Friday, April 29, 2011

Sollecito Family Trial Begins

Today, the family members of Raffaele Sollecito faced their first day of trial. Raffaele’s family: Francesco Sollecito (his father), Vanessa Sollecito (his sister), Mara Papagni (his stepmother) Giuseppe Sollecito (his uncle) and Sara Achille (his aunt) all from Bari have been charged with leaking a crime scene video out of the 10,000-plus pages plus of evidence and exhibits to Telenorba, a Bari television station. The charges are as follows: defamation, invasion of privacy, and publication of arbitrary acts of a criminal case.

The prosecutors are Giuliano Mignini and Manuela Comodi; the judge is Alberto Avena; the Sollecito defense team consists of Marco Brusco, Francesco Crisis, Luca Maori and Donatella Donati; and the Kercher family (along with their lawyer, Francesco Maresca) is civil party to the trial and damages could be awarded to them if the defendants are found guilty.

The video included deeply upsetting close-ups of Meredith’s uncovered body and the wounds to her neck. It was later re-broadcast by the state network RAI throughout Italy. Vanessa Sollecito was fired from the Carabinieri late in 2009 for her involvement in this attempt to manipulate politicians.

During today’s proceedings, the Sollecito defense team raised an objection regarding issues of jurisdiction. Judge Avena postponed the hearing until 27 June 2011, at which time this matter will be decided.

In related news, the Lifetime movie Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy makes its debut in Canada this Sunday May 1 at 6 p.m. ET on Slice. The TV movie depicts the real-life murder case of British university exchange student Meredith Kercher (Amanda Fernando Stevens). The film focuses on Amanda Knox (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes), and Raffaele Sollecito (Paolo Romio) and Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede (Djibril Kébé).

Some journalists praise the movie, claiming that it was well-crafted and executed. However, the movie is flooded with inaccuracies—so much so that it will confuse those who know little about the case. Amanda Knox and her lawyers have protested against the movie. However, it is not as incriminating as if a movie was made on the story accurately portraying the full details. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from watching the movie—it was an interesting portrayal and provides a decent visual of the events—but don’t think that you can “solve the case” simply by watching the movie.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Laws Targeting Terrorists: A Civil Liberties Debate

“Once you familiarize yourself with the chains of bondage- you prepare your limbs to wear them” –Abraham Lincoln

The U.S. PATRIOT Act was passed (Oct. 26, 2001) in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Simply put, the Act aims to provide law enforcement officials with the tools needed to prevent further attacks. The Act added new provisions to obstruct terrorism that were previously not in place. However, many argue, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that the Act “went too far in its unfettering of the federal government and endangering the civil rights of American citizens as well as immigrants.” The Act—specifically sections 202 through 225—states that government can intercept electronic signals relative to national security and terrorism issues. However, this can also impact state and local law enforcement—which after a judicial review can order a search warrant or court order. Note: search warrants are used to seize that which an officer believes already exists; court orders are used to seize future conversations and data.

According to the U.S. PATRIOT Act, the government can now use pen, trap, and trace orders to intercept information about your Internet communications as well. By serving a pen trap, or trace orders on a person’s ISP or email provider, the police can get:

• All email header information other than the subject line, including the email addresses of the people to whom you send email, the email addresses of people that send to you, the time each email is sent or received, and the size of each email that is sent or received.
• Your IP (Internet Protocol) address and the IP address of other computers on the Internet that you exchange information with, with timestamp and size information.
• The communications ports and protocols used, which can be used to determine what types of communications you are sending using what types of applications.
• The police might also use pens, traps, and traces to get the URLs (web addresses) of every website a person visits, allowing them to track what a person is reading while they are surfing the web.
• (Decided Feb. 2, 2006 by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in Washington, D.C.) Judge Hogan approved the Justice Department’s request that under the Patriot Act they be allowed to do e-mail monitoring without any evidence of criminal behavior
• Apparently, the Department of Justice’s policy on it is to freely collect information about what site you are visiting using pens, traps, and traces, but to obtain a wiretap order before collecting information about what particular page or file you are visiting. However, there’s no way to confirm that federal authorities actually follow this policy in all cases, and some have serious doubt as to whether state authorities do.

