guide to the new ruling on medical marijuana.

Background of the Compassionate Use Act

In 1996, via the initiative process, the voters of CA approved Proposition 115, the Compassion Use Act (the "CUA") PC § 11362.5. The legislature, fearing abuse, passed a law restricting the amount of medical marijuana that a person with doctor authorization may have, limiting that amount to 8 ounces of the drug or 3 marijuana plants. On 1/21/10 the CA Supreme Court overturned the limits set by the legislature at PC § 11362.7 et seq. The case is titled People v Kelley Supreme Court Docket No S164830.

Why and What Does This Mean for Me?

The initiative process in CA amends the state constitution. The legislature itself cannot amend the state constitution. The law amending Prop 215 was an unlawful amendment by the legislature of the CUA. Hence the Court struck it down. What it means for you may invoke the law of unintended consequences as the Court noted that officers may stop anyone suspected using of marijuana to determine if they have authorization and whether the amount they possess may allow for criminal activities. Although the ruling would seem to be a further step in the legalization of marijuana it in fact broadens the powers of the police to search anyone suspected of having marijuana even if they have the proper authorization under the CUA.