ABA Journal

The National Pulse

437 ABA Journal The National Pulse articles.

Are pets assets or part of the family?

California became the third state in the U.S. to adopt a law that allows judges to consider what’s in the best interests of the animal rather than treating the pet like other inanimate property, such as a car. Alaska and Illinois have passed similar laws since 2016. The new laws are groundbreaking because they come amid growing interest in protecting pets and settling disputes over them.

Oregon may finally join 49 other states that require unanimous jury decisions in criminal cases

In 49 U.S. states and the federal court system, a 10-2 vote would not have been enough to convict. Oregon is currently the only state that permits convictions (for felonies other than murder) on a 10-2 or 11-1 vote of the jury. That practice has come under criticism in recent years by people who say it was enacted for racist reasons; it denies minority viewpoints on the jury a voice and removes an important safeguard against wrongful convictions.

Lawsuit says diversion program meant to keep troubled kids out of the criminal justice system violates their constitutional rights

A class action lawsuit, pending in federal court for the Central District of California, alleges that the Riverside County Probation Department violates youths’ due process rights, their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures and their First Amendment right to associate with others. The ACLU argues that placement on “informal” probation leaves juveniles worse off than no intervention at all. One reason is that information gleaned through the program can be used against juveniles in future court cases; another is that children who participate in the program are presumed ineligible for diversion if they’re subsequently arrested.

Dutch doctor’s abortion-drug prescription service faces legal landmines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating a mail-order abortion-drug practice, and abortion foes are vowing to fight back with federal legislation.

Plaintiffs seeking more school funding are using states’ own performance requirements to win

Parents and school districts have been suing over school funding, using state-mandated performance standards to argue that states aren’t living up to their end of the bargain—and they’re winning.

California relaxes one of the nation’s most restrictive laws on police personnel records

A new California law, SB 1421, makes certain police personnel records available through California’s public records law—not just to defense lawyers or prosecutors, but to anyone who asks. The information available is limited to specific kinds of misconduct and will be scrubbed of most personal information. But some police misconduct lawyers still see it as a win.

Mass shootings prompt bar associations to offer pro bono services to survivors and victims’ families

Attorneys are flocking to volunteer for bar association programs that help with probate, child custody, guardianship, victim compensation or trust matters.

Competency on trial: Judges routinely force medication on mentally unstable defendants

Courts have tended to rule that forced medication should only be used to restore competency in the rarest of cases. A 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case set limits in which a court could order medication. But instead of becoming rare, forced medication has become routine and can prolong cases for years.

California police release true-crime podcast in hopes the public can help find a fugitive

California millionaire Peter Chadwick—free on $1.5 million bail while awaiting trial for the murder of his wife—failed to show up for a court hearing in January 2015. With no new leads, Newport Beach Police Department produced a podcast in hopes of engaging the public in its search for one of the country’s most-wanted fugitives.

Lawmakers consider banning gay and trans ‘panic defenses’

In what’s known as a “gay panic defense,” defendants say victims provoked the crime by revealing their sexuality or making a nonviolent sexual pass. The criminal defense strategy has been used since at least the 1960s.

Ruling on dental photographs takes a bite out of copyright protections

A U.S. district judge in Florida ruled in June that a dentist’s before-and-after photos didn’t contain enough of a “creative spark” to merit protection. Some lawyers worry the decision, which is being appealed, could have detrimental effects on other images used in advertising.

Law firms are making sure they comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires anyone lobbying or doing public relations for a foreign government, company or other entity to register with the Department of Justice and file detailed reports about their work every six months. Violations carry penalties of up to $10,000 and five years in prison.

Programs take the courthouse to the streets to help homeless people clear cases

Denver’s move is one of the latest examples of programs that have sprouted up around the country, making courts more accessible to homeless people who face lower-level misdemeanor charges.

Quirk in Florida law sets up political showdown over upcoming high court appointments

Whoever is elected this November to replace Gov. Rick Scott will take office, which has led to a sticky question: Is it the outgoing governor or his successor who has the right to appoint replacements to the court?

Legal aid program in Oklahoma is dedicated to representing moms in trouble

The group Still She Rises seeks to address criminalization and incarceration of women in Oklahoma, focusing on helping indigent mothers in northern Tulsa, a historically impoverished and underresourced community. Still She Rises began taking clients in January 2017 as the first pro bono law office in the country specifically dedicated to representing mothers involved in the criminal justice system.

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