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MC&A Newsletter  ||  Volume XXIX : June 2013
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Midwin Charles spoke at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC) and K&L Gates LLP One-Day Career Strategies Conference for Law Firm Associates on
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Midwin Charles spoke at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice's
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 Midwin Charles was a panelist at The Haitian Times Step Into Your Power Women's Brunch on
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With (l to r): Manolia Charlotin, editor in Chief of Haitian Times and Rosemonde Pierre Louis, Deputy Borough President of Manhattan.
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Check out latest blog by Midwin Charles for Huffington Post, "Lance Armstrong's Redemption Song"
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Jodi Arias Jodi Arias - On May 9, 2013, jurors finally reached a verdict in the Jodi Arias trial. The 32 year-old was found guilty of first-degree murder for the death of her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Despite the unanimous decision of guilt, jurors could not come to an agreement regarding Arias' punishment. During the sentencing phase of the trial, 8 jurors voted for Arias to receive the death penalty, while 4 jurors supported life in prison. The issue of sentencing will be retried on July 18, 2013. 

Kermit Gosnell Kermit Gosnell - On May 13, 2013, the Philadelphia doctor made famous by his "house of horrors" abortion clinic was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for the death of 3 fetuses, and one count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of one of his adult patients. Gosnell had been performing illegal abortions at his run down clinic in Philadelphia, ending the late-term fetuses lives by snipping their spinal cords after being removed from the womb. The day after jurors determined Gosnell's guilt, Gosnell's attorneys made an agreement with the Philadelphia District Attorney to forgo an appeal in exchange for a life sentence, thereby sparing Gosnell from the death penalty.

Murray and Michael Michael Jackson/AEG Live - In the wake of the King of Pop's death, lawsuits have been springing up left and right. Most recently, Jackson's mother and children has filed a wrongful death suit against AEG Live - the company responsible for producing and promoting Jackson's comeback shows - for failure to properly investigate Dr. Conrad Murray and for missing warning signs of Jackson's failing health. On June 10, 2013, jurors in the case were shown an email from AEG Live's CEO, Randy Phillips, expressing concern over Jackson's medical treatments and stating he and the company were "scared to death" about injections that Jackson was receiving. The company had negotiated terms of Dr. Murray's deal to serve as Jackson's personal physician. AEG has consistently denied wrongdoing, insisting that it would have been inappropriate to insert itself into Jackson's medical decisions.

NSA Leaks: Big Brother Really Is Watching . . . Or At Least Tracking
Snowden
On June 13, 2013, Edward Snowden came forward, claiming to be the source of leaked information uncovering the surveillance practices of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA). The 29 year-old NSA contractor and former CIA employee admitted to leaking classified government documents to newspapers The Guardian and The Washington Post, which broke a series of stories in early June accusing the US Government of secretly tracking the phone records and internet usage of American citizens. Now, both Snowden and the US Government face legal action, not to mention the public outrage that has ensued.

Snowden came forward after fleeing to an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, where he has been staying since the story first came out. In a note accompanying a document he leaked to the Post, Snowden revealed that his motivation for his actions was simply to inform the public of what the government was doing. "Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten - and they're talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state," Snowden stated during an interview with The Post.

One of the leaked documents was a court order secured by the NSA that required Verizon to provide the NSA with cell phone calling information. That information, according to the order, is "meta-data" - the phone numbers called, where the call was made from, and the time and duration of the call. This means that the NSA can track call patterns, but does not have authorization to receive any information regarding the content of the calls. What is particularly unusual about the order is that it allows for collection of meta-data for both foreign and domestic calls. Historically, the NSA has been limited to collecting information when it involves foreigners.

Post-9/11, a number of surveillance programs were approved to assist in the fight against terrorism. In 2006, a national security court ruled that under the Patriot Act, the FBI can obtain business records that are relevant to counterterrorism efforts. However, Congress has never had an open vote to authorize collecting call information for domestic calls.

On June 11, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in New York against the Obama administration, claiming such collection practices are illegal. The complaint states that the surveillance program "gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations." Advocates of privacy are worried that Americans are losing their sense of freedom and will now have to worry that every call they make will go into a file with the government. Those who support the program believe it is a necessary and useful tool to assist the government track down terrorists and any invasion into one's privacy is incredibly minimal. The program certainly raises some Fourth Amendment privacy issues and we may very well see this case head all the way to the Supreme Court.

Sources: "Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks," by Barton Gellman, Aaron Blake & Greg Miller, June 9, 2013, The Washington Post; "The NSA's phone collection order - it may be legal, but is it wise?" by Paul Rosenzweig, June 6, 2013, foxnews.com; "Edward Snowden, leaker of U.S. spy program documents, faces hard choices while in hiding," by the Associated Press, June 11, 2013, cbsnews.com; "Edward Snowden, NSA Contractor, Claims to Be Source of Surveillance Program Leaks," by Matthew Mosk, James Gordon Meek & Lee Ferran, June 13, 2013, abcnews.com; "U.S. faces challenges trying to charge Edward Snowden," by Shashank Bengali, June 13, 2013, The LA Times; "A.C.L.U. Files Lawsuit Seeking to Stop the Collection of Domestic Phone Logs," by Charlie Savage, June 11, 2013, The New York Times
The Trial of George Zimmerman
MC&A first brought you news of George Zimmerman in its May 2012 Newsletter, and now the 29-year-old Sanford, Florida resident who was arrested and charged with second-degree murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin is back on our radar. After months of awaiting trial, Zimmerman will finally be facing a jury in coming weeks. That is, once the jury has been selected.

