Robert Durst's bathroom folly
March 18, 2015

(CNN) -- The end of "Jinx," the six-part HBO documentary about real estate heir Robert Durst, has launched a debate about whether some potentially incriminating statements Durst made while in the bathroom to a microphone may be used in his criminal prosecution.

Durst, as you probably heard, is charged with murder in a killing in California 15 years ago, and he has been suspected, but never charged, in the disappearance of his first wife in New York.


Murky truth about the death penalty
March 3, 2015

(CNN) -- The case of a Georgia woman, whose execution was postponed for a second time Monday, is once again shining the national spotlight on one of the most fundamental questions we as a nation face: When do we put our own citizens to death?

But it's an issue on which this country is all over the place.


Judicial hypocrisy on juvenile justice?
February 25, 2015

(CNN) -- As Wisconsin prepares to try two children as adults in an attempted murder case allegedly inspired by the mythical Slenderman, the prosecution of two preteens in adult court challenges our faith in the juvenile justice system.

The entire juvenile justice system is premised upon one bedrock principle. It's an immutable fact that our parents and forebears have known for millennia, and it's something that science is increasingly backing up: Juveniles are different.


Don't rely on insanity defense
February 11, 2015

(CNN) -- Two major trials kicking off 2015 feature defendants invoking the insanity defense. For many, this adds to the myth that insanity is commonly used and frequently successful.

But in fact, the insanity defense is raised in less than 1% of felony cases, and it's only successful in a fraction of those. Moreover, defendants judged to have been legally insane at the time of the offense and subsequently found not guilty by reason of insanity are in almost all cases indefinitely committed to psychiatric hospitals for treatment.

Statistically speaking, for those who want to see some guilty verdicts in the trials of James Holmes or Eddie Routh, they are likely to get their wish.


Smell test key in music copyright cases
February 6, 2015

(CNN) -- Recently, it was reported that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne would be given songwriting credits for Sam Smith's hit song "Stay With Me." But the really interesting part was that this only happened after Petty's team noticed a likeness between Smith's song and Petty's 1989 hit "I Won't Back Down."

Astonishingly, this means Smith, and somehow every single person at every stage of the production process of "Stay With Me," were all -- to a person -- apparently not familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne tune.

It makes this old-timer think: Wait, how did anyone release that song and not think it sounded like Petty's "Won't Back Down"? I assumed it was a collaboration! The only plausible explanation is that every executive, every studio employee and every human involved in that decision was under 30 and had never heard of Tom Petty. Or MTV. Or iTunes. Or the music industry.


Can Tsarnaev, Hernandez, Holmes get fair trials?
January 29, 2015

(CNN) -- The start of 2015 has yielded a macabre bumper crop of high-profile cases, and they are all going to trial.

Though the facts differ wildly in each case, there is a common issue running through them: Is it possible to guarantee a defendant's right to a fair trial if there is a deluge of unfavorable media coverage before a jury is even selected?

Four trials are beginning at roughly the same time: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Aaron Hernandez, Eddie Ray Routh, James Holmes.

This is quite a fusillade of high-profile trials.


Should ski resorts pay for avalanche injuries?
January 20, 2015

(CNN) -- The recent deaths of two U.S. Ski Team members in an avalanche at a resort in the Austrian Alps have raised questions about the risks of these sudden snow slides. Since then, North America has settled into the skiing high season, with scores of skiers and snowboarders every day willingly participating in a sport fraught with risks of all kinds.

In our modern, safety-conscious world, we have gradually eliminated all things fun and dangerous.

But somehow, skiing is still around.


Should jury take a field trip in Aaron Hernandez trial?
January 14, 2015

(CNN) -- Jurors will get to see Aaron Hernandez's trophy case when they visit his home during the former New England Patriots star's murder trial, a judge ruled last week.

The Assistant District Attorney asked the court for permission to hide the trophy case, indicating the defense was trying to engage in "strategic manipulation" or impress the jury with trophies or medals.

The defense's position was simple: That's the way the house looked when the alleged victim was killed ... and that's how it should be shown.

Trophy cases aside, the rest of us defense attorneys and prosecutors must be wondering about a threshold issue:

What's with the jury excursions in these kinds of cases? This doesn't happen in most trials. Why the special treatment?


