Will Democratic Legislator’s Sit In Force a Vote on Gun Legislation?

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States, advocates of gun control and those opposed to it wondered if there would be an immediate change in gun laws. Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, proposed compromise legislation that prevented people who were on the federal no-fly list from purchasing guns. It would have impacted only 2,700 people and still, this simple, common sense legislation, failed to pass. Kendall Coffey, former U.S. Attorney, has observed that gun control legislation relates to mass shootings, such as the one at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, as well as interactions between individuals. These events most often occur in states with stand your ground laws, which give property owners the right to use deadly force if they feel threatened. Coffey explains that these complicated issues require careful consideration before making a judgment. “People who have been shot in the back have been pronounced, nevertheless, Stand Your Ground cases. Drug dealers in a fatal shootout, they’ve been able to invoke Stand Your Ground. What this law needs to get back to is self defense where it is reasonably necessary and where someone has the burden of avoiding killing someone if they possibly can,” he said. Coffey’s works frame the challenge legislators face. Their frustration with gun control legislation prompted House Democrats to hold a sit-in on the House floor, led by Georgia congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis. It was an attempt to force a vote on gun control. “There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time. Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more,” Lewis said. A series of gun control measures couldn’t raise enough support among senators and once again met with failure. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, was a sponsor of one of the measures that failed. Murphy represents the district that includes Newtown. He took the Senate floor in a filibuster calling for gun control reform that lasted over 14-hours and ended only after he won promises for votes supporting to gun control measures. Murphy expressed frustration with repeated “moments of silence” called for on the Senate floor in lieu of what he believes is meaningful change in gun control legislation. Upon ending his filibuster Murphy commented on Twitter that, “This is one step. The fight is far from over. But there are millions of voices calling for change. And we cannot stop pushing.” A dramatic change may occur regarding gun legislation, since the Democratic legislators have vowed to take over the floor one again when they reconvene on July 5th. To stay informed about these this rapidly changing topic, check out these resources: Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence http://smartgunlaws.org/ Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence http://www.bradycampaign.org/ National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action https://www.nraila.org/articles/20160620/cox-statement No related...

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Governor Rick Scott signs 26 New Bills into Law

Earlier this month, Florida governor Rick Scott signed a heap of new bills into law. Most of them are fairly mundane but those likely to make the headlines include new religions protections for members of the clergy who will not marry gay couples. Additionally, the state will make progress on a bill to replace a statue of confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith at the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. Smith was one of only two Floridians represented there. A new religious protection bill, called the Pastor Protection Act, is likely to be among the most controversial of the new laws. This law grants churches and the clergy immunity from litigation if they refuse to perform a wedding ceremony they don’t want to perform. The measure was pushed through by religious groups who took issue with the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Another new law, SB 232, recognizes a need for better regulation for guardians of the elderly to help protect them. In the same vein, SB 222 grants free parking at public airports to vehicles with a Disabled Veterans or a Paralyzed Veterans of America designation. This bill was prompted by a disabled veteran’s complaint that he was not given free parking at Tampa International Airport. Smaller bills deal with more simple concerns: SB 112 replaces the term “absentee ballot” with the term “vote-by-mail ballot” for Florida Statutes. HB 695 aims to revise requirements regarding title insurance. There is also some good news for Florida citizens on the SNAP food stamps program. HB 103 will allow participants to use the SNAP benefits to purchase fresh food. Some owners and operators of farmers’ markets, flea markets, community markets, or other open-air markets will be allowed to accept SNAP benefits electronically in exchange for fresh and local foods. This is good news for Florida, a state with many health concerns. For a complete list of the new bills just signed into law, visit this link. No related...

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The Supreme Court’s Decision on Marriage Equality

Just as the legacies of President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts have been further defined by the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, a place in history has been firmly established for Supreme  Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Appointed by President Reagan to the Court in 1988, this generally conservative jurist has cast many  tie-breaking votes but none more historic than his  landmark opinions  in the revolution for  equality of  sexual orientation. Authoring a precedent-breaking decision in 2003 that struck down a Texas criminalizing same-sex intimacy, Justice Anthony is the author of the decision  that has now confirmed a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Along with the fundamental rights and equal protection issues that anchor his opinion, his compelling words about the institution of marriage should be read and repeated as he describes the profound union, creating the highest ideals and which  embodies  “a love that may endure even past death.” Related posts: Supreme Court Hears Brief About Florida’s Death...

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Supreme Court Hears Brief About Florida’s Death Penalty

