Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Many of the people I meet in Jackson, Ridgeland, Clinton, The City of Madison, and all over Mississippi have a misunderstanding about the right to vote after a felony conviction. The Mississippi Constitution lists ten (10) crimes. The specific Mississippi Constitutional Provision is as follows:

SECTION 241, MS. Constitution of 1890:
Every inhabitant of this state, except idiots and insane persons, who is a citizen of the United States of America, eighteen (18) years old and upward, who has been a resident of this state for one (1) year, and for one (1) year in the county in which he offers to vote, and for six (6) months in the election precinct or in the incorporated city or town in which he offers to vote, and who is duly registered as provided in this article, and who has never been convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy, is declared to be a qualified elector, except that he shall be qualified to vote for President and Vice President of the United States if he meets the requirements established by Congress therefor and is otherwise a qualified elector.

In addition to these ten (10) crimes the Mississippi Attorney General in an opinion listed eleven other crimes that should be added to the list. These crimes are armed robbery, extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, larceny, receiving stolen property, robbery, timber larceny, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, unlawful carjacking. These crimes were added because in the opinion of the Attorney General they fell within Section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution that prohibited voting after a theft conviction. In total there are 21 crimes that will take away your right to vote.

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This is the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Riders coming to Mississippi to help integrate bus stations, lunch counters, hotels, and various other public places. When the Freedom Riders arrived however, Mississippi police officers were waiting and armed with new laws with which to arrest them. These so-called “breach of peace” laws were passed in 1960 and 1961 primarily to allow officers to arrest civil rights protestors. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction of various Freedom Riders in this 1964 case.

The most disturbing part of these statutes is that most of them are still on the books and being used every day to arrest Mississippi citizens for failing to comply with police orders even when they are not breaking the law in the first place. The Mississippi Legislature did repeal one of the “breach of peace” statutes in 2009.

I cannot recount the numerous cases which I have defended over the years which started out with an officer telling someone to “shut up”, “come here”, or do something. When the person excercised his or her constitutional right to refrain from doing as the officer said, the person was arrested and charged with “failing to comply with a police officer”, “disturbing the peace”, “disorderly conduct”, and/or “resisting arrest”. The facts at trial usually show that the citizen arrested was not committing any criminal act before being told by the officer to do something. Speaking, contrary to most police officer’s opinion, is NOT a criminal offense. In fact, the Mississippi Supreme Court has even held that a citizen may even curse at a police officer but I do not recommend this course of action.

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Coxwell & Associates and the Lanier Law Firm is announcing a wrongful death lawsuit filed today against University of Mississippi head football coach Houston Nutt, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the University of Mississippi and other defendants based on their respective roles in the 2010 death of student-athlete Bennie (Buster) Abram.

Mr. Abram, an Ole Miss junior and walk-on defensive back on the football team, collapsed and died on the first day of spring practice last year. According to the autopsy report, the 20-year-old’s death on Feb. 19, 2010, was caused by complications from sickle cell trait with exertion and a contributing factor of cardiomegaly, an inflammation of the heart.

The lawsuit says coaches, trainers and athletic department officials at Ole Miss violated NCAA guidelines covering the intensity of spring practices, particularly for players with the sickle cell trait like Mr. Abram. The lawsuit also cites the NCAA for failing to implement adequate guidelines for off-season practices and for not sanctioning coaches who violate existing guidelines.

Your graduating senior may still be your baby, but in the eyes of the law he or she is an ADULT!

That means you can no longer make important medical or financial decisions for your child without their permission. But your job of being a PARENT doesn’t stop just because your child turns 18. If there’s a medical emergency or your child asks for financial help, you NEED the ability to cut through the legal red tape and get involved.

FACT: Doctors, hospitals or financial institutions (i.e. college business offices, student loan processing agents, banks, etc) will NOT bend the rules on this! It’s against privacy laws. You must have 3 KEY DOCUMENTS in place to make important medical or financial decisions on your child’s behalf. Even something as simple as a status update would be refused!

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A man died in the hospital a few days after a chase with law enforcement officers.. The FBI is currently investigating this incident. Now, I am not saying that any police officer did anything which caused this man’s death. However, one statement from the news story caught my interest. One of the officers was quoted as saying “I can tell you that our guys saw no one break a law out there, except for the suspect that Jackson was chasing.”

My response to that is in 16 years of handling police misconduct cases in Mississippi I have rarely, if ever, had another police officer report a fellow officer for abuse. Some call this phenomenon “the thin blue line” which represents the camaraderie of police officers. However, to others it represents a code of silence among police officers to suppress the truth.

Think about that: police officers who are sworn to uphold the law are compelled by this “thin blue line” not to tell the truth. Police officers probably justify this stance by pointing out that the person assaulted or abused was breaking the law and got what he deserved. Many citizens feel the same way. But by committing an assault, or worse, and then lying about it, aren’t the police breaking the law?

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by police. This area of the law is very complex with a rich history of decisions by the United States Supreme Court. Generally, a person is entitled to protection in any place or any thing where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The term reasonable expectation of privacy includes an individual’s house, car, purse, motel room, and other such places. It can also include telephone calls that you expect to be private.

Another general rule is that the law favors a search warrant that is issued by a judge only after law enforcement can provide probable cause to the judge that the place to be search has evidence of a crime or contraband. Practically, most experienced lawyers believe that warrants are issued far to easily by judges. That is not the subject of this article. The real problem is Fourth Amendment search cases usually come down to the “exceptions” to the warrant requirement.

