The Court and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Supreme_Court_US_2010Robers v. United States is one of the few cases that came out of the subprime mortgage crisis to make it to the Supreme Court. The outcome will determine how much restitution is due from the defendant who is convicted of wire fraud related to a home mortgage loan.

The issue comes down to statutory interpretation. Robers was part of a mortgage-fraud scheme. He submitted for multiple loan applications for mortgages that he had no intention of repaying. After they realized he wasn’t going to pay, the lenders held foreclosure sales, where they bought the homes that the fraudulent loans purchased. Because of a statute, Robers has to pay restitution for the difference between the property value he “returned” to the lenders and the money he borrowed. Robers case is that the homes lost value in the time that they foreclosed and the lenders actually sold them. So the case stands whether Robers should be credited for the value of the homes when foreclosure occurred or what price they sold for.

This case could be hard for Robers to win. Throughout the statute, it refers to “property.” In this case, the property that was stolen is the money that Robers fraudulently borrowed. Although, Robers argues that the property, indicating the homes were returned at the time of foreclosure, he will not be able to convince the justices he returned the borrowed money at that time. The justices will try to read the statute in a way that will allow them to rule against the malfeasor. Since the decision of the court already seems to be in the bag, it is curious that the Court took the case at all since they are most likely to agree with the ruling of the Seventh Circuit. In the Ninth Circuit this case would have squarely conflicted with previous verdicts. It may be that the Supreme Court wanted to resolve it before it made its way into the Ninth.

Net Neutrality Dealt Heavy Blow In Latest Court Decision

 

net-neutrality-op-660x528On Tuesday, a federal court dealt a swift and deadly blow against net neutrality, by striking down the FCC’s open Internet rules and essentially inviting broadband providers to offer preferential treatment to companies willing to pay for it. Essentially, without a system of net neutrality, any website can pay top-dollar to broadband providers to improve the speed and the refresh time on their webpages, creating a competitive market to receive better website treatment by providers such as Verizon or Time Warner. Though this has been a decisive blow against net neutrality, is it really dead? And what are the implications if it is dead?

The future of net neutrality is foggy, at best; muddled by politics and encumbered by its own troubled history. This week’s ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC comes down to technicality because of how the FCC has designated broadband providers. Basically, if the FCC defined broadband service as being a “common carrier” like telephone service, then it would have the authority to institute rule governing its free market activity. Instead, however, the FCC designated broadband as being an “information service,” a category the FCC has no jurisdiction over. Changing that designation, however, is no simple task as that designation change opens up an entirely new can of worms regarding fundamental implications of how the internet should be regulated.

That’s where the next step lies, and it’s a fight worth fighting. Letting this latest ruling stand would change the most fundamental ways businesses function on the web, shifting companies’ attention away from innovation and back towards back room dealings. Despite the future with net neutrality being complex, the future without it is downright scary.

An Internet Without Net Neutrality

In case you don’t know, net neutrality actually is a big deal. To give further context, net neutrality is essentially the basic principle that all data on the internet is equal and should be treated equally, without playing favorites. That means, no preferential treatment to specific types of content, certain users, individual companies, or modes of communication. A simple analogy would be to compare internet traffic to highway traffic, where cars are internet traffic and roads are networks. Left alone, cars can travel down any lane they choose without interference so long as the lane is open. But, what if the network builds HOV lanes? Or high speed lanes where only certain vehicles would be allowed to travel? Or installed toll booths along the road that already exists, just so that other vehicles had to pay to use the road? What if some vehicles were kicked off the highway entirely?

It’s hard to predict the future, however, the consequences of a non-neutral web have already started penetrating reality. Comcast has already been trying to ensure that its streaming service doesn’t have to play by its own bandwidth cap rules. Now, imagine it started throttling Netflix or HBO Go bandwidth too, or charging extra for that. Extrapolate that out to every broadband service provider: Time Warner, RCA, Verizon, etc. and it would be a real mess.

This is what the world without net neutrality would look like. Tuesday’s decision invites big telecom companies, like Verizon and Time Warner, who originally brought the case against the FCC, to charge companies for faster speeds that get passed on to the end-user. This effectively gives an advantage to big internet companies who are quite willing to make agreements with broadband providers and presents small internet companies with a disadvantage of operating on slower, more restricted network. Inevitably, smaller companies that have more innovative web interfaces with better services, won’t be rewarded for their innovation, but instead, larger, more lucrative companies that are better at making deals will reap the benefits. The more money you have, the more power you have in a non net-neutral world.

