Saturday, March 22, 2014

Govt. Class: No Homework

I neglected to give you an assignment until now, so I'm not going to give you one.  However, you will have a test on Thursday relating to political parties, elections, and taxation (which we'll study this week), so you can start studying now.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Govt. Homework: Political Parties

Explore the websites for the two major political parties.  In particular, visit the sections describing the political views of each party.
Democrats: To find views, check the "Issues" menu on the top of the page.
Republicans: To find views, click "Our Party," then "2012 Republican Platform."

In three well-written paragraphs, write what you learned about the two political parties by visiting the sites.  Compare the parties' views on one or two political issues that are important to you.  Include your reactions to visiting both sites.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Homework on Scenes of a Crime

For my government students, here are the questions to consider:
  • What techniques or strategies do police use when questioning suspects?  Why?
  • Can these techniques or strategies lead to false confessions?  How?
  • Are these techniques or strategies justified?  Should police use them?
  • Were they justified in the case of Adrian Thomas?  
Here is a link to the Scenes of a Crime documentary film.  To see the whole thing, you need to pay $4.99.  Sorry.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

99 Problems and the Fourth Amendment

In relation to our discussion of the Fourth Amendment, here's a summary of legal analysis of "99 Problems" by Jay-Z.

Jay-Z's lyrics: And I Heard "Son do you know what I'm stopping you for?"/"Cause I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low?/Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don't know/Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?"

Analysis by Prof. Caleb Mason: A great question, and an important one for any future suppression claim. As new lawyers learn (to their dismay), there is no constitutional problem with arresting someone for a traffic violation, no matter how minor. And if you are arrested for a traffic violation, your car can be impounded and then searched to inventory its contents, without a warrant and without any level of suspicion that the car contains contraband. Your person, clothing, and bags can also be searched with no required quantum of suspicion. On the other hand, if you are not under arrest, the police need probable cause to search the car. So if the cop tells you you're not under arrest, and then proceeds to search the car, you will be able to suppress any contraband if you can show that there was no probable cause for the search. Here again, documentation will be important.

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Free exercise of religion" question: Should a beard be permitted for a Muslim prisoner?

On the same day that Aylin raised this question in class, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about it.

Without betraying my own views on this case, I will admit it's quite impressive that Mr. Holt conducted his own research and filed a handwritten petition to the Supreme Court from jail.

From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether prison officials in Arkansas may prohibit inmates from growing beards in accordance with their religious beliefs.
The policy was challenged by Gregory H. Holt, who is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery. Mr. Holt said his Muslim faith required him to grow a beard.
The state’s policy allows trimmed mustaches, along with quarter-inch beards for those with dermatological problems. Prison officials said the ban on other facial hair was needed to promote “health and hygiene,” to minimize “opportunities for disguise” and to help prevent the concealment of contraband.
Mr. Holt sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that requires prison officials to show that policies that burden religious practices advance a compelling penological interest and use the least restrictive means to do so. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled in June that the justifications offered by the officials satisfied that standard.
Mr. Holt filed a handwritten petition in September asking the justices to hear his case, Holt v. Hobbs, No. 13-6827, pointing out that other courts had struck down policies banning beards in prisons. In an interim order in November, the Supreme Court ordered that Mr. Holt be allowed to grow a half-inch beard.
In their response to Mr. Holt’s Supreme Court petition, prison officials told the justices that “homemade darts and other weapons” and “cellphone SIM cards” could be concealed in even half-inch beards. They added that they did not welcome the task of monitoring the lengths of inmates’ beards.
In a reply brief, Mr. Holt, now represented by Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said 39 state corrections systems and the federal system allow prisoners to wear beards. He added that the justifications for the policy were illogical as there were much easier places to hide contraband — shoes, say — than in a short beard.