20131018 frozenassets photocom95034978 150Criminal forfeitures are a key part of the federal government’s efforts to prosecute crime by limiting a defendant’s ability to fight the charges. The pretrial restraining orders enhance the government’s ability to get either a guilty plea or a guilty verdict.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue. The case arises from the common practice of the government freezing the assets of an indicted criminal defendant, who needs the assets to hire a lawyer.

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Panic Street Lawyer: Meet me in health

Sunday, 13 October 2013 06:00 AM Written by

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I watched and listened to some amazing news features on television this week (and if you missed them, the internet provides you with opportunities to now catch those features at a convenient date, time, place, and format). Of course, the word “amazing” is value-neutral: both good and bad television can startle and stun.

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87769643.jp20131011 courtroom photocom150The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that three men, two from Pennsylvania and one from New Jersey, sentenced as teenagers to life in prison without parole will have an opportunity to convince federal judges they should be resentenced.

The men, convicted of murder in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Allegheny County and sentenced to life in prison without parole, argued that the high court's decision in Miller v. Alabama is retroactive.

The cases are before the court as successive petitions for habeas corpus. In order for the court to hear such petitions the petitioner must apply for certification. Certification will be granted if the petitioner makes a prima facie showing that the claim relies on "a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court."

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Panic Street Lawyer: Can't find a better plan

Sunday, 06 October 2013 06:00 AM Written by

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I spent most of my week dealing with all of the frustrating things associated with relocation of a law firm office. That still made it a better week than the 7-day period the Social Security Administration is having.

On Tuesday October 1, the SSA was one the agencies whose operations were affected by the partial shutdown of the federal government. SSA had to develop a contingency plan to continue activities as of that date, because a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives could not come up with a better plan for stopping the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare) than to cause a lapse in appropriations.

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Justice Reinvestment is sputtering in Ohio. The two-year-old plan to reduce Ohio’s prison inmate population is not having the hoped-for impact. The number of prisoners behind bars is expected to spike.

Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the state prisons’ already high population of 50,000 could soar to 52,000 in two years and top 53,000 in six years. The population numbers are in contrast to rosy projections from 2011 when lawmakers passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).

Under the law, the number of inmates was supposed to drop to around 47,000 by 2015 and dip below 47,000 two years after that.

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Can a government shutdown pose a danger to the public?

Monday, 30 September 2013 11:58 AM Written by

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Matt Mangino, who posts The Cautionary Instruction here each Friday, offers some thoughts at his own blog examining the potential for a federal government shutdown to impact public safety:

"There is no question that a shutdown can be inconvenient and a hardship, but can it be dangerous? The double whammy -- sequester and a government shutdown -- will have an impact on public safety."

(Top image: The Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, as the government teeters on the brink of a partial shutdown at midnight unless Congress can reach an agreement on funding that meets presidential approval.  (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

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Panic Street Lawyer: In a van down by the river

Sunday, 29 September 2013 06:00 AM Written by

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This is a fun week to be living in (or visiting) Pittsburgh. It started with that 40-foot yellow rubber duck on the Allegheny River and was quickly followed by fireworks in Oakland, the Pirates on the North Shore, Billy Bragg in Millvale, and the Penguins in Uptown.

I spent the weekend here packing and moving my law office.

While the Steelers flew its operations overseas for a few days to play one Sunday football game, my firm is maneuvering that same Sunday in a rental van through the Great Racers and relocating long-term ten blocks away, in a building that overlooks the Monongahela River. Unlike Matt Foley, I will not be living down there.

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20130927wap stevenstaley 150Imagine a delusional, psychotic inmate on death row being forced to take medication so that he becomes lucid enough to execute. Does such a scenario seem cruel or farfetched? Not so fast, it is the law in Pennsylvania and other states as well.

In 2003, a federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas could force a prisoner on death row to take antipsychotic medication to make him sane enough to execute. Without the drugs Charles Laverne Singleton, could not be put to death. A 1986 Supreme Court decision prohibited the execution of the insane.

''Singleton presents the court with a choice between involuntary medication followed by an execution and no medication followed by psychosis and imprisonment,'' Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote in his anything but compassionate opinion.

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