Bankruptcy Saved my Family — Can it Save Yours?

What Are The Main Causes Of Mass Incarceration In The United States?

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, with over one and one half million individuals presently incarcerated and additional millions involved in some way with the criminal justice system.

Federal and state sentencing mandates and policing policies, along with the privatization of many prisons, have led to an ever increasing problem of mass incarceration and its results on both the incarcerated and the vulnerable communities that are most affected.

 Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986

Spurred by the crack cocaine epidemic that was wreaking havoc in impoverished urban areas in the 1980’s, the act of congress imposed tough mandatory minimum sentences for mostly non-violent drug offenses.

Possession of five grams of crack cocaine, which was predominantly used in poor African American communities, was given the same penalty as possession of five hundred grams of powder cocaine, which is the form preferred by affluent Caucasian users.

The possession of small amounts of marijuana and other drugs could also lead to long prison sentences mandated by the minimum mandatory guidelines imposed by Congress that essentially took the power of sentencing from judges and juries.

While criminal law attorneys could not even inform juries of mandatory minimum sentencing during a trial, some attorneys developed techniques such as questioning their accused client about how much jail time they expected to receive if found guilty of the relatively minor offense. This informed the jury indirectly of the disproportionate jail time the accused would receive for something as simple as possession of a small amount of marijuana, in the hope that they would refuse to convict.

Zero tolerance policing

Instituted by Rudy Giuliani, the newly elected mayor of New York City, in the 1990’s as a method of reducing crime, this approach focuses on arrests and prosecution for petty crimes. Offences such as loitering, prostitution, and possession of small amounts of drugs were thought to contribute to overall decay, scaring away law abiding citizens and attracting serious offenders to an area.

Crime rates in New York City did plummet dramatically, leading other major cities to adopt these policies in the hope of having the same success. Whether the adoption of zero tolerance policing or the eventual decline of the crack epidemic that began in the 1980’s led to the reduction in violent crime, zero tolerance policing did lead to the arrest of hundreds of thousands of individuals for minor offenses.

Some of these cases were never prosecuted, but many individuals that were caught up in these mass arrests were incarcerated and obtained criminal convictions, which caused them to lose their current jobs or face difficulties in finding employment. Individuals with drug convictions are also barred from federal student loan programs.

Because this type of policing was used predominantly in poor, marginalized communities, distrust of the police and further deterioration of family structure occurred.

Criminal law attorneys can help clients to expunge their criminal records for minor non-felonious offences by filing requests for expungement or by requesting that their client enter a drug counseling program if they are facing a misdemeanor drug charge. Either option will seal their records to allow them access to employment or to federal student loan programs. 

Speak to a criminal law attorney or learn more here.

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3 Things Step-Parents Should Know About Divorce

In fiction, step-parents often get a bad rap – think of the wicked stepmother archetype that exists in a number of children’s fairy tales. In real life, step-parents are often important and much-loved figures in the lives of their step-children, which can make a divorce in a blended family an especially wrenching affair. That step relationship can also become legally complicated. If you’re a step-parent who’s headed for divorce court, take a look at what the laws say about your relationship with your step-children.

Before a Divorce

Many people mistakenly believe that a step-parent has no legal rights or responsibilities to their partner’s children, even during the marriage. However, that’s not entirely true. Usually, step-parents are obliged to act in loco parentis (in lieu of a parent) when the biological parent is not around. That means that you have the same authority and the same duty of care as the biological parents when those biological parents are not around.

Furthermore, in some states you may be required by law to provide financial support to your step children. At least 20 states have a statute addressing this responsibility. In some states, like Delaware, the requirement exists only if the biological parents are unable to support the children. For example, if your spouse loses their job, you’re obligated to support your spouse’s children the same way that you’d support your mutual children. These laws recognize that step-parents and step-children are not legal strangers – they do have a recognizable relationship. However, things may change with divorce.

Custody and Visitation

It’s understandable that you might want to continue a relationship with children that you’ve been living with and caring for, possibly for most of their lives. You should know up-front that the chances of a step-parent being awarded custody are very slim. Even if your spouse is an unfit parent, family court would most likely try to place the child with the other biological parent or a biological family member before considering a step-parent. With that said, custody is a remote possibility in unusual cases.

