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LegalSpeaks is a progressive blog on legal-political issues with an impact on race and gender. Whether covering politics, court trials, Supreme Court arguments or the latest laws and bills affecting minorities and women, LegalSpeaks blog articulates unique and thought provoking opinions. The blog is not meant to be construed as legal advice.


Is the Suspect in Missing U VA Student Case a Serial Abductor?

September 30th, 2014 | Tags: ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

The case of Hannah Graham, the missing University of VA student, who went missing over two weeks ago, is now becoming like something straight out of a TV series, either Criminal Minds, Cold Case or 48 Hours or all combined. In some other ways, it is eerily similar to the case of Charles Severance, the man now charged in the three Alexandria, VA murders of Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and of realtor Nancy Dunning from over a decade ago. Police were looking into the murder of Ruthanne Lodato from a composite sketch made by a witness when forensics evidence from Severance’s home linked him to the two earlier murders. And now in the case of suspect Jesse Matthews, police leaked information that forensics evidence found at either his car or house may link him to another student who went missing over 2 years ago. And a composite sketch of a suspect wanted for another rape in 2005 appears in his likeness. But what does all of this mean in the case of Heather Graham?

Up to now, the police have been very closed mouthed about what evidence links Jesse Matthews to Hannah Graham’s alleged abduction. Yet, information has been leaked about a 2002 rape allegation against Matthews by a Liberty University student who did not pursue any charges, a possible link to a date drug where Matthews works as an operating room tech and now the missing student from 2 years ago.

Meanwhile Matthews has been described by friends and family as a “gentle giant”. Yet, if the police leaks turn out to point to Matthews, he may be more like a serial abductor than a” gentle giant”. Matthews has no record to speak of. And there are cases where no prior criminal record exists, yet the perpetrator committed heinous acts. That is not unlikely in sexual abuse cases. Sexual abuse cases occur with teachers, police officers and other unlikely highly respected individuals without a record and with a solid background.

But the Commonwealth of Virginia must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. And as Matthews’ court date nears on Thursday for his initial appearance, he will soon receive thereafter a preliminary hearing date . At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution must put its cards on the table and show them. This means they must show that their evidence matches the charges. A judge did issue and sign an arrest warrant for Matthews. The judge prior to signing an arrest warrant would have been aware of the statements of the police linking Jesse Mathews to Hannah Graham’s alleged abduction. And signing and issuing the warrant means the police have probable cause to arrest Matthews. And probable cause means the police have enough evidence to convince a reasonable person of the charges. Whether the prosecution has enough evidence to convict Matthews remains to be seen. Probable cause is a low standard and doesn’t weigh the evidence or its credibility. And Matthews isn’t talking now on the advice of his counsel.

The prosecution will need to prove its case without a statement from Matthews. The prosecution will shortly need to show what evidence links Matthews to Hannah Graham and stop the guessing game that everyone in the media is doing.

The link below shows a legal analysis by Debbie Hines of the Jesse Graham case on Fox 5 News on September 29, 2014. His arraignment is set for Thursday, October 2.
DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG


Eric Holder’s Resignation Will Leave a Void

September 26th, 2014 | Tags: ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Eric_Holder_official_portrait

It is with sadness and a heavy heart that I heard the news of Attorney General Eric Holder resigning as U.S. Attorney General.  Yet, I know that everything that has a beginning has an ending.   Attorney General Holder is the fourth longest serving Attorney General.

 

As the first African American Attorney General, Eric Holder has been one of the best Attorney General’s that has served at the Department of Justice. I have felt that he  has carried the true meaning of the Justice Department and the Constitution in fighting  for “liberty and justice for all”.  Those words have not been realized for everyone in our imperfect union.  And with the fights against equal access to the voting ballot, the basis and backbone of our democracy, I find that Eric Holder has fought the hardest battles.  His strong support for reducing the disproportionate sentencing guidelines of African Americans in certain drug cases showed strength and power to do the right thing.  His fights  and firm stance against the GOP who sanctioned him  and found him in contempt of Congress for doing his job showed grace under fire.  Every time that I have had an opportunity to hear him speak in person, I have taken the opportunity.

