Karl Heideck Explains: Effects of the Philadelphia Soda Tax

The rates of obesity in America continue to rise, and many public officials are concerned about the consequences this can bring upon society as a whole. Nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese and more than 35% fall into the obese category. Just over 6% of adults in this country are considered extremely obese, and these weight issues are even beginning to trickle down and affect children as young as three years of age.

The implications of overweight and obesity are enormous and impact many areas of life. The healthcare system estimates that millions of tax dollars are spent annually on issues stemming from obesity. It’s clear that we need a solution to this problem. What’s not clear is what that solution should be. Some states have attempted to offset the problems created by obesity by instituting taxes and other penalties on junk food and soda. Philadelphia is one such example, having created a soda tax in the hopes of reducing the rates of obesity and the adverse effects that stem from it.

What is the Philadelphia Soda Tax?

Philadelphia recently became one of the first states to introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks. This tax took full effect early in 2017. What was the idea behind this 1.5 cent per ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks? Many public officials felt this tax would discourage people from purchasing and consuming as much soda, one of the many calorie laden products that have resulted in health issues such as weight gain. The thought was that those who were unable to afford to pay this tax would simply stop buying these products and those who chose to pay the tax anyway would be contributing financially toward offsetting some of the costs associated with the health problems that can result from consuming these beverages. While from the outside it may appear to have been a lofty idea with good intentions, the results have been far from what was intended when this tax was brought about.

How is the Philadelphia Soda Tax Impacting Society?

Armed with good intentions and many supportive citizens, the Philadelphia soda tax was seen as a solution to a growing problem that affects all of us in various ways. However, some unintended effects have already been seen in the short time this tax has been in existence.

First of all, this tax affects the low-income citizens of Philadelphia on a much larger level than other citizens who can simply afford to pay more for these drinks. As it turns out, low-income individuals are the largest consumers of these types of soft drinks. Low-income residents of Philadelphia without their own mode of transportation have no choice but to shop at local stores and pay this tax if they want to continue drinking these beverages.

This tax is also negatively affecting small mom and pop types of grocery stores. These stores are already competing daily with major chains who have much more capital, more power, and more advertising dollars. Small grocery stores are also now seeing a major reduction of sales and income due to customers traveling further away to do their shopping at stores in areas that have no tax on these soft drinks. When these previous customers opt to do their shopping at another store, they don’t just buy their soda from another location. They buy all of their groceries at another large retailer, leaving these small grocery stores struggling with a lack of sales. The lost income can be so large in some cases that these mom and pop stores have no choice but to close their doors permanently. In just two short months after the soda tax was initiated, one large retailer experienced an increase in sales of 20% while a small business owner experienced a loss of revenue of over 30%. These numbers are large enough to lead to the death of a small business, creating horrible ramifications for that business owner and his family.

Last but not least, it is estimated that this well-intended tax will result in a multi-million dollar deficit for the state overall. According to one financial advisor, both a short and long term deficit will be created due to the fact that government officials have not been calculating this tax based on accurate numbers. Government officials based their projected earnings from this tax to be far too high, which in the coming years will result in a deficit that will have to be made up for in other areas.

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Soft Drink Industry Appeal of the Philadelphia Soda Tax

It should come as no surprise that this tax has also negatively affected the soft drink industry. Canada Dry and Pepsi both reported that their Philadelphia branches had laid off as many as 20% of their employees since this tax came about.

Not surprisingly, the soft drink industries are fighting back and attempting to appeal this tax. The litigation involved in this case has made its way to the Supreme Court in an attempt to stop this tax and the affects that have already been seen from it. Supporters of the tax are calling the appeal disappointing and feel that it takes the focus away from the benefits they believe this tax will have for everyone involved in the long run. The outcome remains to be seen as the two sides continue to struggle and those who can travel continue driving to more distant locations to purchase their soft drinks at a lower price.

Who is Karl Heideck?

Karl Heideck is a successful and dedicated Philadelphia attorney with many years of experience in risk management and compliance related issues. A member of the Hire Council since 2015, Karl Heideck provides personal consulting for both large and small businesses on the topics of compliance, product liability, and risk management. In addition to being a successful lawyer and personal advisor, Karl Heideck also operates an educational blog designed to inform the public on topics relating to changes in public policy and other legal news that affects Philadelphia area residents.

