A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Archive for September, 2010

Tennessee Ink – A Felon’s Plea to Have His Swastika Tattoo Removed

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By Paul Irlando

A Tennessee man is regretting his decision to get ink.  According to a Forward.com article, Daniel Cowart, who in March pled guilty to eight federal charges in U.S. District Court, including a plot to assassinate then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, is requesting to have certain tattoos removed before heading to federal prison.

Why does Mr. Cowart want these tattoos removed?  According to the Huffington Post , he has been labeled a “white supremacist skinhead.”  He brandishes a swastika tattoo on his right shoulder and iron cross on his chest (see images here and here).  District Court Judge Daniel Breen put Mr. Cowart’s June motion requesting the tattoo removal under seal, so we can’t be sure, but it is presumed that Mr. Cowart is concerned with “unwanted attention” from other inmates.

Do individuals about to enter the correctional system have a legal right to have their tattoos removed to protect their safety?  The Forward.com article reported that the U.S. Marshals Service, through the government’s attorney, “cannily” played down Mr. Cowart’s tattoo-alteration request as “cosmetic surgery,” ignoring the potentially serious consequences of brandishing such ink in a federal prison.  But the article failed to state whether Cowart, indeed, is protected by state or federal law, or by either the Tennessee or Federal Constitution. (more…)

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Philadelphia’s “Blog Tax” Isn’t Brotherly Loved

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By Matthew Catania

Blogging is arguably the most popular hobby to be born of the Digital Revolution. Ordinary people can now share anything from diaries to news on a global scale via the Internet. Blogs are so firmly entrenched in society that many even earn revenue from ads. This has not gone unnoticed by the cash-strapped City of Brotherly Love.  Philadelphia is using what’s become known as the “blog tax” to get its cut of the blog bucks. With such an incendiary nickname given by the press, it’s no wonder that bloggers have vigorously decried this local law. One commenter on the original article from the Philadelphia City Paper askedSince when did the cradle of freedom become a Fascist hellhole?” But is this ordinance really an abuse of power? Or is this just panicked hyperbole run amok? (more…)

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Customer Cries Fo(w)l, but Safeway Stays ‘Abreast’ of Law

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By Tara Krieger

A Colorado man said something that a Safeway employee interpreted as referring to the size of her mammary glands, and now he can’t set foot in the store for a year.

On July 29, Al Stults, Jr., a Navy veteran in his early 60’s, was shopping at the Safeway in Lakewood, Colorado when, by his account, he requested some chicken breasts from the “heavy-set woman” behind the deli counter. When asked which he preferred, he said, “I like the large ones.” He recalls the woman “chuckled” at the double entendre.

A week later, Mr. Stults returned to the supermarket. According to his account, the woman behind the counter yielded to her “extremely surly” coworker, who treated Mr. Stults so rudely that he complained to the assistant store manager, who was unsympathetic.  Tempers escalated, the police was called, and Mr. Stults was handed a one-year civil trespassing notice.

Mr. Stults, who has no criminal record and faces no criminal charges, protested that the notice was “completely illegal.” It was based on Safeway employees’ claims, and did not give him a chance to present his version of the story. A spokesman for the Lakewood Police, Steve Davis, saw the matter as routine procedure for dealing with customers who cause a disturbance in stores. “There is no court date,” said Mr. Davis, “so there’s no need or opportunity for him to present his side of things to anyone, because there’s no criminal procedure.”

Journalists were quick to quote Mr. Stults’ grievances, but did not analyze whether Safeway acted within its legal means. Can a business arbitrarily instruct the police to issue a trespassing notice – even without criminal charges – based on one-sided (and possibly spurious) testimony? (more…)

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Arrested In Evesham Township, NJ? See Ya’ on Facebook!

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By Paul Irlando

Being arrested can hardly be a happy experience.  In addition to being locked up in a small cell with a stranger and having to call a friend, or worse, your parents to bail you out, comes the shame of standing accused of committing a criminal act.  But as reported by CNET.com, the Police Department in Evesham Township, New Jersey, tacks on one more blow: Facebook infamy.

Last month, the Department started posting arrest photographs of people charged with drunk driving on its Facebook page.  As a result, any Facebook user worldwide can visit the Evesham Township Police Department page (which has already amassed over 6,000 followers) and view photos of individuals arrested for DUI, along with their name and age.  While shoplifters, burglars, and drug users have had their pictures posted since the Department created its Facebook page seven months ago, the decision to add DUI photos stirred so much controversy that the Department took them down as it awaits a “legal interpretation” from Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi as to whether the photos, a matter of public record, nevertheless should not be posted because DUI is a motor vehicle rather than a criminal offense.

In the meantime, photos of people arrested for other crimes remain on the Department’s Facebook page, and many arrestees are arguing that their reputations and careers were negatively impacted by their crimes being heralded on Facebook –before they were even convicted.  They are not the only ones concerned. (more…)

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Price Change Could Cost “99 Cents Only” Stores a Pretty Penny

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By Russell Smith

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that 99 Cents Only, a California based chain of discount retail stores, is being sued for raising its prices a fraction of a penny. In September 2008, 99 Cents Only raised the price of its goods from 99 cents to 99.99 cents. Since cash registers cannot calculate fractions of a penny, the price raise simply rounds up to the next cent, meaning items at 99 Cents Only now cost $1 — not 99 cents.

Dan Callahan, an Orange County lawyer, said this change is misleading to the store’s customers who thought their purchases literally cost “99 cents only.” Accordingly, he filed a class-action in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging unfair and deceptive business practices and misleading advertising.

Across the blogosphere, commentators have laughed at Mr. Callahan’s lawsuit to reclaim peoples’ lost pennies. But here’s a penny for your thoughts: he might win. (more…)

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