Legal Research Blog


Learning to Share is Harder Than it Looks

This week the New York Times reported on the prevalence of evidence sharing that has prosecutors all worked up despite legal requirements to do so. Evidence is a precious material to anyone entering the court room; a key material to bringing justice that can take months or years to dig up and only a matter of minutes to destroy. As a rule, courts require the prosecution to share certain pieces of their evidence with the defense attorneys who in turn may share it with the defendants themselves. While evidence sharing may not necessarily pose a dangerous threat in all cases, prosecutors argue it can and does have a negative affect on the outcome of many trials.

Citing cases involving gangs, drug rings and other organized crimes, prosecutors working on a recent case in the Federal District Court of Manhattan raised a number of concerns to the presiding judge. Although they find no problem in releasing information related to the crime-scene, weapons and other more fact-based materials, the prosecutors on the case were appalled at the request by the defendant to bring the testimonies to his cell for reviewal over the weekend. Evidence known as 3500 materials include statements from witnesses scheduled to appear in court, available for the judge and jury’s viewing so there is no confusion over whether or not the truth is being told. According to one prosecutor on the case, 3500 materials are, “confirmation that someone has cooperated” and insists that it poses a risk for anyone who has agreed to provide testimony.

Another possible threat is the recent decision by the Supreme Court to rule any statements invalid when they have been previously issued by a witness that is now unable to appear in court. By eliminating the validity of missing witnesses and allowing suspects to view all testimony prior to their court appearance, the courts have created a dangerous situation for anyone still willing to come forward. Prosecutors argue that suspects awaiting trial have strong connections on the outside who can easily be called on to interfere with anyone holding incriminating evidence.

Free Book of the Month: The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Selected Quote: “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience”

Download the entire publication below:

The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes (PDF)

Read the entire publication online (Courtesy of Harvard’s Law Library)

Lou Pearlman Discovers New Act: Police Informant

Music producer Lou Pearlman, whom we have to thank for the “boy band” phenomenon of the mid-1990s, has recently tried to clean up his image by revealing to authorities information he has gleaned about a murder case while he serves his time in prison. Pearlman, convicted of fraud and sentenced to 25 years in prison for bank and investment scams, overheard a conversation between two inmates from his cell in a federal prison. Pearlman claims he heard Davin Smith, accused of murdering a cop during a failed robbery attempt, confess his guilt to another inmate. According to Pearlman, Smith and another man, Hugo Terry, were attempting to use a stolen bank card to rob a local bank when a stranger walked up. They attempted instead to rob the man, who turned out to be a cop, and according to Pearlman, Smith shot the officer before he could pull his own gun on them.

Pearlman’s account did not skimp on the details of his exchanges with Smith and the conversations he overheard, as his information could win him an early release from his own sentence. Joy Ragan, attorney to Hugo Smith, argues that Pearlman has no concrete evidence of the conversations, and that his cooperation is simply a ploy to help himself. Pearlman’s lawyer, however, asserts that he is only fulfilling his “duty as a citizen.” Pity that Pearlman did not feel the same duty to those from whom he stole that $300 million…

Source: CNN and the Orlando Sentinel

Olympic Games Do Not Divert Human Rights Attention

With the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games just a week away all eyes are turned towards Beijing in what is becoming unwanted attention for the government. Eager to impress the hundreds of nations participating, China has been making improvements to the capital city for a number of years. From building facilities to house the games and limiting car travel to ease pollution, the Chinese government has been made several adjustments to make Beijing as visitor friendly as possible in time for the August 8th opening. Unfortunately, it looks like China may be going a bit too far to mask some of their existing problems.

The communist country already faces criticism for their extreme censorship of the media, internet and their own people so becoming the epicenter for sports entertainment for the next several weeks is not helping their case. Initially, members of the media were told they would enjoy uncensored internet access while reporting on the Olympics leaving the world under the impression that perhaps China was finally opening up to some well-deserved criticism. Instead, reporters have been disappointed to find that although they can access the internet, a number of sites addressing human rights grievances have been blocked. A report from the BBC also notes that Chinese citizens are being detained, without trial, for showing opposition to the government’s response to the recent earthquakes that took thousands of lives including many children. Critics abound since the quake and subsequent collapse of several school buildings, questioning whether school buildings were ever up to standard or if more could have been done to prevent the deaths.

China appears to be avoiding these topics through simple censorship of any site that may spark a controversial conversation. In spite of their greatest hopes that hosting the World’s games would change their reputation, many are already frustrated and discouraged by their way of turning a blind eye. Additionally, groups like Amnesty International are now pressing even harder, reminding the world of promises China made during their bid for the Olympics in 2001 to improve conditions for all people in time for the start of the games. With one week left, it looks like those promises are pretty empty.

Source: BBC

Sit Down, Relax. It’s Just the Pledge of Allegiance

While it will no longer be considered a necessity for all students to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, they will have to provide a note from parents in order to invoke the new right. The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has delivered a somewhat indecisive opinion about the lawsuit brought against a Florida school system for not allowing students to remain seated during the pledge. A Florida teen introduced the lawsuit after he was reprimanded for his lack of respect for his country and sent to the office for the remainder of the school day all because he remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. In his eyes, the decision to stand or remain seated is an important expression of individual rights, one that was violated when he was given the limited options to either stand or leave the class.

Instead of answering yes or no to the question of where rights of the individual end and allegiance to our country begins, in this instance, the court is leaving the decision up to parents. A law drafted in 1942 requires all public schools to lead students in the pledge at least once a day but in the year following, the Supreme Court established that no student could be forced to recite it. Atlanta’s circuit court faced quite the dilemma as allowing all students to remain seated could potentially cause a lack of pledge participants while forbidding them to sit could have been considered a threat to their religious beliefs. In light of this conflict, parents, one of the strongest decision-making bodies in a teen’s life, will be responsible for determining their child’s stance during the pledge. As for the precedence in this case, it looks like as long as you’re living under their roof, you really do need to follow their rules.