Karl Heideck earned his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College in 2003 and went on to earn a law degree from Temple University in 2009. For over a decade, he has filled important roles within the legal field and continues to provide his expertise to helping area business owners and residents.

For more information on Karl Heideck and his legal services in Philadelphia, contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

More Articles by Karl Heideck:
Karl Heideck’s Guide to Pennsylvania Employment Law for Small Businesses

Career Spotlight: Litigation with Karl Heideck

Supreme Court Finds Ban on Offensive Trademarks Unconstitutional

On July 31st, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a federal rule that had prohibited any trademarks deemed to be “disparaging.” The court’s ruling was 8-0 in favor of throwing out the prohibition.

The court case, which is being heralded by proponents as a strong win for free speech, originally focused on a Portland, Oregon based band called The Slants. The Asian-American band had been denied a trademark on its name on the basis that the government believed their name to be disparaging towards Asian individuals. In order to challenge that ruling, The Slants’ band members argued that the prohibition against their name was a violation of their guaranteed constitutional rights to free speech under the First Amendment. In their ruling, the Supreme Court agreed.

It is not only The Slants who stand to benefit from the court’s ruling. The ruling will likely prove beneficial for the Redskins, a National Football League team who took their name in the 1930s but have been recently under criticism by Native American activists due to the racial associations of the word “redskins.” In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademarks, citing that they were disparaging to Native Americans. The team’s dispute against the ruling had been put on hold while The Slants’ case was taking place.

Many individuals had comments to offer based on the ruling. The Redskins’ lawyer, Lisa Blatt, commented to Reuters that the ruling would put an end to the “long-standing dispute with the government” that the team had. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were instrumental in filing the legal papers for The Slants, and they cited the ruling as a true victory for The First Amendment. The ACLU was quick to point out that the government was attempting to protect minorities, but had in fact hurt the Asian-American members of the band.

As for the band, frontman Simon Tam has argued that the name was chosen in order to reclaim slurs often given to Asian people by other races. Moreover, Tam has said that the band wore their name as a “badge of pride” against others’ racial hatred. In a released statement, the band has acknowledge that the ruling has bigger consequences far beyond the band, and they encourage the government to recognize the ability of marginalized communities to determine what’s best for their own lives without government interference.

Resource:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-band-idUSKBN19A1YP

Utah Passes Lowest Legal Limit in the United States

The legal limit used to be a .08 in the vast majority of states. That is, a driver is presumed to be a drunk driver if their bodily alcohol content is at or above a .08 per 210 liters of breath. The move to lower the legal limit to a .08 across the country began in the 1980s and continued until nearly all states enacted the limit by the early 2000s.

Now, the State of Utah is taking it a step further. They’ve enacted the lowest legal limit in the country. The .05 legal limit is set to take effect in 2018. Authorities say that a person can be over the legal limit after as few as just two drinks.

Utah lawmakers say that they’re basing the change on recommendations from federal traffic safety experts. They say that data shows a person’s ability to drive is influenced at as low as a .05. Others say that severe alcoholics that can drink to very high bodily alcohol levels are the drivers who cause most of the actual crashes and fatalities, so the law change is inappropriate.

Consumer groups say that they worry about what the law might do for tourism. They worry that large conference groups are likely to look for other locations because of the law. They worry that families and solo travelers might choose other places for personal vacations because of the change.

Lawmakers are reviewing the changes again to see if they want to make any changes before the law goes into effect. One of the things on the table is the possibility of reduced penalties for lower alcohol levels. Lawmakers also say they want to make sure that collateral consequences such as a driver’s license suspension that typically accompanies a conviction are proportional to the crime.

Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Steve Winward says that there are some that benefit from the new law. He says that ride-sharing services have seen a spike in traffic because many already believe the law is in place. He says that this is a sign that the law is helping drivers make responsible choices.

