Monday, November 30, 2015

Michigan: How People Are Prosecuted For Breaking Laws They Don’t Know Exist

From Michigan Capitol Confidential:
Michigan has over 3,000 felonies and misdemeanors on the books — far more than the average resident could possibly remember. Obvious crimes, like murder or theft, make up some of these statutes, but more of them cover actions such as “transporting Christmas trees without a manifest” or burning grass clippings or leaves in certain areas.

These laws are especially dangerous to ordinary people because 26 percent of Michigan’s felonies and 59 percent of its misdemeanors don’t specify criminal intent. This means that people who never intended to break the law may be (and often are) prosecuted for crimes they had no idea they committed.


These reforms would not allow a Michigander to get out of a larceny charge by claiming ignorance of the law, but they would make it less likely for him to do jail time for catching a fish he didn’t realize was protected, or being smacked with hefty fines for failing to properly display a camping license on his tent.

Among the crimes that the average person might not realize exist are the following:
Lisa Snyder’s neighbors had children and early starts at work. She was happy to watch their kids until the school bus arrived in the morning — until she was threatened with penalties for running an unlicensed child care service.

Alan Taylor needed more parking at his growing business and thought he had received all the proper permits to expand the lot on his property. But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality successfully prosecuted him for jeopardizing a wetland he didn’t know existed.

Kenneth Schumacher got rid of some scrap tires at what turned out to be an unlicensed disposal facility. Though he didn’t intend to break the law, he was sentenced to 270 days in jail and a fine of $10,000.

Michigan is not alone is this area. In 2009, it was estimated that many Americans unknowingly commit three felonies per day:
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague.

Friday, November 27, 2015

New York passes stricter DWI penalties

New legislation to reduce drunk driving among repeat violators through the use of ignition interlock devices (IID), has been signed into New York law.

The new law allows judges the discretion of extending the use of a mandatory interlock device when an individual has a high probability of repeatedly driving under the influence. Previously, the device could only be ordered for certain convictions of New York’s DWI laws.

An IID is an apparatus that is similar to a breathalyzer and is often attached to the ignition system of a motor vehicle as a condition of probation stemming from traffic-related infractions. The vehicle can only be started if the driver blows into the ignition interlock and his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) is below the legal limit of .08 BAC.

The measure was introduced by Republican New York State Senator Michael Nozzolio, and passed unanimously in both the Senate and Assembly.

For more information on the new law, click here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Federal Court upholds local authority to regulate puppy mills

Municipal laws requiring pet stores in New York to obtain dogs and cats from certain licensed breeders and then sterilize the animals are not trumped by federal and state laws, a judge has decided.

The laws upheld were meant to guard against the sale of animals bred in inhumane conditions and then were sold to unsuspecting consumers. Through their sterilization rules, the laws also sought to address overpopulation of unwanted animals.

The ruling reinforces the ability of local governments to crack down on Amish and Mennonite puppy mills in New York State.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Consumer alert issued for Black Friday, Cyber Monday

In advance of the Christmas and holiday shopping season, New York State officials have the following tips for consumers shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
• Beware of misleading bargains and added fees.
• Compare warranty terms.
• Know the terms of a layaway plan.
• Check return and refund policies.
• Beware of restricted gift cards.
• Shop only on secure Internet connections.
• Do not be tricked by confusingly similar website and domain names.
• Protect yourself by using credit cards.
• Be wary of too-good-to-be-true contests and prize promotions.
• Read the fine print.
More on each of these tips can be found at the link above.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New York law expands court access for the hearing impaired.

The new law, which became effective Sept. 25, 2015, gives the courts authority, at the request of a person (party, witness, juror, or prospective juror) who is deaf or hard of hearing, to "provide an assistive listening device, a stenographer who can furnish communication access real-time translation or any other appropriate auxiliary aid or service."

For individuals with disabilities who need accommodations to assure accessibility to the courts, the New York State Court System's Accessibility page offers information about making accommodation requests and a list of Americans with Disabilities Act liaisons for each county. Information about the range of court interpretation services is available on the Court System's Language Access and Court Interpreters page.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Beware of cold weather scams

Government officials in New York State have issued a consumer alert, advising the public, especially seniors, how to avoid potential scams that may occur with the onset of colder weather.

Consumers should protect themselves when hiring contractors to perform winter-related services by considering the following:

• Shop around. Get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job. • Get it in writing. Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed. • Do not pay unreasonable advance sums. Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front. • Get references. Check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors. Always contact references provided to you. • Know your rights. You have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.
Persons who believe they were the victim of a scam can contact the New York State Consumer Frauds Bureau by calling 1-800-771-7755.

For more information, click here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

New protections for crime victims appear "Women's Equality" bills.

On Oct. 21, New York enacted new laws related to women's rights that deal with a variety of issues, including pay equity and protection of employees from sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination.

Among the new rules, designed to protect crime victims, including victims of sex trafficking, are the following:

The Family Court Act has been amended to allow the Chief Administrator of the Courts to promulgate rules to “establish and implement a pilot program for the filing of petitions for temporary orders of protection by electronic means and for the issuance of such orders ex parte by audio-visual means in order to accommodate litigants for whom attendance at court to file for, and obtain, emergency relief would constitute an undue hardship or to accommodate litigants, for whom traveling to and appearing in the courthouse to obtain emergency relief, creates a risk of harm to such litigant.”

The "Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act," amends and adds many new sections of law. New crimes include aggravated labor trafficking, a class C felony; patronizing a person for prostitution in a school zone, a class E felony; and aggravated patronizing a minor for prostitution, a felony.

These new provisions become effective in 2016.