 

And  Mr. Holder’s  most recent stance in coming to Ferguson, MO, to show support for the community as the highest ranking justice official, gave calm to a volatile situation.  He has recently spoke about police power should be exhibited fairly and just in reviewing the case of Michael Brown and other similar cases across the country.  Attorney General Holder has never strayed  from speaking his mind on race issues.  That’s why he called the U.S. a nation of cowards for our failure to do the work of justice and address the issues of racism in this country.

 

It is my hope that his work will continue with his successor.  His work must continue and the dream must   move towards reality.  In his words, Attorney General Holder said:

 

“Work remains to be done – but our list of accomplishments is real.  Over the last six years, our Administration has made historic gains in realizing the principles of the founding documents, and fought to protect the most sacred of American rights: the right to vote.  We have begun to realize the promise of equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families.  We have begun to significantly reform our criminal justice system and reconnect those who bravely serve in law enforcement with the communities they protect.  We have kept faith with our belief in the power of the greatest judicial system the world has ever known to fairly and effectively adjudicate any cases that are brought before it, including those that involve the security of the nation we both love so dearly.  We have taken steps to protect the environment and make more fair the rules by which our commercial enterprises operate.  And we have held accountable those who would harm the American people either through violent means or the misuse of economic or political power.”

 

Thank you Mr. Holder for all that you have done to advance the dream of liberty and justice for all.


How the NFL Can Really Help Domestic Violence Victims

September 13th, 2014 | Tags: , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »
Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

The controversy surrounding the Ray Rice incident of hitting  and punching his now wife, Janay Palmer unconscious  in a an elevator in February, 2014 highlights why the Violence Against Women Act was passed 20 years ago and why it needs further awareness  and support even today. It further provides an opportunity for what the  NFL’s 32 teams and Commissioner Roger Goodell can do if they really mean business about  a no tolerance policy against domestic violence.

 

Twenty years ago today, the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.   At that time, an assault of hitting, kicking, pushing or severely injuring a woman by a male partner was considered a “family affair”.  And it is so ironic that even today Janay Rice posts to her Instagram and Twitter accounts that the incident involving her husband is a “personal one”.  Sorry Janay but there is nothing personal about the occurrence of a criminal act.  That’s why court records are public records and open for anyone to view. And there is nothing personal about domestic violence which hurts and affects  more than the two individuals involved.

 

Twenty years ago, according to a statement released today by Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental as a Senator in getting the “VAWA” passed, “Women who had their arms broken with hammers and heads beaten with pipes, were among the 21,000 women who were assaulted, raped, and murdered in a single week in America at the time.”   And  it includes women who have been violently knocked unconscious by their mates today. The “VAWA” has been strengthened since it first passage to include date violence, investments for health providers to screen patients for domestic violence,   making services available to  LGBT  persons and for Native American  tribes to be able to prosecute non-Indian offenders.

 

More resources need to be made available to domestic violence hotlines and counselors across the country.  Most are stretched in terms of resources.  Since the Ray Rice incident and revelation of the video inside the elevator, many domestic violence hot line calls have drastically increased by over 50% in some incidents.   The National Domestic violence Hotline saw an 84% increase in calls following the 2 days after the Rice video was leaked. There is often some good in some bad incidents. And the good that is occurring now as a result of the Rice incident is a further awareness of violence against women, how far we’ve come and yet how far we must still go.   And if Roger  Goodell and the NFL is really committed to taking a strong stand against domestic violence, they should put their money where their mouth is.  All 32  NFL teams should be required to commit substantial monetary contributions yearly to organizations in the forefront of fighting domestic violence.  And just like in the ALS “bucket challenge”, the NFL should challenge the National Hockey League, the National Basketball league and Major League Baseball to do the same thing. That would show the intentions of the NFL are real and not merely lip service in the fight against violence against women.