Legislators say the end goal is to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road. They hope to do that in a way that doesn’t unfairly restrict freedoms or unnecessarily punish drivers. However, they say they’re serious about taking steps to make the roads as safe as possible. If there aren’t any changes, the law goes into effect as written in 2018.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio could go to Jail

A federal judge ruled that former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was guilty of criminal contempt earlier this week. Arpaio had once referred to himself as America’s toughest sheriff and was known for his over-the-edge tactics. He served as the Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona for several years. Arpaio was accused of contempt of continuing to do racial profiling by targeting immigrants in patrols. Judge Susan Bolton of the US District Court passed the verdict in court papers that were signed at the start of the week. Bolton noted that Arpaio was aware of the court order and the policy that detained immigrants should be turned over to federal immigration. The evidence that was presented showed that Arpaio had acted in utter disregard of the order. She wrote that he even went as far as making it public that he would continue to target immigrants racially. He had also abdicated his responsibility by refusing to follow the law.

Arpaio is now 85 years-old. Arpaio mounted a defense saying that the order was not clear enough for him and that it was not his intention to violate it. His defense attorney blamed the lawman’s former attorney for failing to represent him adequately. The attorney had failed to seek clarification from the judge or explain the order to the client. The federal prosecutors in the case argued that the defiance was done intentionally. They believed he did this because he felt that he could get away with it. He could be looking at six months in jail if he is found guilty. The sentencing is scheduled to be done in the first week of October.

Jack and Dennis Wilenchik are Arpaio’s attorneys. They said that their client would appeal the verdict in favor of a jury trial. They said that Bolton had violated the Constitution by failing to read the verdict to Arpaio in court. They also believe that the verdict did not reflect the statements that were made by witnesses in the case. They added that a jury would have ruled in his favor, and that is why they are pushing for a jury trial. The former sheriff became involved in court cases when a class action law suit was filed against him for racial discrimination ten years ago. The group of Latinos that filed the lawsuit made allegations that the sheriff’s policies were unconstitutional. Arpaio believes that the investigations by the Justice Department are a witch hunt and hold no value.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/31/us/arpaio-found-guilty/index.html

 

 

Tony Blair Won’t Have To Fear Prosecution Over Iraq War

Officials in the London High Court ruled that Tony Blair shouldn’t be subjected to war crime charges over actions taken in the 2003 Iraq War. Previously, Iraqi general Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat sought to initiate a private war crimes prosecution against Mr. Blair, but that action has now been blocked.

High Court Justices Say Tony Blair Hasn’t Broken Any Laws

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who serves as the lord chief justice of the high court and senior judge, Justice Ouseley, have declared that there was no applicable law under which Tony Blair could be charged. The justices sought a crime of aggression in compliance with Rabbat’s allegations, but nothing could be found.
In their statement, the two justices acknowledged the recent addition of a crime of aggression to international law, but added that there was no clause to allow for applying the law retroactively.

A Chilcot inquiry determined that the 2003 attack on Iraq was unprovoked and undermined the authority of the United Nations. As a result, the inquiry concluded Tony Blair should be prosecuted.

The purpose of that finding was to force former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and former attorney general Lord Goldsmith to answer for their actions in a court of law.

Michael Mansfield QC argues that a law against waging a war of aggression has been implied into English law since the 1940s. He explained that the law had been accepted, when then UK attorney general Sir Hartley Shawcross QC used the concept to prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.
In response, Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC argued that, until recently, the people of England and Wales were unfamiliar with the concept of a war of aggression law. In effect, Mr. Wright says that makes the desire to prosecute Mr. Blair a “hopeless” claim.

While the high court justices did admit that there should be an allowance for the prosecution of the crime of aggression, there currently isn’t a domestic law of that nature. Instead, the high court left it up to the parliament to establish such a law.

Upon hearing this judgment, Imran Khan, solicitor for Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat, said the high court has indirectly granted immunity to English officials.
“As long as it fails to enact legislation which makes the crime of aggression a domestic criminal offense, any leader can act as he/she chooses knowing that whatever action they take, it can be taken with complete impunity,” said Khan.
Meanwhile, other countries, including Kosovo, Germany, and Serbia, have enacted domestic laws governing war of aggression crimes.

The Sierra Club And Georgia Power Prepare For Litigation

Last week, the nonprofit Sierra Club, an environmental watchdog group, notified Georgia Power about the organization’s intent to sue over a proposed utility company plan to clean ponds in the State of Georgia containing toxic coal ash residues. The utility firm has indicated it will remove environmental waste generated by 11 coal-burning plants in the Peach State. However, it seeks to empty out water from containment ponds at some sites without first obtaining updated permits.

