Legislation & Policymaking - FindLaw Blotter

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Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a BB gun does not count as a firearm when it comes to a felon-in-possession charge. David Haywood, who was convicted of a felony in 2005, was convicted three years ago for possession of a firearm and sentenced to the mandatory minimum 5 year sentence. Now, his conviction is overturned.

Most states restrict the rights of individuals who have been convicted of a felony when it comes to gun ownership. The ruling by Minnesota's highest court will indeed change the landscape of gun ownership for felons, but only in Minnesota, and only until the legislature responds.

When police officers cross the line and cause a person injury, even if the officers were making a lawful arrest, there may be a claim of excessive force that the victim or arrestee can use to sue the police. Generally, the law allows law enforcement to use the force that is reasonably necessary in order to affect an arrest. However, the amount of force that is reasonably necessary is not an easily quantifiable amount.

There is a common misconception that when a person is lawfully arrested and convicted, that even if an officer used excessive force, the arrestee will not have a claim. That is just plain wrong. Even if a person is convicted of the crime they were arrested for, they can still successfully bring a claim for excessive force. Surprisingly though, this even applies to convictions for resisting arrest.

Remember when your parents told you you would get in less trouble if you just told the truth? Or the phrase, "the cover-up is worse than the crime?" There are many instances where lying makes a bad situation worse, and the criminal justice system is no different.

Take theft, for instance -- taking someone else's property without permission. Theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on how much you stole. What about if you get their permission, but you lie to get it? In most states, that's called obtaining property by false pretense, and almost always a felony. Let's look at some state laws as an example.

Four states had legalized recreational marijuana use in 2015, another 25 have comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, and quite a few cities decided not to prosecute possession of small amounts of pot. So you might expect that with this rise in legalization and decriminalization there would be a corresponding drop in marijuana arrests. Instead, as Human Rights Watch reports, marijuana arrests outpaced those for violent crime in 2015.

So why are pot arrests up, even though it's more legal than ever? And what effects are these arrests having on defendants and the criminal justice system?

Erring on the side of protecting their customers' civil rights, social media giants Facebook and Twitter have recently banned Geofeedia from using their users' data. Geofeedia is a third party surveillance software that sells high-priced services to law enforcement and marketers that tracks social media trends. Until recently, Geofeedia primarily relied on data gathered from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to geo-locate when, where, and who police needed to monitor for whatever reasons requested.

However, it is not just used for limited surveillance of crowds. Law enforcement agencies across the country use Geofeedia to track protesters and social justice activists when no crowds are present. The software works by reviewing public information on social media and analyzing that information to determine who is a threat to public safety and where the threat is located.

The key to any criminal justice system's legitimacy is a respect for its laws. Citizens tend to abide by laws, statutes, and regulations they believe are just and fair, less so when it comes to ones they disagree with. And while it's easy to say everyone should follow all the laws all the time, that doesn't stop the discussion, or efforts to change contested statutes.

Here are five controversial criminal laws and what you need to know about them, from our archives:

5 Mugshot FAQs

Websites that post arrest mugshots online have been the subject of much laughter, but only at the expense of humiliating arrestees, both innocent and guilty. Additionally, the online posting of mugshots can create personal, social, and career problems for the individuals whose mugshots get posted.

The real problem herein lies in the fact that mugshots are taken after an arrest, but before a conviction. Even if a person is found innocent, arrested on accident, or even framed by the police, their mugshot can live on in infamy. To better understand this issue, here are 5 frequently asked questions about mugshots.

In response to the recent sentencing in the Brock Turner case, or lack thereof, the California legislature has passed new laws relating to the crimes of rape and sexual assault. The new laws not only redefine rape and require mandatory minimum sentencing for sexual assault crimes involving an incapacitated victim, they also eliminate the statute of limitations for a prosecutor to bring criminal charges.

Removing the statute of limitations on rape and crimes such as sexual abuse of a minor takes into account the reality that victims are sometimes too traumatized to go through the court process immediately after being victimized. Additionally, oftentimes victims are afraid to come forward initially due to fear of retaliation, victim shaming, societal stigmatization, or for mental health reasons. These issues can take years to work through, and should not be the reason a violent sexual predator is allowed to walk the streets free.

The NYPD has gained notoriety over the past decade due to its use of the policing tactic known as SQF or Stop, Question, and Frisk (more commonly known as stop and frisk). The stop and frisk tactic allows police officers to stop anyone on the street or in public who they have a reasonable suspicion might have committed -- or is about to commit -- a crime. While the NYPD has drastically scaled back its use of the tactic, the statistics are staggering and show that it yields a net negative outcome when community perceptions are factored in.

While there are strong proponents on either side of the debate, the numbers seem to show that it is used disproportionately against minorities, wastes resources, and is ineffective (unless used with stops based on "probably cause indicators").

It's long been understood that certain sciences are in fact pseudo-sciences and are often referred to as junk science. Commonly, junk science takes the form of sham products designed to prey on people's insecurities. That flashing light you've velcroed to your body is not going to reduce your waist, despite what that scientist on that 2 a.m. infomercial tells you.

However, last week the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama's advisors on technology and science are about to issue findings calling into question scientific practices accepted by the court system relating to CSI-style forensic evidence.

While the president's advisors' findings are not saying that all forensics are a sham, they are saying that many of the types of accepted forensic evidence do not actually meet the criterion for what should be accepted as evidence in a court of law.