Aside from the U.S. PATRIOT Act, other recent anti-terrorist laws have been enacted which further cut-away at the civil liberties of U.S. citizens. In a terrorist-related case, the United States Supreme Court took a shot at freedom of speech in June 2010, by a vote of 6-3 on a provision of law making it a federal crime to “knowingly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization,” even if the “support” consists only of “expert advice or assistance” for “lawful, non-violent purposes”—in other words, political speech. Another step was recently taken that further erodes Constitutional Law, allowing government to target and kill Americans; bypassing due-process. This was done when the Obama Administration authorized the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki; who is believed to be an operative of Al Qaeda. While no one wants al-Awlaki, and other radicals who have declared war on America, captured more than me; the stand in this article is simply to identify the unprecedented powers that the government has and is taking beyond the U.S. Constitution.

In yet another recent decision targeting terrorism, the Obama Administration gave law enforcement the powers to bypass the long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects. This was done by adding terror suspects to the one exception to the Miranda protections: the public safety exception. The public safety exception was passed in 1984, and it applies where circumstances present a clear and present danger to the public’s safety and the officers have reason to believe that the suspect has information that can end the emergency. “It looks like to me they're trying to find this middle ground between saying the Constitution applies with full force and the Constitution doesn't apply,” says Sam Kamin, a professor of criminal law and procedure at Sturm College of Law in Denver who has written about terrorism interrogations. “It seems to be a deliberate strategy.”

Terrorists are viewed as war criminals, as well they should be—ideally—and are not subject to the same constitutional rights as every other American citizen. The problem here is that the U.S Government, through this, has been able to bypass many of the constitutional provisions, enabling extraordinary power over not just terrorists, but its citizens as well. This can be viewed as a problem on many fronts. Who’s to say that these new government powers will not be used to target American citizens that are not terrorists, but covertly and intentionally perceived to be? Once the flood gates are opened—i.e. allowing government to target and kill an American citizen without due-process—there is no going back.

Anti-terrorist laws are quite new to the United States. Previous to the 9/11 attacks the U.S. had been a slow ramp-up of these anti-terrorist strategies in place. In 1982, President Reagan issued the National Security Decision Directive Number 30: Managing Terrorists Incidents. This established the first working terrorist incident group. In 1995, President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 39, which called for a critical review of nation’s infrastructural vulnerabilities. In 1998, President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 62, protection against unconventional threats (PDD 62, 1998) and Presidential Decision Directive 63, critical infrastructure protection (PDD 63, 1998).

After 9/11, obviously the laws changed dramatically. Its not that these new laws don’t help fight terrorism better, it’s more that certain provisions have the potential to be disastrous for any American citizen. The problem is that the previous statutes on anti-terrorism were outdated and crimes previously in place to address terroristic acts did not do so sufficiently, particularly with the emergence of the internet and its widespread usage. As we see with several provisions in the U.S. PATRIOT Act, they do provide the government with the necessary tools to help combat terroristic attacks more effectively. I happen to believe that the U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest documents ever written, and I am strongly opposed to such widespread alterations. Until we can come up with a better way to fight terrorists we will have to settle for these new anti-terrorist laws and pray that big-government does not use its power unjustly against its own citizens. The fact that the terrorists have aided in the alterations of our most precious document, we can safely say that it's: terrorists (1), America (0).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

US Judge says Amanda Knox is “100 percent innocent”

The Knox misinformation train continues to pick up speed as if moving down hill and without breaks. This time, however, it comes from what seems like an unlikely source. During a recent speaking engagement at the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club, King County (WA) U.S. Superior Court Judge, Mike Heavey Sr., asserted that Knox is “is 100 percent innocent.” And in an abhorrently false statement, the article explains that Judge Heavy has problems with Perugia Police’s assertion that Knox confessed to the crime because he “believes after she was interrogated for almost two days without food or water she told officials what they wanted to hear.”

Knox’s father, Curt Knox, was also present at the speaking engagement where Heavey proclaimed Amanda’s innocence, so I guess we can now see a little clearer under what circumstances these statements were uttered.

If Judge Heavy was correctly quoted as saying the above then it is pretty clear that he is getting his information on the case from Knox’s family members, much as most of the media have been doing. It is unfathomable to even consider that the good judge has any credibility when it comes to this case after such a statement.