Moving Away From Coal Ash Ponds

As a subsidiary of Southern Company, Georgia Power operates as a utility in 155 of the state’s 159 counties. It provides power for business and residential customers using a combination of resources. Energy sources utilized by the firm include nuclear power, natural gas, coal, solar power, wind energy and hydroelectric power.

The company for several years has sought to modernize some coal-burning facilities which generate coal ash. This waste product occurs following the burning of coal for energy. Coal ash sometimes includes toxic heavy metal components, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Previously, some 29 coal ash waste ponds contained much of this material. The Sierra Club seeks to ensure the water removed from these sites won’t damage adjoining waterways or public drinking water systems.

The Coal Ash Pond Cleanup Effort

Georgia Power recently indicated the closure of the existing coal ash ponds will constitute part of a projected $2 billion cleanup plan. The firm will shut down all the coal ash ponds. It expects to treat contaminated water, or recycle it. Workers will also remove coal ash deposits to other locations, seal them in place, or recycle them, too. The details of this effort have generated concern on the part of Georgia environmentalists, who fear the recycling of heavy metals may contribute to public health problems unless conducted in strict accord with federal clean water regulations.

The utility began emptying coal ash ponds near its McManus Plant outside Brunswick, Georgia late last year. Since this action occurred without the company first seeking updated permit approvals, the Sierra Club has indicated it will seek an injunction. It wants remediation to ensure the water removal efforts comply with environmental safety standards. A spokesman for Georgia Power contended in an email responding to an Atlanta journalist the firm has complied fully with rules enforced by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and will launch a robust defense.

Legal dispute forces Snopes to launch GoFundMe campaign

Snopes, the fact-checking website, has had to launch a GoFundMe page to keep operating, according to an article in PC Mag. Snopes has been forced to ask readers and supporters for money because they are not receiving any advertising revenue. The lack of advertising revenue is caused by a complicated legal dispute that stems from the divorce of David and Barbara Mikkelson, who jointly owned Snopes while they were married.

In 2015, the Mikkelsons hired Proper Media to manage advertising sales and ad placement on Snopes. The contract also called for Proper Media to manage advertising revenue. The Mikkelsons owned Snopes through a company by the name of Bardav Inc. When they divorced in 2016, David and Barbara each received 50 percent of Bardav. Barbara wanted to sell her stake to Proper Media, but the agreement splitting the company prevented her from selling her share to a company. She overcame this obstacle by selling shares to executives at Proper Media individually.

In March of 2017, David Mikkelson gave Proper Media 60 days notice that he planned to terminate Bardav’s contract with Proper Media. In May, he requested “certain information” from Proper Media, which Proper Media did not provide to him. Proper Media filed suit against David soon after, contending that he and Vincent Green – one of the Proper Media executives who had purchased a small stake in Bardav from Barbara – had blocked other Proper Media executives from access to the content management system. The suit also alleged that David Mikkelson and Vincent Green stole $10,000 worth of computer equipment from Proper Media. Bardav filed a counter-suit against Proper Media.

While the litigation is pending, Proper Media is withholding advertising revenue generated by the Snopes website. Snopes started the GoFundMe campaign to pay staff and cover other operating expenses. They requested half a million dollars. Contributors helped them to exceed that goal.

 

 

U.S. Justice Department Reverses Anti-Discrimination Laws Against Gay Employees

The LGBTQ was recently hit with a severe blow to their civil rights fight, when the United States Department of Justice reversed a decision that had advanced their protections. In a statement made to the U.S. appeals court, the Trump Administration reversed former President Barack Obama’s decision that federal law bans discrimination against gay employees.
Gay Employees Are No Longer A Protected Class
Issuing a friend of the court brief, the Department of Justice explained that Congress never intended for Title VII of the U.S. Constitution to apply to gay workers. The amendment mentioned in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals briefing refers to a clause that prohibits acts of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The briefing also called into question the authority of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency which has been advocating against discrimination and harassment of employees on the basis of sexual orientation. The Justice Department urged the court to stop deferring to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in matters related to gender identity and orientation.
It has been noted that this brief was issued only a short time after President Trump issued his ban of transgenders in the military, but Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley says the brief was instigated by other concerns. Specifically, Mr. O’Malley cites rulings from 10 high level appeals courts, which back up the claims made by the justice department.
Donald Zarda Initiated A New Discrimination Lawsuit
In writing the brief, the Department of Justice denied the court’s authority in expanding upon laws established by congress.
The statement was issued in support of Altitude Express Inc., a New York based skydiving company facing a civil suit from former employee, Donald Zarda. In the suit, Mr. Zarda claimed that he was fired by the company, after revealing that he was gay to a customer. When the customer complained to management, Donald was fired.
A short time after filing the suit, Mr. Zarda was killed in a skydiving accident.
The Justice Department’s statement says sexual discrimination only applies to gender and not orientation. Citing an example, the brief states that an employer would be guilty of discrimination through the termination of all male employees or all female employees.
According to the statement, discrimination is based on sex, where as an objection to homosexuality is based on personal or religious belief. There is currently no law prohibiting discrimination based on moral or personal objections, stated the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ohio Carries Out Their First Execution In Three Years, But It May Not Be The Last