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Florida’s law that allows juries to recommend the death penalty by a majority vote. According to the American Bar Association Journal, “The U.S. Supreme Court appeal concerns the case of Timothy Lee Hurst, a man his lawyers say has limited mental abilities […] At issue is a majority jury vote recommending that Hurst should get the death penalty in the brutal 1998 slaying of an assistant manager at the fast-food restaurant where both he and she were employed.” Hurst’s legal counsel claims that Florida’s unique sentencing procedure in death penalty cases violates not only his Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury but the Eight Amendment prevention of cruel and unusual punishment. Florida’s death penalty law is different from any other state in that it does not require a unanimous jury vote in order to recommend the maximum punishment at sentencing. Crimes currently punishable by death in Florida include but are not limited to capital drug trafficking, felony-murder, and first-degree murder. Florida was the first state to reintroduce the death penalty after the Supreme Court struck down all statutes countrywide in 1972 after Furman v. Georgia, and remains controversial for having the second largest death row in the country (Texas has the largest). In its argument summary, the ABA states, “Unique among all capital punishment jurisdictions in the United States, Florida is the only jurisdiction that allows a jury to determine by majority vote both whether aggravating circumstances have been proved beyond a reasonable double and to recommend a sentence of death.” It will be up the Supreme Court to determine whether this jurisdictional distinction violates both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments. Explains Miami-based legal analyst Kendall Coffey, “We have a love-hate relationship with the death penalty. We see these despicable crimes; we want the maximum punishment applied to people who brutally kill children or to terrorists,” of how capital punishment can help create closure for those affected by unspeakable crimes. He continues, “At the same time we’re very concerned about mistakes being made, both mistakes with respect to selecting who is worthy of dying, if anyone, and mistakes with respect to the actual administration of execution. And these kind of cases, where horrible pains and horrible mistreatment occurs in the course of an execution, are very troubling to Americans and obviously of great concern to the United States Supreme Court.” In short, there is no easy approach when it comes to the death penalty, especially in Florida where there is already so much controversy surrounding the state’s distinctive majority vote law. As the Supreme Court examines the role of juries and judges in sentencing for capital cases, hopefully more conclusive answers will be reached about how to proceed with sentencing offenders.   Further reading pertaining to capital punishment in Florida: Brief of Americus Curiae American Bar Association in Support of Petitioner (Timothy Lee Hurst) – ABA Amicus Brief PDF “ABA asks SCOTUS to overturn Florida law allowing divided juries to recommend death penalty” – ABA Journal article by Martha Neil “SCOTUS to consider brief related to FL death penalty” – In-depth article by April Warren of the Ocala Star Banner Related posts: Top Resources from the Florida Bar Kendall Coffey: Is a Presumption of Innocence Possible in the Court of Public...

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Kendall Coffey: Is a Presumption of Innocence Possible in the Court of Public Opinion?

2014 was not a good year for comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby has faced myriad sexual assault allegations in the past, but by December 2014, no less than 33 women had come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct. Of that number, only a few women have formally filed charges, but the highly public nature of the accusations begs the question: has Cosby already lost in the court of public opinion?   “So many times we talk about a presumption of innocence in a court of law,” explains Kendall Coffey on a recent episode of Spinning the Law, “but maybe there should be a presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion.” In an age of internet hoaxes and hacking, many people do maintain a presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion, or at the very least a level of skepticism that prevents them from making too hasty a judgment about the accused. Conversely however, the rapid transmission of information made possible by the Internet allows for stories from alleged victims to spread like wildfire, which doesn’t bode well for high profile figures like Bill Cosby.   According to Wired contributor Bruce Schneier, “The court of public opinion is an alternative system of justice,” pointing out that it’s very different from the traditional court system because of how much it relies on public shaming, reputation, and redemption. When victims of crimes feel that the law is not on their side, having a good story to sell to the public rectifies the injustice they feel, he says, adding that “The speed of the internet exacerbates this; a good story spreads faster than a bunch of facts.”   Whereas a celebrity might have access to the best lawyers money can buy, giving them an unfair advantage over those without similar resources, the court of public opinion is an even playing field. Also, contrary to popular belief, high profile figures do not automatically receive preferential treatment in a court of law, which is why it is still important for them to receive an actual trial. “The public usually assumes that celebrities receive preferential treatment at every turn in criminal cases, as well as in civil proceedings,” writes Kendall Coffey in Chapter Ten of his book “Spinning the Law.” However, Coffey assures his readers in Chapter Ten: Pop Law that “when it comes to being investigated, no one receives more scrutiny than a celebrity.”   In the case of Bill Cosby, the comedian may never set foot inside a courtroom again, but the court of public opinion has already irreparably damaged his career. Related posts: Kendall Coffey: What to Expect From the New Bar Exam Supreme Court Hears Brief About Florida’s Death Penalty Litigating at Light Speed by Kendall Coffey Foreclosure Jurisprudence in Florida with Kendall...

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US vs. Zarabozo

WFOR CBS4 News with Gary Nelson Miami-Ft. Lauderdale Market 7/22/08 6:17 pm GARY NELSON: In federal court his attorneys have argued Zarabozo passed two lie detector tests and in this motion asked the judge to admit the polygraph evidence. But now federal prosecutors claim the defense has been less than truthful, failed to reveal that Zarabozo also failed to pass two other polygraph tests. Indeed, in these just-filed papers, prosecutors say in one exam there was “deception noted” when Zarabozo was asked whether he shot any of the crew members of the Joe Cool, and the government suggests this polygraph examiner, Tom Mote, seen here earlier in a related report, tried to conceal the questionable test results. They quote Mote as saying to Zarabozo in a video-taped session -if the FBI were doing this test, it’s bad news. As far as this test’s concerned, it never happened. I wasn’t here. I reached polygraph examiner Mote on the phone today. He declined to comment for this report. KENDALL COFFEY: The defense has filed a motion that has just blown up in its face. GARY NELSON: Legal experts say Zarabozo’s attorneys have blown any chance now of getting any polygraph evidence into court. KENDALL COFFEY: Why a court would want to even consider admitting any of these tests in this case now would certainly be unfathomable. GARY NELSON: The accused killer’s lawyers could face possible sanctions. KENDALL COFFEY: The judge may want to ask the attorneys why that court was only presented with half of the truth about these lie detector tests. No related...

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