Monthly Archives: February 2015

Insanity Defense – Difficult to Prove

The defendant in the Chris Kyle murder case argued he was insane at the time of the killing. There are various forms of the defense, but in essence it is the defendant’s inability to know that his actions are right or wrong, or that a mental disease somehow impaired his free will to act.

Normally, the burden is upon the defendant through his counsel to show that he was insane at the time of the murder. But in some states such as Colorado, the burden falls upon the prosecution to show that the defendant was sane at the time of the murder.

 

Injury on Weight Bench Results in Lawsuit Ruling for Club

Posted by Fadi Huzien.

This article “Injury on Weight Bench Results in Lawsuit But Ruling for Club,” discusses a lawsuit, which was filed by a fitness facility member at the gym center where he routinely exercised. The plaintiff, La Fata, filed a lawsuit towards the center, LA Fitness International, because he claimed that his injury was due negligence by the defendant, LA Fitness International. As stated in the article, “the member contended that the facility was negligent and responsible for what the member claimed was a willful injury.” This quotation alludes to La Fata’s perspective that LA Fitness International was responsible for his injury and believed that he was morally and ethically entitled to monetary compensation in this civil case in order to make the defendant compensate him for what he contended was significant injustice in which he was victimized.

Contrary to La Fata’s assertions, there was significant evidence omitted from what he claimed was a vindictive, immoral, and an unjust situation in which he was harmed and expecting compensation for the wrongdoing. This evidence significantly neutralized his claims for wrongdoing and negligence by the defendant LA Fitness International. The defense completely destroyed his argument in the statement, “At the time the plaintiff joined the defendant’s facility he signed a double-sided membership agreement which contained a release/waiver of liability. The release contained the usual language including a provision that the facility was relieved from any liability for injuries suffered “in, upon, or about LA Fitness premises or arising at LA Fitness facilities, services or equipment.” A bold face typed provision of the release indicated this member had “read and understood the entire agreement.” This quote indicates that the plaintiff knowingly signed a waiver for liability in the event of getting injured on the premises of LA Fitness, and most importantly, signed the contract that he had read and agreed regarding the rules and regulations. Therefore, the lawsuit was dismissed on summary judgment because La Fata knowingly signed this contract, which shields LA Fitness from liability. The clause defends the corporation from lawsuits such as these that could result in a significant financial award for damages.

Conclusively, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, LA Fitness International. Perceiving the deciding factors in this case, the judge placed significant importance upon the evidentiary support and the notion (as was taught in class) that it is not necessarily about who is right or wrong, but what one can prove. Within the domain and the rules of the law, it is more important who can provide more evidence to support a claim. In the end, it is about whichever party can ascertain more concrete and factual information to provide justification to decisively conclude who is righteous in the perception of the law. That will separate which individual, or party, is morally and ethically innocent by contemporary societal norms and beliefs.

Herbert, David L. “Injury On Weight Bench Results In Lawsuit But Ruling For Club.” Exercise Standards & Malpractice Reporter 23.6 (2009). Web. 14. Feb. 2015.

Fadi is a double major in nutrition food science and exercise science at Montclair State University, Class of 2015.

 

Debate on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Posted by Fadi Huzien.

The article “Debate On Medical Malpractice Lawsuits,” discusses the intricacy of a singular aspect of business law that involves the controversial aspect of medical malpractice lawsuits. The primary reasoning behind the controversial nature of medical malpractice lawsuits is that they can be perceived from a beneficial and optimistic standpoint in the notion that if a medical professional is negligent then the victim would be able to receive some outlet of financial compensation to justify the negligent actions the physician took towards the patient/victim.

Conversely, however, there are many individuals seeking to intentionally profit off of a malpractice lawsuit in the immoral and unethical attempt to make as commonly referred to as a “quick buck.” In the article, the author eloquently articulated, “Some states have been gradually chipping away at medical malpractice laws seen by some as too plaintiff-friendly. For instance, a New York law limits the size of contingent fees in medical malpractice cases, thus reducing the financial incentive for plaintiffs’ attorneys.” This quote illustrates the belief that there are a multitude of profit-seeking individuals who aspire to take advantage of this law, which was originally created to empower the victimized individual or to allow financial compensation in a civil case to pay the families of the victims in the event of harm that had occurred due to the physicians negligence. As the quote portrays, contemporary legislatures are seeking to minimize this immoral mentality and reduce wrongful malpractice lawsuits that focus on making a significant profit by opportunistic individuals who are suing the doctor in a “get rich quick scheme.”

This article reveals that there is no simple black and white solution for these issues, because there are truckloads of gray areas. Although malpractice lawsuits are occurring in civil cases with righteous reasons and there are a wide spectrum of patients who became victims under the negligence of the physician operating on them, there is a wide-spectrum of profit-seeking fools who are filing malpractice lawsuits in the hopes of getting a financial benefit that the individual should not receive in the first place. In conclusion, this article summarizes both aspects to this controversy and insightfully portrays both sides of the controversy.

“Debate On Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (2013). Research Starters. Web. 7. Feb. 2015.

Fadi is a double major in nutrition food science and exercise science at Montclair State University, Class of 2015.

Grand Jury Testimony – Secrets Revealed

Grand juries function to investigate criminal wrongdoing and screen out charges that do not warrant prosecution. Secrecy in the proceedings is paramount to carry out its duty. Therefore, litigants in a civil action cannot request that grand jury proceedings be disclosed, unless there must be a particularized need for the disclosure. That need must outweigh the public interest in its secrecy.

