Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Mississippi State Prisons and some county jails have been in the news a lot recently. The conditions as seen on television and other media outlets can best be described as abysmal. The word abysmal might be an understatement for the conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.  We won’t go into all the reasons that have contributed to this monumental problem other than to say a lack of money, arising from a lack of interest in people who are incarcerated. This is an unusual attitude from Legislators and the public at large, considering the high rate at which Mississippi incarcerates its citizens. You can hardly talk to a person nowadays that does not have a distant family member or a friend who has been incarcerated. Drugs are of course one of the largest reasons. There is hope that society is seeing the drug problem as a health and mental illness problem now instead of war. The idea of rehabilitation has not driven very many positive changes.

Chuck Mullins, a member of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, a Jackson, Mississippi law firm, has practiced in the area of civil rights for much of his 25 years of law practice. Back in 1998, Chuck prepared a civil rights case for trial which involved the death of a young man who was out of his mind, high on drugs. When the police arrived, instead of treating him as you would a mentally ill person, they treated him with punches and strikes with their baton-like flashlights. They also sat on this skinny boy causing him to die from positional asphyxia. Merrida Coxwell and Chuck Mullins tried the case and obtained a 2.1 million-dollar verdict plus attorney fees against the municipality. This was little comfort to the mom and dad who deeply loved their boy. Incidentally, the father was himself in law enforcement. Mr. Mullins was able to accept the case and work it up for trial because counties, municipalities, and private prisons can be sued for money damages. Counties and municipalities can be sued under a Federal Civil Rights Statute, 42 U.S.C. §1983. Counties and municipalities can also be sued under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, but a person cannot sue under the Tort Claim Act if they are incarcerated. And what most people don’t know, including lawyers, is that you cannot sue the State of Mississippi or any State in Federal Court and collect money damages. The State has Sovereign Immunity. This is why attorneys do not take cases for personal injuries against the State of Mississippi. Suits against the State are best left to public service organizations that sue the State for what is called Declaratory Relief.

Currently, Chuck Mullins has about fifteen (15) cases pending against counties or private prisons for individuals who are or were incarcerated and who sustained serious personal injuries. The conditions he has observed would shock even the most cold-hearted person. They often arise from what appears to be the callousness of those in charge. Here is a good and typical example of the types of cases we handle in this area. It comes as a shock and sometimes complaint against us from people when they learn we do not handle every civil rights case. Our practice is limited to cases that involve serious injury. We are mindful and respectful of those cases that do not involve serious injury, but the simple truth is that the legal system is too expensive to try and move a routine civil rights violation through the system. There is an organization in Mississippi that is trying to keep a record of civil rights violations. They are looking for systemic patterns of abuse. We generally direct people with no injury to that organization.

As more school shootings occur, more schools are choosing to place police officers, (or armed guards or retired soldiers who would likely have the same authority as a police officer) within their walls. After an event like the Parkland school shooting, it can be difficult to accept that classrooms are, by and large, one of the safest places for our children.

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According to a New York Times review of Gun Violence Archive statistics, in 2017, 43 people were killed on a school campus in the United States; in 2016, that number was 25, and in 2015, 33 people were killed on a U.S. school campus. (These numbers include victims of mass shootings as well as “single” homicides).

In the big picture, this means the odds of a child being killed in a school shooting is less than one in one million, and the average school (elementary, middle, high school, public and private) can expect to see a mass shooting once every 150,000 years.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern or coercive behavior, used by one person in order to gain control and power over another person. Despite the fact that stories of domestic violence have flooded the news over the past few years, few of us realize the magnitude of the problem.

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Domestic violence includes one or more of the following:

Revenge porn is the practice of posting explicit or intimate photos—or videos—of another person on the Internet, without their consent. In the past, this practice, while not looked at in a positive light, was not illegal, or at least was somewhat protected via legal loopholes.

 Laptops In A Dark Room

A federal bill in the works, known as ENOUGH (Ending Nonconsensual Online User Graphic Harassment) has both bipartisan support and the backing of Twitter and Facebook, as well as other big tech companies. Many individual states (38 states and the District of Columbia) have already passed laws which outlaw the distribution of so-called revenge porn.

No Revenge Porn Laws in Mississippi

Millions of people have been incarcerated in the United States over the past quarter-century. Unfortunately, an alarming number of those people were wrongly convicted, and, in some cases, spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. The past few years have seen the discovery of wrongful convictions in record-setting numbers.

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Image Credit

There are a number of reasons people are wrongfully convicted, however some statistics according to the Innocence Project include:

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(Image Credit: Wikipedia.org)

Most people are aware of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution which protects them from illegal search and seizures. They may not, however, understand all the practical aspects of that right. 

Police officers in the state of Mississippi—or in any state—are not allowed to search a person, their home or their car. Anything resulting from an illegal search cannot be seized. There must be a very convincing belief that the suspect has committed a crime, or that a specific place holds evidence of that crime, in order for probable cause to exist.

Expungements are a complicated process, and they can be confusing. In our previous article, What You Need to Know About MS Criminal Record Expungements: Part One, we talked about felony expungements and how the process may differ according to whether or not the convict is of legal majority. In this second installment, we’ll go over the basics of misdemeanor expungements.

ELIGIBILITY

Misdemeanor 

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If you’ve turned on the news lately, you’ve probably seen the debate being stirred around the Apple vs. the FBI case.  But, you may be wondering what all of the fuss is about.  Well, simply put, it’s a matter of security vs. privacy and just how far you can push those boundaries without blurring them.

What would you think if the FBI were able to force Samsung to turn on the video camera in your smart TV?  What if they could force Google to deliver a “security update” to your Internet browser that’s actually a bug sent to spy on you, transmitting all of your passwords and private information back to the FBI?

All of this sounds like the premise to a Tom Cruise, sci-fi flick, but in fact, this is what’s at stake when it comes to Apple vs. the FBI.  If Apple loses its fight with the US government, these sci-fi scenarios could become reality, threatening the security of all Internet users.

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When someone is wrongfully charged and prosecuted for a crime, what are the consequences? We’re fortunate to live in a nation that provides extensive protection for our personal liberties. Where malicious prosecution is concerned, there are two particulars that you should know about:

  • The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you and your property from unreasonable seizure, meaning without a warrant. It also states that a warrant will not be issued without probable cause.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that you have a right to your life, your liberty, and your property, and none of those things can be taken from you without due process.

Although police brutality is an age old problem, it has only been in recent years that we’ve seen such extensive media coverage surrounding the issue. There have been a number of notorious cases, but most of those have been extreme and not an accurate representation of the most common types of police brutality that occur. This type of incident doesn’t necessarily need to have such a severe outcome in order to be valid grounds for a lawsuit. If there have been any injuries or emotional harm sustained as a result of an officer’s behavior, then the victim should speak with an attorney right away.

The phrase “police brutality” is essentially a blanket term that refers to an unnecessary and/or excessive use of force by an officer of the law. That’s all relative, however. What is excessive in one situation may be warranted in other, and not all force is necessarily physical or violent. Over-the-top verbal attacks or psychological duress by an officer may also qualify, depending on the circumstances. Because this isn’t something that can be quantified, the measure of what exactly constitutes “police brutality” is truly subjective in nature.

Excessive use of force is only one type of police misconduct. False arrest is also a very common claim, asserting that an officer made an arrest in the absence of a warrant or probable cause. This is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which safeguards citizens from unreasonable seizure.