 

Vice President Biden announced this week that the White House intends to convene a summit bringing  together legal experts, scholars, and  advocates on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women.  We know from the Ray Rice incident that bias against victims of rape and sexual assault still exists in our criminal justice system and in  the court of public opinion.   And we still have a way to go to make sure that every victim has a basic civil right to equal protection under the law.  And last but not least, if you are experiencing  or know of anyone experiencing  any form of domestic violence,  VAWA created the  anonymous National Domestic Violence Hotline, which you can visit here,* or dial 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help and advice.

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has prosecuted crimes of domestic violence against women. She is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center often seen in the media addressing issues on gender and race.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ray Rice Fans and Supporters Need a Reality Check

September 12th, 2014 | Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

The Chris Brown type  supporting Ray Rice fans who still support their man in spite of proof before their eyes of a violent attack in February on Janay Rice need a reality check. On Thursday night with the Ravens game held in Baltimore against the Pittsburgh Steelers, many Baltimore Ravens fans, both men and women, were spotted wearing Ray Rice’s No. 27 jersey, standing by their man.  Many fans, who were interviewed, did not think that Rice deserved to be terminated from the Ravens and receive an indefinite suspension from the NFL.  There are two sides to a coin and often two sides to a discussion.  However, in this instance, those in full support of Ray Rice are in denial of what occurred and misunderstand why he was terminated from the Ravens.

 

Supporting Rice fans on Thursday stated it was a personal matter between Rice and his now wife, Janay Rice. It was a personal matter.  As for former NFL player Ray Rice, his employment contract, as with all NFL contracts, had a morals clause. NFL contracts and most   endorsement company contracts have what is termed a “morals clause”.   These morals clauses allow a team, company or sports league to terminate a player’s contract for criminal activity or behavior or conduct that is unbefitting to an athlete or the team’s brands.  Morals clauses are general in nature and may cover a large range of incidents.  In legal terms, they may be referred to as a “catch – all” category.    Morals clauses are found also in the NBA, Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and National Hockey League (“NHL”).  These clauses are in the leagues’ constitutions and in the players individual contracts giving power to a team or Commissioner to fine, suspend or terminate a player whose behavior or conduct does not conform to standards of morality, is in violation of criminal laws or is otherwise detrimental to the team or league.

 

Many sports players are also terminated from endorsement contracts due to a morals clause as in the case of Tiger Woods for his infidelity to his now ex-wife due to the famous mistresses scandal.  It was a personal matter that was not criminal but yet the morals clause caused him to lose his many multi-million dollar endorsements at that time.  Other athletes lost lucrative endorsement contracts due to a morals clause such as Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant and  Olympic Gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps for admitting to marijuana use. And in the case of morals clauses,   there are many behaviors that may cause a termination that do not result in a criminal conviction such as   arrests for drunk driving, drug use, domestic scandals and public fights.  Generally speaking, a   morals clause is always in the best interest of the employer, team, company or franchise.   They are always subjective in the eyes of the entity enforcing the clause and give them absolute discretion to enforce them.

 

However, in many instances, employees have personal matters that cause their termination from the job.  By way of example, some federal government employees with a high security clearance who are arrested for an assault without a conviction may be subject to termination.   Having represented persons in this position, I was surprised to learn at the time that even without a conviction, it can cause job jeopardy.  And as a prosecutor, my former office had a no tolerance policy against drunk driving arrests and other “personal” criminal offenses occurring on personal time.  A drunk driving arrest was cause for termination.  In some corporate employee positions, an assault on a wife, family member or others can lead to termination of one’s job.  And Catholic schools are now requiring their teachers to sign morality clauses which could invalidate their employment for behavior similar to Rice’s elevator assault.

Some of the Baltimore Ravens fans who support Ray Rice may also be employed in positions and jobs that will result in their termination due to morality clauses.     These Rice supporters need a reality check.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor who  often appears in the media addressing issues of  gender and race in the law.