In 2014, a controversial incident forced Ohio state officials to reconsider the death penalty. Although lethal injection has been carried out in a number of states without concern, the execution of Dennis McGuire didn’t go as planned. McGuire was seen gasping to breath and snorting, as though choking, for 15 minutes. Eventually, the inmate died, but the incident forced lawmakers to reconsider the death penalty and Ohio hasn’t performed a single execution since that incident.
Ohio Resumes Capital Punishment
Ronald Phillips holds the dubious honor of having been the first inmate to be put to death in the three years, since the execution of McGuire. At 10:43 a.m. on Wednesday, Phillips was executed via lethal injection. Carrying out Phillips’ death sentence seems to have been a test run for the state with reports surfacing that Ohio will now begin resuming executions.
In fact, the state has 138 inmates awaiting execution, which makes Ohio among the highest in terms of death row occupants. There are currently plans to continue the executions through 2020.
State executions have declined in recent years, as governments have researched drugs that would commit the act in a more humane fashion. Concerns are that the current method of lethal injection is cruel and painful, making it a contradiction to the U.S. constitution.

Who Was Ronald Phillips?
The fact that Phillips was the first man to be executed in three years raises curiosity about his crimes. In fact, Ronald was convicted in 1993 for raping and murdering 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend’s daughter.
Phillips was just 19, when he was brought to trial, and his lawyer used that fact to try to obtain leniency in sentencing. The court wasn’t sympathetic to the defense and sentenced Mr. Phillips to death.
Since that sentence, Ronald launched an appeal himself, asking to be granted a stay from execution. He told the Supreme Court that he has changed, since committing crimes against Sheila Evans, and that he had become a new person. His request was denied.
Timothy F. Sweeney and Lisa M. Lagos, attorneys for Ron Phillips, had released a statement expressing their belief that Ronald had been changed by his years in prison. They said he resigned himself to his fate and had learned remorse, compassion, and respect for others.
At the time of his execution, Ronald Phillips expressed his remorse and guilt to his victim’s family.
“To the Evans family, I’m sorry you had to live so long with my evil actions,” he said. “All those years I prayed you’d forgive me and find it in your heart to forgive and have mercy on me.”

Trump Bans Transgender Americans From Serving in the Military

Donald Trump took to Twitter again to announce barring all transgender individuals from serving in the military. The tweet stated people who are transgender cannot serve in the military in any capacity. Trump also stated that he came to the decision after consultation with his generals, military experts and legal professionals.

According to Trump, the military’s only focus should be “decisive” and “overwhelming” victory over enemies of the United States. The tweet went on to say that the medical costs and disruption over allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military is too much of a problem. According to FindLaw.com, members of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ staff were not aware of this ruling and were caught by surprise.

The defense department refuses to release statistics on how many transgender Americans currently serve in the military. However, estimates by Rand Corp. show that 2,500 to 7,500 people who are transgender currently serve on active duty and another 1,500 to 4,000 are in the National Guard or the reserves.

Many of Trump’s critics immediately responded to the action, calling it “cruel and arbitrary”, and a ridiculous attempt to humiliate transgender Americans. Members of the LGBTQ community call the decision “absurd” and another overstep by Trump. An organization that represents the LGBTQ community in the military threatened legal action if the Trump administration does not immediately reverse the decision. Outserve-SLDN stated that many transgender Americans currently serving have not caused any problems or issues, and those individuals often consider the military a last resort for gainful employment.

