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criminal defense


Last week saw the death of Antonin Scalia, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Whether he died on the night of February 12th or the morning of February 13th has not yet been determined. Reports claim that Scalia died in his sleep from natural causes while hunting in Texas. As permissible under Texas law, the cause of death was pronounced without autopsy taking place. That Scalia died shortly after hunting will surprise few.

Scalia’s death marks only the second time in sixty years a Justice has died while serving on the court. With the number of Supreme Court Justices now down to eight, a vacancy for the ninth position has opened.

Opinion is split on the legacy Scalia has left. He has famously been viewed as an enemy of liberal thought and a staunch defender of conservatism. His apparent goal in his career was to uphold the Constitution as literally as possible. This often meant disregarding ethics, humanitarianism, or pragmatism. He was an avid opponent of individual rights, particularly abortion and homosexuality. As the Constitution didn’t cover them, he claimed, they were fair game for discriminatory lawmakers.


Image from Flickr

He was also a firm believer in the death penalty, and even pushed for it (unsuccessfully) to be applied to minors. His defence for this appeared to be that the original Constitution did not condemn this. This highlighted his Originalism with regards to the Constitution: the Eighth Amendment, which did condemn such action, was made just four years after the Constitution was set. The Eighth Amendment is now over two hundred years old. It also highlighted his contradictory nature; he defended several other Amendments despite their nature as changes to the original Constitution.

While humanitarians and liberals may have bemoaned his judicial power, many in the criminal defense sector found his policies to be beneficial. His rigid adherence to the Constitution protected many accused criminals and assured their rights were defended. This included an accused’s right to face their accuser and the witnesses against them. Scalia voted to protect American flag-burning protesters from criminal punishment. He also fought against unreasonable and warrantless searches and seizures.

The surviving Justices are split equally in their political party affiliations. Four are Democrats and four, including the Supreme Justice, are Republicans. They are split 4-4 between conservative and liberal ideologies and voting patterns.


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It is up to Barack Obama to nominate someone to fill the vacancy. Many Republicans are claiming that the Constitution prevents Obama from nominating anyone. This claim is made on the basis that he is nearing the end of his Presidential term. Others have pointed out that Obama has eleven months left of his term, and that a nomination must be made within a shorter period. This exposes the Republican claims as untrue. However, the Supreme Court needs to approve a nomination. This may not take place during Obama’s term.

The actions of an Associate Justice have far-reaching political consequences. Some are going as far to claim that the filling of this vacancy is of more importance to the American people than that of the Presidential race. Because of the possibility that the next President will have to nominate a new Justice, the 2016 Presidential race may be dramatically altered. We recommend you keep an eye on developments regarding this vacancy.


The year 2015 hasn’t disappointed fans of offbeat and unusual crime stories. There was the Florida man who managed to get a DUI charge while driving his motorized wheelchair, the New Mexico man who threw a fit of rage when employees at McDonalds put pickles on his hamburger, and the man who was driving drunk and crashed into the side of a house, only to claim it was really his dog behind the wheel that night. That last one happened in—you guessed it—Florida.


Photo Source: dailymail.co.uk

But this next case of strange criminal behavior actually comes out of Connecticut. In August, police arrested a homeless man who was accused of giving a “Wet Willy” to a four year old boy in a local business’s waiting room. A Wet Willy, for the uninformed, is the act of covering one’s finger in saliva and inserting it into someone’s ear.

Michael Migani, aged 34, was charged with second-degree breach of peace, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and maximum of six years jail time, and second-degree reckless endangerment, which likewise carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and six years maximum jail time. As Migani is homeless, a public defender will likely act as his criminal defense.

But the story actually gets stranger. After Migani snuck up on the boy and did the unspeakable to his ear, he ran outside, hopped in his car, and drove off. So, it would seem, there must have been some amount of premeditation on Migani’s part. It’s easy to imagine a crazed stereotype of a homeless person, fidgeting and muttering to themselves, walking by and nonchalantly doing something—well—crazy. The idea of a homeless person with a vehicle runs counter to our perception of the homeless as train hoppers, trash fire starters, or underpass dwellers. But this stereotype is more fictional than not.

According to the U.S. charitable organization Project Home, there were 578,424 people recorded as suffering from homelessness in a single night in January 2014. Sixty nine percent of them were sleeping in sheltered locations, whereas some 31 percent were recorded as sleeping in unsheltered ones. These unsheltered locations include streets, abandoned buildings, and cars.

In that same month of January, 84,291 individuals and 15,143 people in families were reported as being chronically homeless. This figure is an important one. Many of our stereotypes about the homeless come from sightings in large cities, where many individuals with severe, untreated mental illness wind up. These may be a small minority of the homeless population in the United States, however.

To be “chronically homeless” often means a person or family alternates between staying in temporary accommodations, such as discount hotels, shelters, or friends’ houses, and unsheltered locations like their cars. Many of these people work low wage jobs, some of them have criminal records preventing them from upward advancement with an employer. Unfortunately, poverty and crime go together like peanut butter and cheese—before you judge, just try it. It’s delicious.

This vicious cycle that keeps the poor, well—poor, affects people regardless of moral character or merit. This deep inequality has been the subject of national discourse throughout much of American history, and in many ways American income inequality in the first decades of the 21st century mirrors the hardship of working people in the early 1900s.

But here’s the point: Michael Migani is only one person out of thousands who are struggling economically. We have to be careful not to stereotype the poor or homeless as people of questionable moral integrity or sanity. The poverty line is, in many ways, arbitrary. There are more people struggling with money than we may realize, with many of them just above or below the artificial line drawn to distinguish the impoverished from the lowest socioeconomic class.