Essentially, getting rid of net neutrality creates several consequences against the consumer. It stifles innovation, would force smaller companies to be more open to passing on costs to the consumer, making them less attractive of an alternative to established companies’ services, and no matter what, costs increase for the consumer. Maybe you sign up for basic internet service, and then have to pay extra fees to access your favorite websites. That would be unfair and a basic violation of the tenants of the internet.

Illinois Seizing Vehicles for DUI

Drunk drivers in Illinois may face stiffer penalties than tickets and license loss.  In an attempt to prevent driving under the influence be seizing vehiclesfrom repeat DUI offenders.

How does it work?

Based on a journal from the DuPage County Bar Association a person convicted of a DUI who is caught driving under the influence with a suspended license gives the sheriff’s office the right to seize their vehicle legally.  The following step for the sheriff’s department is to file a forfeiture document that allows the state to keep hold of the violators vehicle.  If a case can be proven by the authorities the vehicle will be able to be sold at auction, demolished or repurposed for the state.  Some vehicles have been seized by Illinois officials which are the only source of transport for families.  If this is the case the title would be transferred to the name of another family member than the accused.  This is called a spousal exception.

Repurposing seized vehicles

Some counties have taken to repurposing the vehicles seized to help outfit their fleet.  Will County has refitted three seized vehicles for law enforcement use.  In addition to their new use in the fleet Will County sheriff’s included “This vehicle was seized from a drunk driver” as a printed message on the rear bumper of these vehicles to spread the awareness of their efforts and help prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Sheriff’s from Will County hope their efforts spread a iron message that those who drink and drive may not only pay fines and lose their license but may have their vehicle seized as well.

Is is fair?

Some have stated the actions of Illinois police to be unconstitutional.  In the last two years the DuPage Bar Association has journaled about the constitutionality of the seizure law.  Reasons for claims of unconstitutionalism have come from the fact that as it stands there is no clear cut hearing for those who have had their vehicles seized.  Therefore owners are not able to explain reasoning for the seizure or to object the seizure.  Those convicted of DUI have the right to a hearing to dispute the charge but citizens are asking the same process be taken when it comes to vehicle seizures.

Cameras in Restrooms: Invasion or Legitimate?

When does security become excessive?  Many people would consider cameras in the bathroom a strict invasion of privacy but Virginia club owner and restaurateur Dennis Smith disagrees.  After multiple acts of vandalism in the men’s restroom of his restaurant Smith installed a security camera as the customers were walking in.  The equipment did not reveal patrons as they were using the facilities in the bathroom however.

After getting a warrant to search Smith’s Club Midway and Calabash Seafood Restaurant local police of the Hanover County Sheriff’s office took down the camera and

 confiscated the recordings.  It is now possible Smith could be charged with “unlawful filming,” a misdemeanor in Virginia,  which has a penalty of up to a year in jail and $2,500 fine.

Many businesses require surveillance equipment in their operation to increase security and prevent as much vandalism or theft as possible.  While it is most often legal for owners to place cameras in common areas (dining rooms, kitchens, employee common areas, or where patrons shop) it is rarely allowed for owners to place security cameras in places considered to be private to customers and employees alike such as bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms.

Legally cameras are also often only allowed to record video and not take audio.  Businesses that include audio must be sure that they are not violating any wiretapping laws within their state.

Some tips to ensure your business is operating under the law would be to hire well trained security.  Guards in and around a business will dramatically cut down on vandalism.  Also businesses who suspect customers of vandalism or theft are completely within their rights to refuse them service without stating an explanation.

If you own a business that has questions about security and how to remain within the law please contact your local attorney to ensure best practices.

DEA hiding evidence: How it Affects the Case for Defense Lawyers

Rhys Cartwright-JonesRecently I came across this article, which discusses the practice of “Parallel Construction,” which is when a person of group creates an alternate investigative path to cover how a case initially came to be. This is a practice that has never been truly tried in court.  However, recently it has become more of a questioned issue, since Reuters this week reported that agents are told not disclose any case information received from the the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.  Instead, agents are instructed to recreate the information to appear similar, but by other means.

The specific unit of the DEA that is posing an issue is the Special Operations Division, or the SOD.  This division acquires information via intercepts, wiretaps, phone records and other various means.  Agents interviewed have disclosed the use of parallel construction in their cases, for example, staging what appeared to be a routine traffic stop and discovering reasons for suspicion, when in actuality, the stop was due to an informative tip from the SOD. [Read more…]

Test Post

Post 1