When is your tweet a threat?
January 2, 2015

(CNN) -- The New York Police Department faced a newly pressing question in recent weeks: What constitutes an online "threat"?

Police reviewed hundreds of online postings--and made several arrests--over alleged anti-cop threats made in the wake of the killing of two officers last month.

It used to be a lot easier to define threats. It's not that our dialogue has evolved much. It hasn't. Art and music have always spoken about violence in the most graphic terms, whether it's in rap lyrics or Guns N' Roses songs. Kids have consumed violent art and speech since long before Hansel and Gretel baked a witch in an oven, or Beowulf hacked his way through Southern Scandinavia.


Could lawsuits make football obsolete?
December 30, 2014

Research on the long-term effects of concussions is changing how many look at this popular sport.

Does Texas need a 'Merry Christmas' law?
December 25, 2014

(CNN) -- Here we go again.

Christmas is upon us, and that means some people are getting sensitive about holiday greetings.

In modern-day Texas, however, residents are now statutorily permitted to use the greeting of their choice without fear of legal reprisal: "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah" or "Happy holidays".


The really shocking facts about Cleveland police
December 8, 2014

(CNN) -- Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that the Justice Department's civil rights investigation of Cleveland's police department found that it engaged in a "pattern or practice" of unreasonable and unnecessary use of force.

Coming on the heels of the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer, many have wondered if this conclusion and damning report proves anything about Rice's death.

Not directly.


Is it hard to indict police officers?
December 4, 2014

Danny Cevallos explains possible reasons why the grand jury did not indict officer's Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.

Does free speech stretch to NFL protest?
December 2, 2014

(CNN) -- The NFL has reportedly denied a request by the St. Louis Police Officer's Association to discipline St. Louis Rams players who showed the symbolic "hands up, don't shoot" gesture during pregame introductions on Sunday.

But why did the NFL choose not to discipline these players? Was it, as was suggested by Rams coach Jeff Fisher, because these players were simply exercising their freedom of speech?

Not likely.


Black Friday's liability risk for stores
November 26, 2014

(CNN) -- One of the biggest holiday weeks is upon us. Thanksgiving is a favorite day for football fans, close-knit families, families who can't stand each other, and of course, amateur competitive eaters. But what's really interesting about Thanksgiving is the day after -- known as Black Friday. It may well be the most publicized -- and puzzling -- commercial day of the year.

According to the National Retail Federation, last year's Black Friday attracted more than 90 million online and in-store shoppers. Online shoppers can buy things from the comfort and safety of their homes. But what about those who succumb to mass hysteria at local megastores? We have all seen the "shopacalypse" on the evening news, which appears constrained only by the flimsy protection of a few Tensabarriers and some security guys.


Drop the ballot selfie ban
November 4, 2014

(CNN) -- With Election Day upon us, law enforcement in two New England states is confronting one of the most serious theoretical threats to our democratic process: the ballot selfie.

Effective September 1, a New Hampshire law was updated to ban a person from displaying a photograph of a marked ballot through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media. The law contains no exceptions or time limitations. Massachusetts has a similar law as well.

It's official: We've run out of problems.


Were cops out of line in trooper-killing arrest?
October 31, 2014

(CNN) -- When police arrested Eric Frein, accused in the death of a Pennsylvania state trooper, they symbolically used the equipment of their fallen brother, Cpl. Bryon Dickson, to take Frein into custody.

They drove the suspect in Dickson's police vehicle, put him in Dickson's handcuffs, took him to the barracks where the shooting occurred, and held Frein there until he was moved to the correctional facility in Pike County.

This drew some immediate attention. Some have questioned if these customs constitute the law enforcement equivalent of taunting, possibly prejudicing the arrest and evidence. Others might criticize the expenditure of government resources for purely symbolic gestures—like transporting an ordinary pair of handcuffs great distances, when a pair of local zip-ties could do the job. So, should we discourage these law enforcement traditions?


Why Ebola quarantine is legal
October 27, 2014

(CNN) -- Kaci Hickox, a nurse who worked with Doctors Without Borders to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey for three days even though she tested negative for Ebola and is asymptomatic.

After much protest, she was finally released on Monday. In her opinion, her "basic human rights have been violated." She appeared on CNN and criticized politicians' reactions to Ebola and the lack of forethought and plan.