What is likely more achievable is visitation. Technically speaking, a divorce puts you back into the category of a legal stranger to your step-children. However, the job of a family court judge is to issue a ruling in the best interest of the children. The child’s best interest trumps all other considerations.

 If you can show that spending time with you is in your step-child’s best interest, you may be able to win visitation. You’ll have an especially good chance if the child also wants the visitation. Step and half-siblings may also enter into the equation – no judge wants to destroy a sibling bond, so if there are mutual children that you may get custody of, or you brought children of your own into the marriage who bonded with your step-children, then a judge may grant custody in the interest of preserving the sibling relationship.

Child Support

Just as step-parents are rarely awarded custody, they are also rarely ordered to pay child support. Legally speaking, you’re no more obligated to support your step-children than you are to support your next-door neighbor’s children. The main exception to this rule is called the Estoppel Doctrine. This doctrine basically says that if you renege on a promise to the child and that broken promise financially harms the child, you may be ordered to pay child support. This only applies if you assumed the role of a parent and provided financial support, if you interfered with the child’s relationship with their biological parent, and if the child relies on your financial support.

More commonly, step-parents may end up paying child support by mutual agreement. For example, you could offer child support to your spouse in exchange for visitation rights. If you both agree on it, those stipulations can be written into the divorce decree.

Because divorcing as a step-parent can be complicated – particularly if you want to maintain a relationship with your step-children – you need good legal representation. An experienced family law attorney in your area can help you figure out your legal rights. 

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Holy Evidence: Do Courts Always Forbid Priests From Repeating What’s Said In A Private Confession?

Whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant in a criminal case, if it involves a member of the clergy, you may be misinformed about their role as a witness or confused about  the admissibility of their testimony as evidence.

Clergy-parishioner privilege protects certain conversations.

Some conversations between you and your priest, rabbi, or imam are considered confidential and protected. This means that your religious leader can’t be ordered to testify against you or report what you say in a private, confessional conversation.

Even though clergy are considered mandatory reporters in the case of child abuse and are offered no immunity for failing to report in some states, they sometimes skirt their duty to report by claiming confessional privilege. “We may want to tell the authorities,” they say, “but our church doctrine forbids us from violating the sacred trust of the clergy-parishioner relationship.”

Courts and laws have recently challenged the admissibility of confessional evidence.

The priest-congregant privilege is being challenged, however, by some state courts. Recently the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that a civil lawsuit against a Catholic priest could continue. The priest is being accused of not reporting abuse, and the case has been appealed several times based on the lower courts’ interpretations of what is considered confessional in nature and what is considered legally admissible in court.

The Roman Catholic Church is one of the religions that will excommunicate any member of their clergy who violates the Seal of Confession, which is their law against priests revealing anything said by a parishioner in the confessional booth. They argue that the courts are trying to force the priest to violate church law, but higher courts have ruled that since the teenager waived her right to keep her conversations with the priest confidential, he can not now claim the privilege for himself.

Each state has its own rules concerning who can waive the confidentiality privilege.

Most faiths do not have strict punishments in place for revealing confessional communications, and require their clergy to report abuse even when that abuse is admitted to in a private setting. Clergy are free to waive the confidentiality privilege if they choose regardless of their religious institution’s laws. You, as an actor in a two-party conversation with a member of the clergy, also have the right to waive the privilege of confidentiality.

However, the court may rule that information shared during a confessional situation is still not admissible as evidence even after one or both parties waive confidentiality. Some states require both parties to waive their privilege, while some states allow only one party to waive the privilege before conversations are legally allowed to be entered as evidence.

Because the rules vary from state to state, you should get solid legal counsel on the admissibility of clergy testimony specific to your court case. Consult an attorney (such as Fadely Lewis PLLC) who is familiar with clergy-parishioner privilege in the state where your case will be handled.