Conservative lawmakers and Trump supporters applauded the decision, calling it the first step in eliminating the need to use the military for social experimentation. Ash Carter, the former secretary of defense under President Obama, ended the ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military on Oct. 1st of last year.

Does President Trump Have Complete Power to Pardon?

On Saturday, President Donald Trump, through his twitter handle, stated that he had the absolute power to pardon. The tweet came hot on the heels of a Washington Post alleging that Trump had inquired from his advisers whether he had the authority to pardon aides, his own family, or himself. However, Trump’s lawyers dismissed the story on pardons as untrue. This story has spurred a huge debate among legal experts on the question of whether the president has the power to pardon himself. Some argue that the president cannot fight his own impeachment while others argue there is no legal provision to back this claim.

Different Opinions on The President’s Power to Pardon

Norman Eisen, former white house ethics lawyer, wrote an oped for the Washington Post disputing the power of the president to pardon himself. Eisen states the argument of the Justice Department that no one can be a judge in their own case. The constitution forbids the president from exploiting the pardon power to prevent his removal and impeachment. Additionally, the constitution states that any one removed through an impeachment is fully subject to criminal prosecution. This provision would be senseless if the president was allowed to pardon himself.

According to Jonathan Turley, a law professor at the George Washington University, the Constitution does not specifically forbid self pardons. In an article for the Hill, Turley argues that Article II of the constitution allows the president to grant pardons and reprieves for offenses against the U.S. except in circumstances involving impeachment. The constitution does not state who is not subject to a pardon. The president basically has the power to pardon federal crimes.

Some scholars refer to Article 1 of the constitution which says that impeached individuals are subject to an indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment. However, some law experts argue that if the president were to pardon himself, he could claim to be doing so in accordance with the constitution.

In the case of Schick v. Reed, the court stated that the pardoning power is provided for in the constitution and that its limitations should also be derived in the constitution.

Summing It Up

It is not clear what Trump meant when he stated that he had the absolute power to pardon. Although the constitution allows the president to issue pardons, the limitations of this law are not clear. However, one thing is for sure, no one is above the law. Therefore, no president can pardon themselves from an impeachment.

The Justice Department Is Giving Local Police Stations The Ability To Confiscate property

With the new administration, the Justice Department is now reinstating an old program that allowed local law enforcement to confiscate goods of suspected criminals. Law enforcement will also have the right to keep or sell the goods and use the funds for their operations.

At the surface, it may seem acceptable for criminals to have a property that was purchased with dirty money liquidated to help the local community. In reality, it can also be abused to simply steal property as law enforcement only needs suspicion or association to confiscate.

Attorney General Eric Holder from the previous administration had gotten rid of the program allowing confiscation without criminal convictions. This had ultimately led to corrupt officers needing to go through the proper legal channels to confiscate goods and ultimately had thwarted theft. It was still allowed to a certain degree when there were major threats to public safety.

Most state laws have their own rules regarding property seizure and most of them are so strict that it is difficult to do it without conviction. Thanks to the forfeiture sharing program, police can bypass state law and go right for the property. They can keep 80 percent of the proceeds and the federal government keeps their 20 percent cut.

Abuse Of Power?

The ACLU is already panicking about the possibility of this program being abused like it was before under the Bush administration. They claim that forfeiture in the first place is a violation of our rights and it is especially abusive when it is done without prosecution.

For example, Rhonda Cox had her vehicle taken by the police when it was suspected that stolen parts were used to repair it. In this case, the law enforcement used a policy that is supposed to take down drug kingpins and threats to national security but instead used it to make a few thousand dollars in revenue.

Since the new Attorney General Sessions is a supporter of the War on Drugs, it is suspected that the confiscation program will be used two-fold. The Attorney General assures us that there are safeguards to prevent abuse, but it was not the case when used previously.

Besides, the majority of the general public is against seizure of property without a prosecution. It is also hypocritical that Sessions claims to support states rights in most cases but is fine with overriding state seizure laws when it is convenient.

 

 

 

 

Prosecutors Shift Tactics in Response to Heroin Epidemic

There has been a drastic increase in heroin use in the United States in the last decade. According to a CNN report, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, and heroin was responsible for about 25 percent of those deaths. News stories about heroin overdoses are getting more and more common, and as the death toll rises, prosecutors are under immense pressure to intervene. As a result, some prosecutors are opting to bring criminal charges against the drug dealers in overdose cases.