This newest quarantine has us wondering again how far the government can restrain individuals for the common good. No doubt, being physically confined by the government feels like a fundamental violation. But it's rarely a legal violation.


Protecting against Ebola trumps personal liberty
October 5, 2014

(CNN) -- Passengers on a United Airlines flight from Brussels were quarantined at New Jersey's Newark airport and later released this weekend over Ebola fears that turned out to be unwarranted. In this case and that of the Ebola patient in Dallas, government and our citizens struggle to define the parameters of the sanctioned suppression of individual liberty that is the quarantine.

In the modern United States, the people boast unparalleled personal freedoms. Whether enumerated in the Constitution or "penumbral," the inalienable liberties of the individual are designed to never be overridden by the interests of the majority.

Unless, of course, you are really, really sick.


Police: UVA suspect linked to 2009 case
September 29, 2014

Danny Cevallos, Casey Jordan and Ed Smart discuss the possible link between missing UVA student and a 2009 murder case.

Hypocrisy of sports gambling foes
September 22, 2014

(CNN) -- As a society, it seems we'll always struggle with our vices. Our governments are less morally conflicted, it seems.

Whether it's outlawing drugs, prostitution, even alcohol Prohibition, making vices illegal is problematic because it's illogical. Vices are personal choices made that harm one's own body or property.

Crimes, on the other hand, are wrongs committed against another person, or society as a whole—by definition, damaging another person's body or property.


Charges in hot car death are strong
September 9, 2014

(CNN) -- Justin Ross Harris was indicted last week on eight counts in the hot-car death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Harris could face the death penalty if prosecutors decide to seek it and he's convicted of the most serious charge.

However, the felony murder charge predicated on second-degree child neglect -- which was the original charge at the probable cause hearing months ago -- still poses the biggest threat to Harris' freedom. That, and, of course, the sexting charges, which will likely be the easiest to prove.

But make no mistake: That felony murder charge will be how the prosecution can convict Harris of his son's murder, even if the killing was unintentional, and, in Georgia, if the underlying felony was unintentional.


Are feds showing bias in Brown case?
August 25, 2014

Is the Attorney General biased in the Michael Brown case? Or are they serving their federal civil rights mission? Mr. Cevallos discusses on CNN.

Why keep prosecutor on Brown case?
August 23, 2014

(CNN) -- As the investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics, including Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, have questioned the prosecutor's efficiency and impartiality.

Some residents and community leaders contend that St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has deep ties to law enforcement, and reason for bias against the deceased Michael Brown in this case.

In Missouri, county prosecutors may be disqualified by interest in a case or by relationship (by blood or marriage) to a defendant. In that case, a court where the case is pending may appoint a special prosecutor, which is usually the attorney general.


CNN Analyst Denounces Ferguson Speculation: 'Everyone Becomes an Expert' in Crises
August 18, 2014

Ethics of Covering Moving Media Targets Opens Bench-Bar Conference at Borgata
August 14, 2014

(Philadelphia Bar Reporter) -- Jodi Arias, George Zimmerman, Donald Sterling, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and the South Korea ferry disaster are just a few of the moving media targets with which we are all familiar. While news media and law are separate areas of business, the court of law and court of public opinion overlap in theory and in practice.

Members of the media are often charged with covering a story with very little detail to go on. The overarching ethical standards are fairness and accuracy above all. But who really determines what is "fair" and at what point do we measure a story for "accuracy"? On the other side of the coin are the attorneys who have an ethical obligation to their clients to preserve attorney-client confidentiality while providing zealous counsel.

Both professions require critical thinking, research and communication skills, along with an ability to grasp how laws and ethics shape the delivery of news. Nationally known lawyers-turned-media correspondents will address the ethics of covering a moving media target in today's society.

Read more [PDF]

When a monkey takes a selfie ...
August 8, 2014

(CNN) -- Selfies are everywhere. Even Indonesian macaques are getting into the game. In 2011, two of these Old World monkeys borrowed photographer David J. Slater's camera and reportedly snapped some pictures of themselves. One of the selfies by a female macaque has since gone viral, making its way to Wikipedia's free-to-use website.

Slater asked the site to take down the photo, but Wikipedia asserts the photo is uncopyrightable because animals can't own copyrights.

It raises two interesting questions...


