A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: ACLU

When Seeking Help Can Get You Evicted

By Anthony Vento

There’s an ordinance in Norristown, Pennsylvania that says if the police are called to respond to “disorderly behavior” on a tenant’s property three times within a four month period, then the landlord must evict the tenant. If he doesn’t, he could lose his rental license.

Enter Pennsylvanian domestic abuse victim Lakisha Briggs. The New York Times recently reported the story of Ms. Briggs, a tenant in federally subsidized housing. Police responded to two domestic disputes at her home and warned her if they were called to her house once more, she would be evicted. Not long after the warning was issued, Ms. Briggs was attacked and severely injured by her boyfriend. Before slipping into unconsciousness, she plead with her neighbor not to call the police out of fear that she’d be evicted. Her condition was so bad though, that the neighbor called the police anyway.

Ms. Briggs’ fears were justified; the landlord brought eviction proceedings against her. Although reluctant to evict his tenant, he dared not risk losing his rental license.

The ACLU chose to represent Ms. Briggs arguing that the ordinance incentivizing landlords to evict “nuisance” tenants was illegal. Is the ACLU correct? Is the ordinance illegal, or can municipalities penalize landlords for not evicting tenants when police are called too frequently to their property?

LASIS investigates.

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The Constitutional Right to Record

 

By Russell Smith

An Illinois eavesdropping law makes it is a Class 1 felony – carrying a penalty of up to 15 years in prison – to use any device to “hear or record a conversation” involving police, prosecutors, or judges without their permission. Most states have similar eavesdropping laws, but almost all have an exception for recording police conversations when officers have no “expectation of privacy.”

Generally, there is no legal expectation of privacy for conversations that take place on public streets or sidewalks; that’s why New York City doesn’t ban people from taking pictures of terror targets, like train stations or federal offices, so long as the photo is taken from a sidewalk or public street. And that’s why in most states, it’s not criminal for bystanders to whip out their cell phones to film police officers arresting or mistreating people at public protests.

But the Illinois eavesdropping law has no “expectation of privacy” exception. Chicago police have seized on this, using the law as a justification for snatching cell phones and video cameras from Occupy Chicago observers trying to document police misconduct occurring during demonstrations.

At Firedoglake, Kevin Gosztola suggested that the existing Illinois wiretapping law “violates the civil liberties of people in Illinois.” On Slate, Dahlia Lithwick bemoaned the “enormous constitutional problem” posed by the law, especially for journalists. But lost in the media’s disdain is a clear articulation of exactly what constitutional right the eavesdropping law infringes.

LASIS will clarify.   (more…)

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Weeding Out Drugs From Welfare

By Ryan Morrison

Welfare tends to be a polarizing issue in America. Whether you believe welfare recipients are (a) little more than lazy drug addicts suckling at the teat of America’s hard-working middle class, (b) that they are good people who have temporarily fallen on hard times, or (c) something in between, you probably have a strong opinion on the subject.

I’m a news junkie and consume with gusto, from media outlets highbrow and lowbrow alike. And it seems to me that choice (a) is, more and more, the go-to thinking of many of us above the poverty line.

“Taxpayers have a vested interest in making sure that their hard-earned tax dollars are not being used to subsidize drug addiction,” says Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, GA. And to date, 32 states, have decided the best solution to this problem is to drug test potential welfare recipients.

Governor Rick Scott of Florida, who championed the idea of bringing drug tests to Floridian welfare recipients, recently signed a bill into law that would do just that. Since July, new applicants for welfare in Florida must not only take a drug test to receive benefits, but they have had to foot the bill, and are reimbursed if they pass. If they fail they must wait one year to reapply for benefits. Meantime, at the federal level Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana, is sponsoring the Drug Free Families Act of 2011, which would require all 50 states to drug-test welfare applicants.

Never mind that the notion that taxpayers are funding welfare recipients’ drug habits has been proven untrue. Never mind that the monthly government aid that welfare recipients receive would seem a pittance to most readers of this article:  $180 for a single person or $364 for a family of four.

Never mind that such drug tests may be unconstitutional.   (more…)

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