This two-day interrogation fabrication has to be the biggest fabrication yet that I have heard about this case. With this statement, Judge Heavy makes Knox sound as though she was treated like a captured Al Qaeda terrorist. I would believe in Knox’s innocence as well if I read this statement without any real knowledge of the case. I guess now all there is left is for a Knox supporter to make the proclamation that she was ‘water-boarded’ as well.

Judge Heavy either needs to make an amendment to this statement--after getting the real facts-- claim that he was misquoted, or he needs to be sure that he never visits Italy, because he may be facing libel charges, just as Knox’s parents are facing.

Above: In this Facebook posting from September, poster “Charlie Wilkes” (Knox activist Jim Lovering) writes of his photo: [“At the table are (Washington State Judge) Mike Heavey, Mark (Waterbury) and Michelle (Moore, wife of ex-FBI / ex-university security man / screenwriter Steve Moore). Chris (Mellas) is seated at the table in the background. I’m not sure who he is talking to. Christina Hagge and Edda (Mellas – Amanda’s mother) are standing on the right …. It was a very enjoyable gathering.”]

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Continuing RICO Defense Practice


Protecting individuals from the state and the legal rights owed to a person before convicting them of a crime is called “due process,” according to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This is important because there are times when civil attorneys try to manipulate and stretch current laws simply to get more money for their clients. It is imperative that the defendant have an attorney that understands when this is occurring and can counter such claims in a legal forum. The RICO Act is no exception, and it has, in fact, been transformed and used creatively by civil lawyers to gain enormous amounts of money for them and their clients.

The RICO Act

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act was passed by congress in 1970— Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968. Simply put, the RICO Act was put in place to destroy mafia influence over business and to eliminate its ill-affects of on the nation’s economy. RICO was written in broad terms. To state a claim, a plaintiff must allege four elements: (1) conduct (2) of an enterprise (3) through a pattern (4) of racketeering activity. Each element of a RICO claim requires additional analysis: an “enterprise” is marked by association and control; a “pattern” requires a showing of “continuity”—continuous and related behavior that amounts to, or poses a threat of, continued criminal violations; and “racketeering activity” involves the violation of designated federal laws.

Throughout most of the 1970s, the Act was strictly used against the mafia and civil claims under RICO were simply non existent. However, in the 1980s, civil lawyers began noticing section 1964(c) of the RICO Act, which allows civil claims to be brought by any person injured in their business or property by reason of a RICO violation. Any person who succeeded in establishing a civil RICO claim would automatically receive judgment in the amount of three-times their actual damages and would be awarded their costs and attorneys’ fees. Most of this was brought about by Congress’ broad application of RICO; with its inclusion of mail and wire fraud as two crimes upon which a RICO claim could be brought.

Most civil lawyers got wind of this by the late 1980s, and it became one of the most commonly declared claims in federal court. Any time a civil claim included common law fraud, product defect, and breach of contract as criminal wrongdoing it would enable the filing of a civil RICO claim. Throughout the next two generations, the United States Supreme Court has been busy slowly modifying and limiting civil RICO claims by strictly applying concepts of “proximate causation.” Today, RICO is almost never applied to the mafia, but instead it is applied to individuals, businesses, political protest groups, and terrorist organizations.

Civil RICO claims against businesses can be enormously costly to them. Any business that has this claim waged against them will need a law firm that specializes in defending RICO claims, and they will pay handsomely for that defense; as the costs of losing a civil RICO case are much higher than most civil decisions. Having said this, it would be more cost-beneficial for the firm to retain this section of its practice as the numbers clearly show that the RICO defense division is as profitable as any other.


RICO claims have gone through a complete transformation. They have evolved from an Act that was instituted to fight organized crime—specifically, the mafia—to not be used against the mafia at all today. With so much at stake for businesses in litigation against RICO claims, it is beneficial for firms specializing in RICO law to remain an active part of their firm. It is important to continue the RICO defense divisions for several reasons. First, it’s already a specialty of lawyers at the firm. Second, it can be determined on a case-by-case basis whether it is beneficial to the firm to take a case. Finally, there are no shortages of civil RICO cases filed, and companies will pay big money to defend against such claims.