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NAACP Joins the Throng of Derpy Crim Law Commentators

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Those of you with Facebook have probably been witness to a number of completely idiotic posts about the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict. People who get their news primarily from HuffPo and Slate, with a little bit trickling in from The Root, believe that there was conclusive proof that racist vigilante George Zimmerman "hunted" Trayvon Martin, tracked him down, and shot him in cold blood. Among people who actually followed the evidence and who have a basic understanding of criminal law, there is near universal acknowledgement that the state didn't prove it's case, that the key question is who actually instigated the fight to which there are no eye witnesses other than Zimmerman, and that with such a weak case the state should not have even brought charges against Zimmerman.

You've probably also seen stories about Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years for aggravated battery for firing a "warning shot" at her abusive husband, and for whom the Stand Your Ground defense was rejected. Your Facebook friends have probably failed to note the important detail that Alexander, feeling threatened, left her home, went out to her car, got her gun out of her car, and then went back inside. The Stand Your Ground law says you can defend yourself without retreating (the Castle Rule would have applied anyways, because she was in her house), but it doesn't say you can go back in after retreating.

Lastly, you may have seen people on Facebook discussing the Department of Justice bringing charges against Zimmerman for deprivation of civil rights, since the right to life is of course the most fundamental of civil rights. Think for two seconds about federal powers and state powers and double jeopardy and all that, and it might strike you as odd that the DoJ could prosecute someone for deprivation of civil rights for a crime like this. It would mean they could prosecute just about anyone for any crime, since we tend to define crimes as when you infringe on another person's rights (regulatory crimes are of course the exception). And of course the DoJ doesn't have jurisdiction over every crime. Let's take a look at the law, 18 USC 242:

Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

The key phrase here is "under color of law." Hey, stand your ground is a law! Let's go get 'em! ...Hold on there, sparky. The Supreme Court has been pretty clear in its rulings on this. This law and the corresponding 1983 civil action law might be phrased very broadly, but they cover only state actors or civilians acting in coordination with the state. There's not even a colorable (ha!) argument that George Zimmerman was a state actor when he shot Trayvon Martin. It doesn't take a particularly sophisticated legal analyst to realize a federal civil rights case is a non-starter.

But let's be fair to your Facebook friends. The law is written in overbroad language, and someone who hasn't been to law school might think it applies. You know who we shouldn't be fair to though? The NAACP for getting the idea into people's heads that the DoJ could bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Their petition for a federal prosecution had more than 500,000 signatures as of yesterday, despite their website crashing under the heavy traffic. Here's the text of the NAACP's petition:

Attorney General Eric Holder,

The Department of Justice has closely monitored the State of Florida's prosecution of the case against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder since it began. Today, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it is time for the Department of Justice to act.

The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.

Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today.

Thank you.

Unlike your Facebook friends who aren't legally sophisticated, the NAACP has lawyers. Probably a lot of them, and some of them are probably pretty good lawyers. There is absolutely no way the NAACP believes a federal case or its petition has legs. So why bother?

Probably because they know it's going to fail. They know that a lot of people are upset about the verdict, and believe that finding Zimmerman not guilty is an attack on black people everywhere. And they know they can get those people's hopes up with this petition. Don't worry that Florida has failed you, Obama and Holder are going to come through for black people.

They are getting people's hopes up with the expectation of having those hopes dashed, just to use it as a flimsy indictment of America. The federal government won't act, at least not with a civil rights prosecution, and the NAACP will spin that as proof that America is racist to its core, without mention that the federal government doesn't have the authority to do so.

Way to go, NAACP. Ordinarily we'd say it's wrong to prey upon people's ignorance of the law and to take advantage of them while they're in an emotionally vulnerable state, but you know, so long as it's for the greater good, carry on.

"ABC's Zimmerman trial reporters Tienabeso and Gutman are incompetent, dishonest hack charlatans who should be convicted of murder," Acclaimed Law Blog Says

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Everyone else is talking about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, so we'll do it too. We're going to take a different angle though and discuss journalism ethics. Sorry, no discussion about the facts, or how the prosecution didn't prove its case, or the Sixth Amendment issue in the judge grilling Zimmerman and at one point not allowing him to confer with counsel, or the other Sixth Amendment issue in allowing him to face a charge that was added only at the end and thus he wasn't given the opportunity to defend against. None of that stuff. We're also going to skip the low hanging journalism ethics fruit of discussing how the news media focuses on sensationalism and generally opines on legal matters without one iota of legal expertise.

Instead of all that, we're going for the less sexy topic of how to ethically construct a news headline. In looking through Google News stories, we came across this headline from ABC News:

"George Zimmerman Is A 'Liar' Who Should Be Convicted Of Murder, Prosecutor Says."

We'll sidestep the issue that this makes absolutely not sense and should be "George Zimmerman is a murderer who should be convicted of murder." The problem we want to highlight is more subtle than that. It's the placement of the phrase "Prosecutor Says." Compare the original to a different structure:

"Prosecutor Says George Zimmerman Is A 'Liar' Who Should Be Convicted Of Murder."

The former treats the claims about Zimmerman as a fact, with the prosecutor as the source for the claim; the latter reads as reporting the highly biased statement of a prosecutor.

Intelligent minds will read the two statements the same, but as we all know, the majority of Americans aren't that intelligent, and probably won't even read to the end of the first version of the headline. And by "we all know" I mean "including ABC's Seni Tienabeso and Matt Gutman." Maybe Tienabeso and Gutman are just incompetent. Maybe someone else is responsible for the headlines. Or maybe they do think Zimmerman is a liar who should be convicted of murder, but rather than expressing that view on the editorial pages where it belongs, they decided to report their opinions as fact.

