Legal News 11/30/14

The white police officer a grand jury declined to indict last week in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager has resigned from this city’s Police Department.
The officer, Darren Wilson, submitted a resignation letter in which he said “It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me. It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal.” Yet on Saturday night, as protesters gathered near the police station here, as they have on most nights since Mr. Brown’s death, many seemed unsatisfied with the news, which they said was inevitable. Among items on a draft list of goals for many of the protesters: firing the Ferguson police chief; urging passage of legislation requiring a special prosecutor to be appointed in cases like Mr. Brown’s involving the police; consolidation of small police departments; and a requirement that all Missouri police departments publish an annual report on episodes of deadly force.

Three years after his death, Steve Jobs is very much a presence in courtrooms across the country, which isn’t necessarily good news for Apple. In December, the company is set to go to trial in the third major antitrust lawsuit it has faced since Mr. Jobs died. His emails will play an important role in the case, as they did in the last two. But lawyers will probably have to work hard to give his statements a positive spin. Executives are often told by their lawyers to be careful what they put in writing for fear it will end up as evidence in a courtroom. Jobs’s emails in past lawsuits — a mix of blunt litigation threats against his opponents and cheery financial promises for potential business partners — have made him an exceptional witness against his own company, even beyond the grave. The latest case to bring Mr. Jobs’s spirit into a courtroom is a class action involving older iPods, which played only songs sold in the iTunes Store, or those downloaded from CDs, not music from competing stores. The plaintiffs are consumers who say Apple violated antitrust law because to keep their music, people had to stay with the iPod, and buy higher-priced ones rather than cheaper, alternative music players. Apple has since discontinued this system.
Mr. Jobs’s emails and videotaped deposition taken before his death, plaintiffs’ lawyers say, will portray him as planning to break a competitor’s product to protect Apple’s grip on digital music. Apple’s lawyers are expected to try to show that various iTunes updates were designed to make improvements to its products rather than deliberately cripple a competitor and did not harm consumers. And they will probably point out that the price of iPods have gone down over the years, not up, regardless of what Apple did with its software.

Anthony Elonis claimed he was just kidding when he posted a series of graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent. A federal jury did not see it that way.
Elonis was convicted of violating a federal law that makes it a crime to threaten another person. In a far-reaching case that probes the limits of free speech over the Internet, the Supreme Court was to consider whether Elonis’ Facebook posts, and others like it, deserve protection under the First Amendment. Elonis argues that his lyrics were simply a crude and spontaneous form of expression that should not be considered threatening if he did not really mean it. The government says it does not matter what Elonis intended, and that the true test of a threat is whether his words make a reasonable person feel threatened. The case has drawn widespread attention from free-speech advocates who say comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be hasty, impulsive and easily misinterpreted. They point out that a message on Facebook intended for a small group could be taken out of context when viewed by a wider audience. But so far, most lower courts have rejected that view, ruling that a “true threat” depends on how an objective person perceives the message. Elonis was convicted of making threats of violence and sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison. A federal appeals court rejected his claim that his comments were protected by the First Amendment. In its brief to the court, the Justice Department argued that no matter what someone believes about his comments, it does not lessen the fear and anxiety they might cause for other people.

Following the announcement that a grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, many may have questions about how grand juries operate. Grand juries are generally called on to decide whether there is probable cause to bring criminal charges against an individual, typically in cases which may result in serious, felony charges. Although all states have laws allowing for grand juries, not all states make use of grand juries. Besides Missouri, 48 States and Washington D.C use Grand Juries for indictments. Connecticut and Pennsylvania have both abolished the use of grand juries for criminal indictments. But both of these states still make use of grand juries for investigations of criminal activity. In 23 states, indictments are required for certain serious crimes. In the 25 other states, a grand jury indictment is optional. In those states, charges may be brought by a document called the information. In many states, an information is written by a prosecutor, similar to the initial criminal complaint, but is reserved only for felony or serious charges. Typically an information is filed after a preliminary hearing, including those charges which were found supported by probable cause. In states where indictments are not required, whether probable cause exists to charge a defendant with a crime may be determined at a preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearing, a judge will listen to arguments from both sides before determining whether or not the case should proceed to a criminal trial.

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