April 2014

Governor Deal has vetoed House Bill 837, legislation that would have limited disclosure about private probation companies from open records requests. The Peach Pundit provides exclusive coverage on the veto in an article describing all of yesterday’s vetoes and in a specific post addressing HB 837. Greg Bluestein has also covered the veto.

Why is this veto such a big deal? Many, if not most, state probationers who are serving misdemeanor sentences are supervised by private probation companies. Who are the folks most likely to end up on misdemeanor probation? Generally, that list would include persons convicted of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, driving on a suspended license, DUI, theft, or family violence battery. But that list also includes the poor who get a speeding ticket or other low-level misdemeanor and who cannot afford to pay their fine on the day of court. These individuals are often put on probation until they pay off their fine. And this list includes people who were represented by the public defender (often a private law firm with a contract with the county to represent the indigent) who, upon conviction find that, poor or not, the lawyer wasn’t really free. When these defendants cannot afford to reimburse their public defender for his services (and the meter has been running the whole time) or pay the fine, the court’s “finance plan” includes being supervised on probation until these expenses are paid off. When the defendant needs a long time to pay off the debt to the State, time on probation increases dramatically. For instance, in a multi-count accusation, the defendant may take on consecutive 12-month sentences. For instance, defendants convicted of DUI were often stopped for speeding first. Such defendants are eligible for 24 months of probation. Continue Reading Governor Hands Private Probation Companies a Rare Legislative Loss

The American Bar Association has released a formal ethics opinion regarding how far attorneys may go in monitoring social media postings of jurors.

Attorneys or their representatives may monitor any activity that is publicly available, but they may not “friend” a juror in an effort to monitor their private social media postings. Nor may attorneys use a third person to friend jurors.

Further, when lawyers find evidence of juror misconduct, there are certain times when the lawyer must report it to the Court and other times when he is not:

The final question the new ABA ethics opinion addresses is what a lawyer should do if he discovers misconduct by a juror during his Internet review. “Jurors have discussed trial issues on ESM [electronic social media], solicited access to witnesses and litigants on ESM, not revealed relevant ESM connections during jury selection, and conducted personal research on the trial issues using the Internet,” the opinion notes.
Under Rule 3.3(b), a lawyer has an obligation to inform the court when the juror’s conduct is fraudulent or criminal. But if the lawyer learns of juror conduct that violates court instructions to the jury but does not rise to the level of criminal or fraudulent conduct, it is not clear if he is obligated to inform the court, the opinion says. For example, “innocuous postings” about jury service, such as the food served at lunch, may violate the jury instructions but fall short of criminal contempt.

If, by virtue of monitoring the juror’s social media postings, the juror is alerted, the lawyer has not contacted the juror. Rather, the social media service provider has initiated the contact.
Continue Reading New ABA Guidelines on Monitoring Jurors Via Social Media

The Economist reports that executions are on the decline and that fewer Americans support the death penalty today than they did in 1994. In fact, most death penalty sentences are handed down in narrow areas of the country:

Earlier this month a vote to repeal the death penalty narrowly failed in New Hampshire, but similar measures succeeded in six states between 2007 and 2013, reducing the number of capital-punishment states to 32. Among those states, 15 have carried out no executions since 2010. Just four—Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida—are responsible for roughly 60% of the executions since 1976. Texas alone carried out 37% of the total. Within capital-punishment states, a mere 15 counties are responsible for 30% of executions. (Although capital punishment is state law, generally the decision to seek the death penalty is made by district attorneys at the county level.)

60% of the executions in the country are carried out in just four states and merely 15 counties are responsible for 30% of the executions.

Continue Reading The End of the Death Penalty / The Rise of Deaths in Prison

Governor Deal has signed into law the aptly-named “guns everywhere law” that increases the number of places in the State that guns will be allowed. Those places include churches (though the church must “opt in,” which may make for an exciting deacon/vestry meeting at a church near you), bars, schools, and even certain places within airports. CNN reports:

The bill, which easily navigated the state Legislature – by a 112-58 vote in the House and a 37-18 tally in the Senate – also earned the support of Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of ex-President Jimmy Carter and a 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

Even in old western movies, patrons were required to check their guns when entering saloons. Democratic candidate Jason Carter, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, voted for this law. Though he claims that he helped to make it better than it was.

Continue Reading Unintended Consequences of Georgia’s New “Guns Everywhere” Law