 

And just to make our headline truthful: ABC's Zimmerman trial reporters Tienabeso and Gutman are incompetent, dishonest hack charlatans who should be convicted of murder.

The PAYE Tax Bomb Doomsday

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We're going to have a little fun analyzing the tax implications of PAYE. This is all a bit back of the envelope, so some of the math is simplified, but we think it gets pretty close to the mark.

A recent graduate who starts his legal career earning $50,000 and sees annual raises of 3% will have an average salary of $70,152 over the next 20 years. If that same student also graduates with the average debt of $125,000 at 6.8% interest, he would ordinarily pay $953 a month if on a 20 year repayment plan. Under the new Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan, he will only have to pay $441 a month. However, his $125,000 of debt generates $6800 of interest ever year, or $708 per month. The $441 monthly PAYE payment does not cover the interest, causing his debt to increase by $267 a month. At the end of the 20 year repayment period, his debt will have grown to $189,080. That is the amount that will be forgiven under PAYE.

Enter the tax man.

The PAYE forgiveness will be a taxable event. With his 3% raises, his final salary at the 20 year mark is $90,305, but he’ll be facing taxes as if he earned $279,385. His federal income tax burden on the $90k salary would have been $18,579. The PAYE tax bomb adds another $57,749. The PAYE forgiveness has removed only 46.2% of his debt. That’s some nice relief, but good luck paying the IRS $76k on a $90k salary.

As many critics of PAYE have noted, the system is being abused by schools that treat it not as relief for indebted students but a subsidy for the school. By decoupling repayment amounts from debt loads, students have far less incentive to worry about actual debt amounts. That would encourage schools to raise tuition even more rapidly than they already are as students become even less price sensitive. But in the sake of fairness, we’re going to assume they raise tuition only at the rates they have been. The average increase in student debt loads from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011 was 16.9%. (This is higher than the rate of tuition increases because tuition is growing faster than 0L cash on hand.) For these purposes, we’ll assume jobs paying $50k now will increase their starting pay by 3% every year.

Five years from now, that $50k job will be paying $58,000, the average salary over 20 years will be $77,377, and that student will have graduated with $272,900 of debt.

PAYE will require $501 a month, normal repayment would be $2083, and the annual interest the debt accrues is $18,557, meaning after making a PAYE payment, the grad’s debt will grow by $1045 a month.

In 20 years time, when the outstanding debt is forgiven, it will have grown to $523,804. At that point, our mid-career lawyer is now earning $104,754 and would normally owe the federal government $22,624. The PAYE tax bomb adds another $206,673. Our grad now owes 75.7% of his original loan amount, and nearly double his annual salary. PAYE is offering him very little relief.

In fact, if he lived in California, Hawaii or Oregon, the state income taxes on top of the federal taxes would cause him to owe an amount greater than his original debt.

Now you may be thinking that yes, the total debt may be the same, but he owes it 20 years in the future, and with inflation that number means a lot less. Owed $273k 20 years from now is like owing only $151k now.

Sure, that's true. But our grad didn't simply move his debt into the future. He also paid $501 a month for that privilege, or just over $120,000 total. We didn't double check the numbers, but we're pretty sure 151 + 120 is really close to 273. Blah blah blah, inflation, blah blah, and he's actually paid more than his initial debt load. PAYE has offered no real relief at all.

So, if you want to see at what point in time the combination of the PAYE debt bomb and rapidly increasing initial debt loads will cause PAYE to offer no meaningful debt relief (just a time-delayed debt burden), look no further than the present.

But didn't we say those were the numbers for 5 years from now? Sure. But we were also looking only at the average debt load, not the most students might have. There are already 9 schools with a total cost of attendance exceeding $273,000, and if you add in the average (not even the high end) undergrad debt of $27,000, there are 36 law schools that could put you well past the PAYE doomsday point.

Egypt's Little Coup, Part Deux

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The Egyptian military couldn't just wait one more day before removing President Mohamed Morsi. No, they had to do it on July 3rd, rather than waiting until July 4th. Sure, picking that date would have been seen as obvious pandering to the Americans, but you know what Americans respond to more than anything else? Obvious pandering.

Egypt just couldn't wait though, and now $1.5 billion in aid money is on the line. By statute, foreign aid is cut off to countries "whose duly elected leader of government is deposed by decree or military coup." While many members of Congress (and just people with common sense) are demanding that the aid money stop because the military deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Obama administration has held off on calling the revolt a coup under the novel legal theory that they don't have to follow the law if they don't say the magic words. [ForeignPolicy.com]

The law doesn't say that aid is cut off if the President declares there was a coup. That may have been the better way of drafting it, in order to allow some flexibility and recognition that global politics can be unpredictable. But, that's not what the law says. All that matters is if there actually is a coup. The Egyptian ambassador has argued there was not a military coup because the military is not ruling, but that's irrelevant for our laws -- what counts is how the duly elected leader was deposed, not who comes in after him. The military kicked Morsi out, and that is on its face a military coup.

Obama has apparently adopted the Adam Savage philosophy of government:

I reject your reality and substitute my own.

 

Ever heard of "the rule of law, not of men"? That's the exact position being rejected when the government says it's will supersedes the law. It's the rule of Obama, not of law. And that's the exact attitude that got Morsi in trouble in the first place. He was elected in a (relatively) free and open election, and then suspended the government and ruled as a dictator.

Obama hasn't gone quite that far, but it does seem to be the direction our nation is slowly headed in. Every two or four years there will be chants of "elections have consequences," and while that might on its face be a harmless statement, what many people mean is "we won and should get to rule by decree until the next election."

Egypt's turmoil should serve as a reminder that elections are not democracy. Democracy is what you do after the elections. You're elected to the government, not to be the government.

Page 6 of 337

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