Jury selection for Zimmerman's murder trial began on June 10, 2013. Attorneys for both prosecution and defense questioned potential jurors one-by-one, paring down the numbers to an eventual six jurors, plus 4 alternates, who will determine Zimmerman's fate. The attorneys began with a very large pool of 500 jurors. After two days of questioning, more than 70 potential jurors were dismissed, but that still left over 400 jurors to question. Once the prosecution and defense agreed on prospective jurors, they then proceeded to a second round of questioning.

The questions being asked of juror candidates focused on each person's knowledge of the case. Attorneys want to ensure that no juror has had overexposure to pre-trial publicity. The goal, as with any jury, is to find members who can decide the case in a fair and impartial manner, putting personal beliefs and biases aside.

The difficulty with whittling down the jury to members who have had little to no exposure to the case was overly apparent. As one potential juror mentioned to attorneys during questioning, "I haven't lived under a rock for the past year. It's pretty hard for people not to have gotten some information." If a person has watched the news or read a newspaper or magazine, they have more than likely heard about Martin's death. Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's defense attorney, is especially concerned that jurors will decide the case based upon their fear of a backlash from the public, as opposed to the actual evidence presented at trial.

How did jury selection turn out? Well, the six jurors chosen for the task at hand are all women, although two of the jury alternates are men. Legal analyst Kendall Coffey stated in an interview to NBC news that having a jury of all women shouldn't overly influence the outcome of the trial one way or the other. However, the prosecution may have a slight advantage since, according to Coffey, women generally disfavor people ignoring advice of the authorities and taking a more vigilante attitude, which is what the prosecution will argue Zimmerman did. When questioned about his thoughts on an all female jury, defense attorney O'Mara said, "The one thing I am certain about with juries is I will never be able to tell what they're thinking. So six women, three men, three women - I don't think that it really matters."

Also present during jury selection were Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. In a brief statement released to the public on June 10, 2013, they expressed their relief that trial has finally begun. They further requested that the community remain peaceful during the trial. Martin's death sparked demonstrations nationwide and though the public has since quieted down, the trial is expected to re-fuel that fire. Thus far, only about a dozen protestors have staked their claim in front of the courthouse. Once trial testimony begins, officials anticipate larger demonstrations to take place. This may just be the calm before the storm.

Sources: "Attorney for Trayvon Martin family says teen not the one on trial," by Serafin Gomez & the Associated Press, June 13, 2013, foxnews.com; "Jury Selection Continues in Trayvon Martin Case," by Cara Buckley, June 11, 2013, The New York Times; "6 women chosen as jurors in George Zimmerman trial," by Tom Winter, James Novogrod & Tracy Connor, June 20, 2013, nbcnews.com
Your DNA Can Give You Away
dna On June 3, 2013, the US Supreme Court held that collecting DNA samples from arrestees does not violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court, in a 5-4 vote, ruled that for serious crimes, police do not need to first obtain a warrant before collecting the DNA from a person who is merely under arrest and not yet convicted of a crime.

Justice Kennedy, who supported the majority decision, equated the DNA cheek swab to fingerprinting or matching a suspect's face to that depicted on a wanted poster. Kennedy reasoned that a person in police custody has a lowered expectation of privacy and the cheek swab is a minimally invasive procedure, both of which are outweighed by the local government's legitimate interest in proper identification of those suspected of committing serious offenses.

Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, "When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee's DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."

Writing the dissenting opinion was Justice Antonin Scalia, who had the support of Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsburg. The dissent pointed out what has many concerned about the collection of DNA: that police will use the DNA to link suspects to other unsolved crimes. You might be asking yourself why this is such a concern - after all, don't fingerprints do the same thing? The problem lies in the fact that it is a slippery slope that could lead to the government taking and using the identifying material for any purpose. "Make no mistake about it. As an entirely predictable consequence of today's decision your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," Scalia wrote.

This case came about after the arrest of Alonzo Jay King, Jr. in Maryland in 2009. King was arrested for assault and in accordance with Maryland's DNA Collection Act, police used a cheek swab to collect King's DNA at the time of his arrest without first obtaining a warrant. That DNA sample the police obtained ended up linking King to an unsolved 2003 rape case, leading King to be charged and convicted with the 2003 rape and robbery for which he is now serving a life sentence. King's attorneys appealed the conviction, arguing that the DNA collection from a person merely under arrest and not actually convicted of a crime was a violation of that person's Fourth Amendment rights.

Every state within the US currently requires DNA samples be taken from those convicted of a felony, but only 26 states have laws similar to Maryland's, allowing DNA to be taken from arrestees. While King's attorneys argued to the Supreme Court that the taking of DNA from an arrestee is unreasonable given the amount of personal information that can be garnished from one's DNA - age, ethnicity, intelligence, disease - those defending the law pointed out that the law's purpose is to identify people and use the information for assisting in making bail determinations. The US Government further pointed out that officials are not allowed under the law to use the DNA for any purposes beyond identification. Either way, this ruling has Americans questioning exactly how far is too far when it comes to law enforcement.

Sources: "High Court Says Police Can Collect DNA From People Arrested for Serious Crimes," by Gwen Ifill, June 3, 2013, www.pbs.org; "Supreme Court upholds DNA swabbing of people under arrest," by Pete Williams & Erin McClam, June 3, 2013, NBCnews.com; "Supreme Court Upholds 'Minor Intrusion' of Arrestee DNA Swabs," by Ariane De Vogue, June 3, 2013, abcnews.com
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