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Keeping Your Small Business’s Intellectual Assets Safe

You’ve put a lot of work into your startup and the products and services that you offer. The time to start protecting your assets is at the very start of your business. You don’t want to see a competitor come out with a product that you’re still designing. Here are the areas of your business that you need to keep safe.

Partner Agreements

As your business evolves, you’ll likely work with a number of other businesses. These partners will become a major part of the team you need to get products out onto the market. But these partners can also be a threat if your intellectual assets aren’t protected. A lawyer specializing in negotiating and creating partner agreements will keep both you and your partners safe. Noncompete and nondisclosure agreements make sure that vital information stays within the working relationship of all partners.

Patent and Trademark Applications

Patents keep your ideas from being copied by competitors. A patent lawyer will advise you as to what products and concepts can be patented. Items must be unique and useful to be eligible for a patent. Products or processes that are an obvious solution fall into the category of common use and can’t be patented. This is why it’s important to get a legal specialist involved in any patent applications.

Trademarks tag symbols, words, or phrases to your company and are a part of your branding efforts. Establish your trademarks early to prevent having to change branding material because someone already has something trademarked. Lock down those phrases and images that help consumers recognize your company.

Employment Agreements

Your small business employees have access to all of your intellectual property. At times, you may use part-time or contract help. You need a human resources consultant to put together employment agreements to protect your information from being shared outside of the company.

Import and Export Licenses

When you extend your products and services globally, you’ll be faced with regulations in other countries. A consultant knowledgeable in import/export laws will make sure that you’re compliant with all of the regulations without disclosing too much about the business.

There are several ways that your business information can end up outside of your company and in the hands of people who want to take advantage of you. Protecting the above areas of your company will give you some confidence that your business is safe while you are growing and seeking your own niche in the market. Contact a patent lawyer, such as one from Kaufhold & Dix Patent Law, to learn more.

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Time For The Divorce Settlement: 4 Ways To Help The Negotiations

You’ve reached the point of no return. It’s time to file for divorce. The last thing you want is a long, drawn-out process. So, you’re going to do everything in your power to help the negotiations go as smoothly as possible. Here are four steps you can take to eliminate the headaches.

Start Small

Going into negotiations, you’re going to want every round to be a win for you. Unfortunately, so will your spouse. Instead of going for the big issues right away, start on the small details. Starting with something small – that you know you can win – will help you build your confidence before you head on to the big ticket items on your list.

It’s also important to note that giving up on a small issue can be to your advantage, especially early in the negotiations. For instance, relinquishing on a small issue may make it easier to win on a larger one later on.

Stay Focused

It’s important that you stay focused on the big picture – whatever that may be. Keeping your focus on the issues that are most important to you will help avoid pitfalls. For instance, if you have children, you want to keep your mind on custody issues. If you start getting side-tracked during negotiations, make a list of your priorities. Go back to that list whenever you feel yourself losing focus again.

Acknowledge Concessions

You’re expecting a battle on a major issue. You’re surprised when your spouse concedes without a fight. Acknowledge that concession. It may take every ounce of pride you have left to make the acknowledgement, but it makes future negotiations easier. Not only that, but if negotiations break down and you end up in court, it will look better for you if you have attempted to keep things amicable.

Avoid Heat of the Moment Decisions

Don’t let emotions get in the way of your negotiations. If you have to make a decision that is difficult to make, it’s okay to ask for additional time. No one expects you to make decisions in the heat of the moment. In fact, that’s discouraged.

Making decisions in the heat of the moment can lead to problems later, especially if you were dealing with feelings of guilt or depression. Before you reach a decision, ask for a break. Walk away for a moment and regroup.

Divorce is never easy. However, negotiations that go smoothly can eliminate many of the stressful moments that divorce proceedings often bring with them. These simple tips will help your negotiations go more smoothly. For more advice, speak to a divorce attorney, such as those at the Law Office of Jared T. Amos.

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Four Things Not To Do Before Declaring Bankruptcy

If you plan to declare bankruptcy in the next few months, there are certain financial moves that you should think twice before doing. While bad financial decisions could lead to bankruptcy, these bad moves could prevent you from getting the debt relief provided by a successful bankruptcy. Most of the four following items involve not so much the act itself, but the timing. Pay special attention the four following things not to do before you file for bankruptcy.