Although it is well within the authority of prosecutors to charge drug dealers with negligent homicide or manslaughter for knowingly providing someone with lethal drugs, whether they have the ability to secure a conviction is less clear. Charging drug dealers in overdose cases comes with significant legal hurdles, and there are some good legal defenses that are difficult to nullify.

Charging people with the distribution of drugs resulting in death is also controversial, mostly because it is difficult to determine where the drug addict ends and the malicious dealer begins. Defense attorneys will argue, many successfully, that their clients are simply drug addicts and did not know that the drugs would lead to an overdose. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove that the drugs were the cause of death, that the dealers knew the risks and that they sold the drugs regardless.

Though this may sound like an impossible feat, some prosecutors are up to the task. Recently, in Richmond County, New York, police arrested Stephen Cummings, a Staten-Island barber, for supplying the fentanyl-laced heroin that led to the death of his father’s friend, 51-year-old Richard Zeifert. According to the New York Post, this is the first case of its kind in Staten Island’s history. Many defendants enjoy the benefit of the doubt in a case like this, but Cummings will not be so fortunate; he allegedly bragged about both the potency of the drug and Mr. Zeifert’s death to an undercover police officer, according to The New York Times.

America’s drug problem never seems to slow down, and a lot of people contest that the War on Drugs was lost long ago. Many question whether charging dealers in overdose cases is ethical or even effective. These types of cases will undoubtedly be difficult, but they will hopefully send a message to drug dealers that the wanton disregard of human life will not be tolerated.

Kentucky Lawmakers Sign Shared Parenting Law

Divorcing parents in Kentucky are more likely to find themselves sharing custody of the children than ever before. That’s because lawmakers amended Kentucky’s child custody laws to presume that it’s best for children to split time equally with each parent after a divorce. Courts don’t have to order joint custody if they think it’s likely to cause abuse and neglect of a child. Otherwise, joint custody with equal parenting time is the new normal in Kentucky, instead of the exception.

Parents don’t have to agree on a joint custody arrangement or even a parenting schedule in order for the court to award joint custody under the new law. Instead, the court may impose the schedule that they see fit as long as it’s as equal as possible. The law doesn’t change custody agreements that are already in place.

Parents must file an affidavit affirmatively demanding to exercise their parenting time. If a parent fails to file the affidavit, the court may award primary custody to the other parent. Parents must be sure to submit their affidavit timely, so that the court can consider it when making their initial decision.

In addition to the court considering whether joint custody may cause abuse and neglect, Kentucky’s new parenting law allows the court to make sure that both parents have adequate housing for the child. This means having a place for a child to sleep for at least eight hours each day without interruptions. It also means that a parent must have adequate food, clothing and other daily necessities for the child. If a parent doesn’t have adequate housing and other provisions for the child, the court should still try to maximize time with each parent in a way that ensures the child’s safety.

The vote for the new law was unanimous among Kentucky lawmakers. Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne sponsored the bill along with representatives Jason Petrie and Robby Mills. Lawmakers that support the bill say that their position has the backing of research on outcomes for children. Dr. Ryan Schroeder of the University of Louisville testified in support of the bill at hearings in the Kentucky legislature.

The National Parents Organization of Kentucky also publicly supported the bill. Governor Matt Bevin signed it into law in July, 2017. In addition to improved outcomes for children, supporters hope that the new law reduces animosity during divorce, because in most cases, parents no longer have to worry about losing the majority of the time with their children.

 

Constitutional Law Authority Sujit Choudhry Attends Workshop in Ukraine

Despite the controversy that swirled around the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the transition of power unfolded smoothly on Inauguration Day. This reflects the ongoing power and resiliency of the United States Constitution, which is regarded by many to be among the finest documents of its type ever produced. In fact, it is so highly regarded that countries around the world turn to it when seeking to transition to democratic governments. That is the case regarding the Ukraine, which since the fall of communism has famously struggled to strike an even keel with the balance of power in its government. Recently, comparative constitutional law expert Sujit Choudhry attended a workshop in Kiev, Ukraine, to discuss the challenges that the country is facing.