But why should these proceedings remain secret when court proceedings are generally conducted in public? The United States Supreme Court has said there are five reasons why grand jury proceedings should remain secret:

(1) To prevent the escape of those whose indictment may be contemplated; (2) to insure the utmost freedom to the grand jury in its deliberations, and to prevent persons subject to indictment or their friends from importuning the grand jurors; (3) to prevent subornation of perjury or tampering with the witnesses who may testify before grand jury and later appear at the trial of those indicted by it; (4) to encourage free and untrammeled disclosures by persons who have information with respect to the commission of crimes; (5) to protect innocent accused who is exonerated from disclosure of the fact that he has been under investigation, and from the expense of standing trial where there was no probability of guilt.

United States v. Proctor & Gamble, 356 U.S. 677, 681 n. 6, 78 S. Ct. 983, 986 n. 6, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1077, 1081 n. 6 (1958)).

One of the concerns is keeping witness names secret for fear that exposure could have a chilling effect on future witness cooperation in grand jury proceedings. Another concern is damage to the reputation to those investigated if they are not indicted by the grand jury or if the indictment is subsequently dismissed by a judge for legal or factual defects in it.

Particularized need requires the party requesting the grand jury information to show its relevance to the case and without it the party would suffer prejudice or an injustice. Courts may require the party seeking the information to exhaust all other means provided by the discovery process first. And if granted, the court may opt to review the material in camera to make sure the party’s need outweighs the public policy for grand jury secrecy.

 

State Courts Are Co-Equal to Federal Courts

The Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the United States Constitution states:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

While federal law trumps state law, nothing under the Supremacy Clause compels a state court’s interpretation of a federal law to give way to a lower federal court. In Lockhart v. Fretwell, Justice Thomas stated in his concurrence that “a state trial court’s interpretation of federal law is no less authoritative than that of the federal court of appeals in whose circuit the trial court is located.” 506 U.S. 364, 375-76 (1993).  Justice Thomas gave the following example: “An Arkansas trial court is bound by this Court’s (and by the Arkansas Supreme Court’s and Arkansas Court of Appeals’) interpretation of federal law, but if it follows the Eighth Circuit’s interpretation of federal law, it does so only because it chooses to and not because it must.”

The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of federal law. When it rules, then the states are bound.

The Fourth Amendment Requires the Police to Act Reasonably Not Perfectly

In Heien v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court held that where a police officer makes a stop based upon a reasonable mistake about a law, the stop is justified.

In this case, an officer stopped a vehicle because one of its two brake lights was out, based on a misunderstanding that the North Carolina law permitted only one working brake light. The officer stopped Heinen’s vehicle because one light was not working and then proceeded to a consensual search of the car. The search turned up a bag of cocaine located in a duffle bag in the trunk. Heinz was arrested and convicted of attempted drug trafficking. The question presented to the Court was whether a police officer’s reasonable mistake of law can give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to uphold a seizure of an automobile and the occupants in it under the Fourth Amendment.

The North Carolina statute reads that a car must be:

equipped with a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle. The stop lamp shall display a red or amber light visible from a distance of not less than 100 feet to the rear in normal sunlight, and shall be actuated upon application of the service (foot) brake. The stop lamp may be incorporated into a unit with one or more other rear lamps. N. C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §20–129(g) (2007).

The Court concluded that the statute required only one stop lamp to be working. However, the officer was under a different impression of the law at the time. A nearby statute requires that “all originally equipped rear lamps” be functional. N. C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §20–129(d). The officer made the stop under a mistake in law. Nevertheless, the Court held that even if an officer reasonably misunderstood the law, as long as the officer conducts a search or seizure reasonably under the Fourth Amendment he is acting justifiably.

“To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them ‘fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.'” Reasonable mistakes of fact are permissible. For example, when someone consents to the search of a home, the search will be considered valid even if the officer mistakenly believes that the person consenting is the owner.

Reasonable mistakes of law are also permissible. “Reasonable suspicion arises from the combination of an officer’s understanding of the facts and his understanding of the relevant law. The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground.” Even laws that police enforce that are later declared unconstitutional by a court does not rebut an officer’s reasonable assumption that the laws were valid at the time.

Heinen argued that there is no margin of error for an officer’s mistake of law. He argued the legal maxim: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” If persons cannot get out of trouble by claiming they were mistaken about the law, then neither can the police.

But the Court concluded the law protects against only “reasonable mistakes,” and therefore, “an officer can gain no Fourth Amendment advantage through a sloppy study of the laws he is duty-bound to enforce.” The Court further concluded Heinen’s reliance on the legal maxim is misplaced. A person cannot escape criminal liability by claiming he did not know the law, but neither can the government impose criminal liability by a mistaken understanding of the law. The Court explained:

If the law required two working brake lights, Heien could not escape a ticket by claiming he reasonably thought he needed only one; if the law required only one, Sergeant Darisse could not issue a valid ticket by claiming he reasonably thought drivers needed two. But just because mistakes of law cannot justify either the imposition or the avoidance of criminal liability, it does not follow that they cannot justify an investigatory stop.

In this case, Heien did not appeal his brake-light ticket. Instead, he appealed a cocaine-trafficking conviction, as to which he did not claim the police made either a mistake of fact or law.