1.  Frivolous Luxury Spending

Your recent credit card use could come under close scrutiny if you charged certain unneeded items in the period leading up to your filing. To be specific, charges of more than $650.00 within 90 days of filing. If you can show that the items charged were necessary, the creditor’s may withdraw their objection. For instance, charging a car repair so that you can get to work or get your children to school is an allowable use, charging a $2000.00 window tinting job would likely be considered a luxury expense, and disallowed.

2.  Cash From A Credit Card

Taking a cash advance from a credit card will also draw attention from your creditors and the bankruptcy trustee, and possibly trigger a disallowance. Since cash use is difficult to trace, don’t withdraw more than $925.00 in total in the 70 days prior to filing. This amount is not per card, it’s $925.00 in total.

3.  Playing Favorites

From the bankruptcy trustee’s prospective, the process of bankruptcy includes a fair distribution of any available assets. Ensure that you don’t pay more than $600.00 of a debt to any one creditor in the 90 days before you file. The term creditor here could mean any credit card, bank, business associate, relative or friend. Doing so could cause a “take back”, enabling the bankruptcy courts to create a more equitable distribution of debt.

4.  Property Transactions

If the bankruptcy court suspects you of intentionally hiding assets, you may be liable for criminal charges. Each state has specific rules about the amount and length of time allowed between the giving or selling of assets before bankruptcy filing. The court is particularly interested in property that appears to have been sold at below-market value.

Many of the above situations have state-specific rules, so consult with your bankruptcy lawyer to avoid running afoul of the laws of your state. With your attorney’s advice, you may need to delay your filing for a few months in order to comply with good pre-bankruptcy behavior. Get an experienced bankruptcy professional to help you get your debts forgiven in an ethical and legal manner, and get started on your fresh financial future.

To learn more, visit a website like

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How to Handle a Workers’ Comp Claim

If you are interested in pursuing a workers’ comp claim, then you’ll need to take a couple of basic steps. First of all, you’re going to need to ensure that your injury actually qualifies for workers’ comp.

So what injuries qualify?

Not all workplace injuries are created equal. In order for your injury to be a valid basis for a workers’ comp claim, you will need to prove that your injury was due to the fault of someone besides yourself or your employer. For instance, if you are exposed to toxic substances during the course of your employment without being properly warned, then you have an excellent chance of successfully filing for workers’ comp.

However, injuries where you are at fault are probably not valid. If you disregarded warnings or if you endangered yourself unnecessarily, then the chances of winning are pretty slim. It can be pretty difficult to draw the line regarding which injuries qualify and which do not. Therefore, you should hire an expert to determine how good your chances are of winning workers’ comp with your injury.

What kind of expert?

A workers’ compensation attorney is your best bet in this situation. These lawyers have extensive experience in the field, which means that they can be of great service to you. A workers’ comp attorney consultation will generally tell you what your chances of winning are, and how much you can expect to win. On top of that, they might even be able to discuss the topic of a lawsuit with you.

Can you sue after getting workers’ comp?

By definition, workers’ comp prevents you from suing your employer. In this sense, workers’ comp exists to protect your employer from public relations damage and to prevent lengthy lawsuits. However, in some cases, you might actually stand to make more money by filing a lawsuit rather than workers’ comp.

Depending on the exact nature of your injury, your employer might be willing to pay far too little in a workers’ comp payout. In these cases, your only chance of covering medical expenses and lost wages might be a lawsuit for a much larger sum. However, lawsuits also have a couple key downsides relative to workers’ comp claims.

Lawsuits take a lot longer to complete than a workers’ comp claim. If you desperate need money after being injured, then a lawsuit might simply take far too long to cover your medical bills. On top of that, lawsuits are a whole lot more expensive that workers’ comp claims. Due to their increased length, you will need to pay an attorney a lot more money for lawsuits. In the end, you might not even win the lawsuit, which could leave you deeply in debt. For more information on workers’ comp, visit sites like

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