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Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 12:47

Over ten years ago, 61% of California voters voted yes to a proposition that made treatment possible instead of incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.  The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, or Proposition 36, states that nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders have the opportunity to complete a drug treatment program instead of serving jail time.  With California courts widely using the mandate, what happens when there is no more money for the treatment plans?

            According to Josh Richman’s article in the Oakland Tribune, this year California’s proposed budget does not include funding for the mandate in 2011/12.  Given that it is a mandate, counties cannot simply say they will discontinue the program. They must find a way to continue offering treatment programs; however, the scenario does not look good.  Courts are still ordering drug treatment, treatment programs have no funding, so waiting lists continue to grow and defendants will not get the help they need.  Sadly, I do not believe this is what California voters had in mind.  The voters approved a program that would rehabilitate these mild drug offenders and give them a second chance, not to have their names added to a list with other non-violent drug offenders who are also waiting for treatment they are entitled to under the law.  Without the right treatment, how can there be rehabilitation?  The lack of funding for Proposition 36 and those who will not be able to access the mandated drug treatment, are more victims of California’s budget crisis.  

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Thursday, February 24, 2011 - 12:13

Will transparency lead to better results in California dependency courts? California Assemblyman Mike Feuer believes so and has introduced Assembly Bill 73, which if passed, would open up proceedings in California dependency courts to the public. Dependency courts are responsible for deciding whether children should be permanently removed from their parents and handles cases such as child abuse, child neglect, and foster care placement. Their proceedings are currently closed to the public. Some children’s advocates and judges believe making these proceedings will make those involved, such as lawyers and social service workers, be more accountable. Proponents hope that this accountability would make these individuals better represent the children and families. On the other side, according to an LA Times article, those opposing the bill fear that opening the proceedings could traumatize the already vulnerable children and make them less likely to be forthcoming. Surprisingly, most judges are in agreement with the bill because one part of the law would allow judges to close proceedings that were very sensitive.

It is extremely important that the privacy rights of the child be protected, but it is equally important that the welfare of the child be protected and his/her best interest be upheld. If opening dependency courts would help alleviate even a few of the inadequacies in this system and better help the children, Assembly Bill 73 would be a great addition to the California legal system. You can read more about how the bill can help in the Whittier Daily News article, “Our View: Open Up Dependency Courts”.

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Monday, February 21, 2011 - 20:20

Facebook, Myspace, and text messaging have changed the way today’s teens communicate with one another.  These forms of electronic communication have revolutionized social interaction, but they have also revolutionized the act of bullying.  Bullying is no longer limited to face-to-face physical and verbal harassment.  It has now taken on new life with harassment through electronic forms of communication, known as cyberbullying. 

Like bullying, cyberbullying is anything but harmless.  Its devastating effects have been brought to the forefront with the cases of Phoebe Prince and Megan Meier in which both young women committed suicide after enduring cyberbullying. While school administrators and parents have handled traditional school bullying, cyberbullying has caught the eye of many state lawmakers.  Many states, including California, have enacted laws to address cyberbullying.  California already gives its schools the right to expel students who harass their peers through cyberbullying and now it is making it a crime.  As reported in the SFGate, California law SB 1411 “makes a punishable offense out of knowingly, without consent, impersonating another actual person through or on an Internet web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person”. Breaking this law carries a $1,000 fine or up to one year in jail. This law is an important step in curving what has become an epidemic among teenagers.

If you are a parent of a teenager, it is important to know the laws in your state and even more important that your child understand the consequences of actions they may deem harmless. Cyberbullying is against the law and is being treated with a zero tolerance policy.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011 - 19:57

"May I have your zip code please?" How many times have you been checking out at your favorite retail store and heard this request? If you are like me you hastily respond, wondering at the time why it is they need your zip code in order to complete the transaction. I leave the store never thinking about it again, until the next time I am asked. I mean it’s harmless, right?

Whether giving your zip code to a retail store is harmless or not, certainly depends on who you ask. On the one side, the consumer who, by giving their zip code to the retailer, gives that retailer the opportunity to locate his or her address and therefore put it into a marketing database. The retailer then has a way to continue contacting their customer and marketing their products or services. To some consumers this is a violation as they feel it should be their right to decide which stores they provide their information to and receive information from. On the other side, you have the retailer who argues that without this information they will be unable to effectively market their products or services. One customer, Jessica Pineda, decided to fight back against Williams-Sonoma and won.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Supreme Court has ruled that retailers are violating a California consumer privacy law by asking for a customer’s zip code. The law is not a new law in California, as it was enacted in 1990, but has previously only been thought to apply to the customer’s physical address and phone number. The court ruled that the zip code is a part of the customer’s physical address and is off limits. Therefore, the next time I am checking out and the clerk asks for my zip code, I will feel no guilt when I politely decline to provide it.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 17:10

For every crime committed in the United States there is a federal guideline for prison sentences and fines. However, five years ago the Supreme Court made a decision to allow judges to make their own sentencing decisions, but said that the judges should consult the federal guidelines. But what happens when some judges follow the guidelines and others don't? According to a report by the Justice Department, the idea that sentences depend on the luck of getting a certain judge will "breed disrespect for federal courts." This is detrimental to the federal court system as it makes it less reputable and lessens the deterrent effect of punishment. So what has brought this issue to the forefront and what can be done?

In the Justice Department's report, it finds that sentences imposed for white- collar fraud cases and child exploitation crimes, such as pornography, vary significantly from judge to judge. This has caused the Justice Department to conclude that the United States Sentencing Commission should reexamine sentences for white-collar crimes and child pornography offenses. In fact, according to a New York Times article, many federal judges have told the sentencing commission that the child pornography guidelines are too severe. Currently, possession of a single piece of child pornography is supposed to result in a 5-7 year sentence. However, some judges, such as federal judge Jack B. Weinstein, are imposing much small sentences such as probation or one year in prison.

The issue of inconsistency in our courts needs to be addressed. Our American judicial system should be fair, which is why guidelines were imposed originally. Whether or not some judges are right or wrong in their thinking that smaller sentences are acceptable for white-collar crimes and child pornography, is up for debate. Perhaps though, by reexamining the guidelines and imposing new ones, federal judges may become more in sync with their sentencing.

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