The workshop took place in Kiev, Ukraine, on July 10. In addition to Sujit Choudhry, numerous constitutional scholars were there to assist. The main topic of interest was the semi-presidential system of government of the Ukraine and the resulting constitutional challenges that are faced by the fledgling democracy. Ultimately, the discussion revolved around finding ways to improve governmental processes in Ukraine. With so many renowned minds in one room, it is safe to say that a lot of headway was made.

The attendance list for the Kiev workshop is a veritable who’s-who of constitutional law expertise. In attendance were Sergyi Holovatyi, who is a member of the Constitutional Commission of Ukraine as well as the Venice Commission; Sumit Bisarya of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA; Vladimir Vasilenko, who represents Ukraine on the United Nations Human Rights council; Viktor Musiaka, who is a representative of the president in Supreme Council 1996; and Thomas Sidelius of Dalarna University. The workshop was hosted by the Center of Policy and Legal Reform, which is a major Ukraine think tank, as well as International IDEA, which supports sustainable democracy around the world.

A variety of topics were discussed during the workshop, which was regarded as being highly productive. More than anything else, discussion focused on the ongoing instability of democratization in Ukraine, which has mostly been an issue because of the concentration of power in the presidency. Unlike the U.S., then, the country doesn’t have a balanced system of checks and balances, so democratic policies are more difficult to implement.

The scholars and experts, including Sujit Choudhry, also discussed the separation of powers within the dual executive branch. The government of Ukraine does not have just a president; it has a prime minister as well, so that is another way in which the government of this country differs from that of the United States. Another issue that was discussed to a great extent was the fact that the political parties of Ukraine are very weak. As a result, it is difficult for citizens to know parties’ stances on issues, and many other problems arise. The electoral system for the legislature of the country is also a major issue, and the experts focused on this one for a while as well.

As founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry has a unique understanding of the issues that are currently being faced by the Ukraine. The Center for Constitutional Transitions is currently conducting research into semi-presidentialism and constitutional instability in Ukraine. Ever since communism fell, the country has struggled to implement an effective democratic government. The legislature has overwhelmingly been far too weak, and the president has had far too much power. The organization hopes that its research will provide much-needed guidance to the country to help it establish a strong democratic government.

Ultimately, the goal of both the Center for Constitutional Transitions and those who gathered in Kiev on July 10 is to help Ukraine to develop a strong semi-presidential system of government. The work will not be easy to achieve, however, as the process has been underway for more than two decades already and very little real progress has been made. With so many great minds working on the issue, however, it is hoped that some real progress will be made in the very near future.

Scholars and researchers who have been working on this issue, both at the workshop in Kiev and at the Center for Constitutional Transitions, which is helmed by Sujit Choudhry, have identified many potential options that could help to establish a secure semi-presidential system in the country. This is an important and even crucial goal for a number of reasons, including:

  • To produce a strong, effective legislature that can exercise oversight over the president and the government as a whole. This will help to strike a better balance of power, which will facilitate the process of building a strong democratic government.
  • To facilitate an effective sharing of power between the president and the prime minister of the country. Up until now, far too much power has been concentrated in the office of the president, and this is one of the many reasons why Ukraine has struggled so much.
  • To ensure limited presidential power. When the president has an excessive amount of power, true democracy is impossible, and the country suffers.
  • To develop a government that is strengthened by presidential leadership during crises. Otherwise, the country flounders when major catastrophes occur, and the democratization process is weakened and threatened.

Sujit Choudhry was a welcome addition to the special workshop that was held in Kiev on July 10. An expert on comparative constitutional law, Choudhry holds law degrees from the University of Toronto, Oxford University and Harvard University. He also served as law clerk to Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada. As the founder of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry has played an instrumental role in constitution building processes of countries around the world. The organization has more than 50 experts in more than 25 nations. Right now, it is co-leading three collaborative global research projects, including the one about semi-presidentialism in Ukraine.

Throughout his storied career, Sujit Choudhry has published nearly 100 book chapters, reports, articles and papers. Today, he serves as the I. Michael Heyman Professor of Law at the University of California and Berkeley School of Law. Choudhry is currently a member of the scientific advisory board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law; the executive committee of the International Society of Public Law, or ICONS; the editorial board of Constitutional Court Review; the international advisory council of the Institute for Integrated Transitions, or IFIT; and the editorial advisory board of Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law. Without question, Choudhry will continue to play an active role in the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

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