As I stated the law strongly favors warrants, but there are many, many exceptions where officers do not have to obtain warrants. It would take me to long to list them all. I will provide a few examples. Because of the moving nature of a car, a warrant is not required if the police have probable cause to search a car. The rationale is that the individual could drive the car away while the officers got the warrant. If the police arrest a person and impound his car, they can conduct what is called an inventory search of the car to safeguard any property and protect the police from claims that property was stolen from the individual arrested. When a person is arrested the police can also make a full search of the person, which is called a search incident to a arrest. Lastly, if there are “exigent circumstances” the police can enter a building or house without a warrant. An example of this would be if the police heard a person screaming and they did not have time to get a warrant to go into the house in order to see if someone was hurt or being harmed.

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide if prosecutors should be immune from civil liability when they prosecute and help convict an innocent person. This is a hot bottom issue for many people. There have been 212 people freed from prison in the last decade. These were people convicted of serious, violent offenses. The people convicted were freed using new DNA technology. Their convictions were also based on eye witness testimony that had to be absolutely incorrect. It is horrible for an innocent person to go to prison. Think a few minutes about how you would feel if you spent 15 or 20 years in a maximum security prison for a crime you did not commit. On the other hand prosecutors argue that they have to be free to pursue their duties and not be worried about lawsuits.

It is going to be interesting to see how the Supreme Court will handle this case. I think it makes total sense to provide prosecutors liability from civil liability in their routine duties. But, what about in those situations where the proof shows that the prosecutor knowingly used false testimony or made up testimony that caused a man to get convicted. I personally think that if a case shows that a prosecutor knowingly used or supported the use of false testimony there should be no immunity for the prosecutor. Prosecutors have a duty not only to prosecute but to ensure that the accused receives a fundamentally fair trial and that statutes, rules, and the Constitution are followed. The prosecutor should not be entitled to immunity if he violates the law. I am not hopeful of a positive decision from the Supreme Court. Let’s wait for the opinion.

Merrida Coxwell is an attorney with 29 years of experience helping people charged with criminal offenses. Over the course of his career he has helped hundreds of people during some of the worse times of their life. If you have a criminal problem do not hesitate to call for a free consultation.

Charles R. “Chuck” Mullins handles civil rights cases for citizens who receive serious personal injuries or death at the hands of police officers in Jackson, Hinds County, Rankin County, Madison County and all over Mississippi.

A federal judge has certified a class action lawsuit for a group of New Orleans transit workers who claim their constitutional rights were violated by police officers who stopped them while they tried to flee the city in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

However, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon’s ruling Monday says more than 800 other people who were blocked from walking across a bridge to get out of New Orleans aren’t entitled to class certification for their claims. Their claims can be tried individually, said plaintiffs’ lawyer Diane Owen.

You have the right to remain silent,” and I urge you to use it. The part of the sentence in quotations comes from the famous case called Miranda v. Arizona, and it is what we lawyers call the Miranda rights. The Miranda rights are warnings that the United States Supreme Court held were required any time a person is held for questioning in a crime and subjected to custodial police interrogation. The rights come from the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and are as follows: 1. You have the right to remain silent. 2. You have the right to an attorney at questioning 3. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you and 4. Anything you say may be used against you in Court. Many states have similar constitutional provisions so you may be protected by both the Federal and the State Constitutions.

The second part of the first sentence is something you will probably not hear from law enforcement. Police officers are not going to encourage you to invoke your right to remain silent. Instead they are going to encourage you to waive that right and any other substantive or procedural rights that protect you. When I was a young lawyer I bought a book on official police interrogation techniques so I could better understand what police would say to people they arrest. The entire book was different psychological ways to interrogate someone to get them to waive their rights and confess. I have also represented police officers in the past who were charged with crimes and have been told some of their techniques. It takes a lot of courage to say no to a room of police officers pressuring or cajoling a man or woman to waive their rights.

You should know that the Miranda rights only apply when you are in police custody. What constitutes police custody can be a cloudy question. A police officer stopping on the street to talk with you is not police custody, but holding you by force or psychological force would be police custody. Once you are in custody, you must be given the Miranda warnings before you are questioned. I have written on this topic before and I am a firm believer that if you are a suspect you should invoke your right to remain silent and speak with a lawyer, no matter what law enforcement may say to the contrary. You should answer the booking questions, such as your name, address, parents, tattoos, ect., but beyond those questions you should not answer direct or indirect questions on any topic. If you invoke the right to remain silent, you should not speak to the officers later about the same topic. If you are being transported to or from jail or court, you should not engage in conversations with any officers about your case. There is no such thing as an off the record conversation or casual conversation. If you make a statement, it may be used against you.

Coxwell & Associates partner Chuck Mullins handles constitutional claims, personal injury cases, car accidents, and felony and misdemeanor crimes for clients in Jackson, Hinds County Mississippi and all over the State. The following article deals with homosexuals in the military. What are your thoughts on this issue:

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a challenge to the Pentagon policy forbidding gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, granting an Obama administration request to maintain the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” directive.
The court said it will not hear an appeal from former Army Capt. James Pietrangelo II, who was dismissed under the military’s policy.

The federal appeals court in Boston earlier threw out a lawsuit filed by Pietrangelo and 11 other veterans. He was the only member of that group who asked the high court to rule that the policy is unconstitutional. In 1993, President Bill Clinton established the policy as a compromise after strong resistance from the military and Congress toward allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

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