Confederate flag doesn't belong on license plates
August 5, 2014

(CNN) -- Can a state ban license plates that display the Confederate flag?

A court of appeals in Louisiana recently ruled that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board violated a nonprofit organization's free speech rights when it denied the Sons of Confederate Veterans' application for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag.


Pull up those saggy pants
July 28, 2014

(CNN) -- A Florida town has banned people -- let's face it, young people -- from wearing saggy pants.

A councilwoman for Ocala pushed for passage of the law, but the town's Mayor Kent Guinn may ultimately veto the fashion police.

If the law goes into effect, it's unclear what measuring tools the Ocala Police Department would use to determine whether citizens' pants are within the 2-inch legal limit of a theoretical waistline. It's even more unclear how they will determine where the waistline actually lies on an individual.


Lawyers' smart move in hot car death
July 8, 2014

(CNN) -- Following the preliminary hearing of a Georgia father accused of allowing his child to die in a hot car, most legal experts agree that the prosecution will likely upgrade the charges from felony murder to malice murder after the presentment of the case to a grand jury.

For now, until those charges are upgraded, Justin Ross Harris is charged with felony murder, perhaps the most widely criticized legal construct in American jurisprudence. To many legal scholars, the felony murder rule is logically and morally indefensible. To many members of the law-and-order public, the ends of the felony murder rule justify the means. And in Georgia, like every other jurisdiction, it is liberally employed. It offers an end run around the very difficult standard of proof to find a killing was intentional.


5 questions about mother in toddler's hot-car death
July 7, 2014

Cell phone ruling keeps cops out of your business
June 25, 2014

(CNN) -- On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling in two cases testing the authority of police to conduct a warrantless search of an arrested person's cell phone, holding that police generally must obtain a warrant before searching the cell phone of someone they arrest.

For the most part, the justices' rulings in cases dealing with the Fourth Amendment go largely unnoticed by the public, but the court has reminded us in this opinion that modern technology is subject to the same original privacy rights that flow from the Constitution.


Was Tracy Morgan crash a crime or accident?
June 18, 2014

(CNN) -- Recently, the venerable Mark O'Mara wrote an op-ed on calling for a law against bullying. I find myself in an unenviable position, that of respectfully dissenting with a leading legal mind whom I greatly admire. O'Mara writes compellingly in support of anti-bullying legislation.

I am anti-anti-bullying legislation.

Let me explain. While legislation designed to stamp out bullying may make us feel better inside, such laws by definition encroach upon fundamental freedoms of speech and constitutional requirements that laws not be vague or overly broad. What's more, they may seek to outlaw that which may be beyond the purview of the crimes code: It may be the case that human law is simply no match for the law of nature.


Was Tracy Morgan crash a crime or accident?
June 10, 2014

(CNN) -- Truck driver Kevin Roper has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto in connection with the crash last weekend that killed comedian James McNair and injured comedian Tracy Morgan.

The question has arisen: Why was he charged with death by auto and aggravated assault before we even know how he was driving? In this sort of crash, what makes the difference between an accident and a crime?

The answers lie in the criminal code.


Should Marine be in Mexican prison?
May 6, 2014

(CNN) -- A Marine Corps reservist says he accidentally drove his truck across the U.S. border into Tijuana, Mexico, where he was arrested and charged with possession of three firearms and ammunition. All of the guns were legally registered in the United States. Surprisingly, however, in Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, firearm possession is almost completely outlawed.

Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, a decorated Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan, had a shotgun, a handgun and a rifle -- all illegal in Mexico. He also had 400 pieces of ammunition. He is being held on weapons charges in a prison outside a town near Tijuana.

I can imagine what some people might be thinking upon hearing this news.


When Ducks Attack
May 6, 2014

(CNN) -- A Washington woman is suing her mother's neighbor in Oregon for more than $250,000 to compensate her for pain, suffering and other damages she alleges were inflicted during a traumatic ambush ... by a duck.

Cynthia Ruddell, 62, was visiting her mother's property when, she alleges, a domesticated duck belonging to Lolita Rose attacked her without provocation. In her flight to escape the factious fowl, Ruddell says she fell to the ground, breaking a wrist and spraining an elbow and shoulder. The case and subsequent media reports have highlighted common misunderstandings about tort liability for animals.


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