On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which lessened the difference in penalties between crack cocaine offenses and powder cocaine offenses.
Previously and as discussed in an earlier blog, someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine would face a five-year mandatory minimum under Federal Law. You could get the same penalty for only 5 grams of crack cocaine. A 10-year mandatory minimum for crack cocaine kicked in for 10 grams of the drug. The same penalty would not come in for a powder-cocaine suspect unless he was carrying 1,000 grams.
Now, the penalties for crack cocaine have been reduced, and the mandatory minimum for simple possession of small amounts of crack cocaine has been removed entirely.
The old penalties were a mistake, and one born of an unjustified fear of a crack cocaine epidemic in this country that never happened. The Legislature made a knee-jerk reaction to that fear and put the strict sentencing rules in place in 1986. And who was affected by it? Poor, young African Americans, who now clog our federal prisons. Finally, 24 years later, that mistake has been rectified.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in the new law that directly calls for a review of those who were sentenced under the old guidelines. When Toyota or General Motors find a mistake in one of their cars, they recall the rest that are already out on the road (sometimes unwillingly). Without a review and sentencing changes, the mistake here really hasn’t been fixed.
There’s no mistaking that a review of all of those incarcerated under the old law would be a huge process and require thousands of man hours. But that’s no excuse not to do it. Our Court system should be held to the highest standards if we truly want to claim that we stand for liberty.
Back in 1995, the Michigan Legislature passed our current “No-Fault” law. We’ve had “no-fault” insurance in the state since 1973,The goal of the law was to reduce the number of law suits from car accidents. On the surface, it appeared to be a good compromise. Insurance companies would pay for the medical bills of the drivers that they insured. You wouldn’t have to sue someone else to recover for your losses.
When they drafted the law, however, they recognized that there are some injuries that are bad enough that suing should be an option. That’s why they included a separate option where you were allowed to sue the other side if the accident resulted in “death, permanent disfigurement, or serious impairment.” The idea was that if the injury would cause a substantial change in your life, you should be entitled to more. They went so far as to define a serious impairment as an “impairment of a bodily function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”
Interpreting this law, however, led to some problems. Six years ago, the Michigan Supreme Court held that in order for an injury to be considered a “serious impairment” it had to last for a long time. This has led to many injured plaintiffs being unable to be compensated for their injuries simply because they didn’t suffer long enough.
Early this month, though, the Supreme Court took another look at its decision and decided that it wasn’t right. The new holding recognizes that there is nothing in the law that says that the impairment has to last for years and years.
So what does this mean for Michigan motorists? It means that people who suffer, and suffer badly, for shorter periods of time will no longer be barred from recovering for their suffering. It means that there is no longer a bright line rule that courts can use to throw out legitimate cases.
It means that the Michigan Supreme Court is back in the business of interpreting law instead of writing new laws.
I, for one, applaud them.
I found a follow up in the Detroit News today about the Supreme Court case I blogged about earlier this week. It sounds like the court will not be ruling in the employee’s favor. It will be interesting to see how this affects other privacy rules at work.
Washington — The Supreme Court appears likely to rule against public employees who claimed a local government violated their privacy by reading racy text messages they sent on their employers’ account.
Several justices said Monday that the employer, the Ontario, Calif., police department, acted reasonably in monitoring the text messages in view of its written policy warning employees they have no guarantee of privacy in the use of office computer and electronics equipment.
Justice Stephen Breyer said he didn’t see “anything, quite honestly, unreasonable about that.”
While the case involves government workers, the decision could have broader privacy implications as courts continue to sort out privacy issues in the digital age. Many employers tell workers there is no guarantee of privacy in anything sent over their company- or government-provided computers, cell phones or pagers.
The case arose when the Ontario department decided to audit text message usage to see whether its SWAT team officers were using them too often for personal reasons. Three employees complained that the department improperly snooped on their electronic exchanges.
President Obama is considering 60 year old Detroit Native, Ann Clair Williams, as a possible replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens.
Williams received her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State in 1970 and an M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1972. She also taught third grade for the city.
She was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed to be a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Illinois in 1985, making her the first black woman to be appointed to that district judgeship.
President Bill Clinton nominated her to the 7th Circuit in 1999.
Yesterday the U.S. Supreme court began listening to arguments on Police Sgt. Jeff Quon’s text-messaging case. Quon used his city issued text-messaging pager to exchange hundreds of personal messages – some sexually suggestive. When Quon exceeded his texting limit several times, his boss, the chief of police, ordered a review of the transcripts. The racy messages prompted an internal department investigation. Quon sued the wireless company and the city for invasion of privacy.
This case concerns you because its outcome will carry ramifications for employee privacy rights in the work place.
The main issue? How far can a government employer go to monitor the private communications of its workers? The court will also explore whether service providers can be held liable for providing these communications without consent.
Read the whole story from cnn.com here
I think it’s an interesting issue. I’ve always been under the impression that anything I email from my work computer would be subject to review by my employer. Text messages never really crossed my mind, but as people are increasingly using their phones for work-related messaging I guess I can see the possibilty.
How does everyone else feel on the issue?