 


Charles Severance Indicted in 3 VA Murders

September 9th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »

 

 

DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Charles Severance was indicted on 3 murders in Alexandria, VA from 2003 killing of realtor Nancy Dunning, 2013 killing of transportation planner Ron Kirby and beloved music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in February, 2014.  In a surprise move, the prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty even though the Grand Jury indictment on 2 capital cases pursuant to VA law in Lodato and Kirby.  The third case of Nancy Dunning was outside the 3 year period of time for a capital murder case.   Severance is currently in jail on a weapons violation which has a trial date in October, 2014.   The case was investigated by the FBI, Alexandria police and the VA State police to bring about the indictments.   Of the three cases, the one involving Ruthanne Lodato is the strongest with a living eyewitness who made the composite sketch which looks identical to Severance.   The killing of Nancy Dunning in 2003 is the weakest case as her now deceased husband, former Alexandria sheriff was the suspect for many years. He died as a suspect.  Severance once arraigned on the charges will provide light on whether his attorneys will seek a psychiatric evaluation based on his unstable mental condition.

 

On Tuesday, September 9, I analyzed the case on DC’s  Fox 5  morning news show with insights presently known about the case.  Watch here and stay tuned for updates:

DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG


Ray Rice’s Domestic Abuse “Nightmare” is his Own Fault

September 9th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Former NFL Ravens player Ray Rice has no one to blame except himself for his  termination from the Baltimore Ravens, indefinite  NFL suspension and  possible loss of his football career due to the domestic violence inflicted on his then fiancé and now wife, Janay Rice.  This is not about media “ratings” as his wife posted in an Instagram. This is about the NFL finally getting it right this time, after so long getting it wrong.  And what happened to Ray Rice is what happens across America every day.  He acted out his  violent temper on his fiancé, knocking her unconscious.  He and the Ravens tried to make it seem like it was only 30 seconds in his life. Well, I hate to be the one to let the Ravens, Rice and the NFL in on a simple truth.  Every person, who appears in a court room as a criminal defendant and is convicted, wishes they had 30 seconds back of their life too. It doesn’t take hours, days or minutes to commit a crime. It usually takes only seconds of one’s lifetime.  And the repercussions often last a lifetime.

And Ray Rice is not in a league of his own when it comes to domestic violence.  Unfortunately, there are thousands of Ray Rice’s every day across this nation. And there are many victims like Janay Rice’s too.  One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.  And every year one in three women who are victims of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner.  Most abusers do not receive treatment, a  criminal conviction or even a slap on the wrist for their transgressions as their victims do not prosecute or the courts fail to protect them with protective orders and other remedies.  But as someone who has prosecuted and at times defended persons who committed domestic violence, Ray Rice does not also stand alone in the type of punishment given out to him.  I have seen defendants who were corporate employees lose high level jobs due to domestic violence at home.  It’s rare for employers to take domestic abuse as unacceptable behavior but it does occasionally happen.

 

And domestic violence against women, unlike some other crimes, is often one that lasts a lifetime in the world of the abused victim.   There are psychological scars left with the victim that  may last for quite some time from denial, remorse, fault and many others.  We have already seen some of these play out in Janay Rice who apologized for her fault in Ray Rice’s behavior during the press conference held at the Raven’s facility earlier this year. And Janay Rice posted on her Instagram account comments indicating the unfairness of his punishment, thinking it was due to media  “ratings” and calling it a “nightmare”.  Janay Rice is like many victims of domestic violence who think everyone and everything is at fault for their abuse except their abuser. Hopefully Janay Rice will get the help she needs to understand that what happened was bigger than any media ratings and she bore no fault for its aftermath. There is nothing that she did which should cause or warrant her fiancé or any man to hit, punch and knock her out unconscious. And no apology was needed on her part.  And the real nightmare  for Janay Rice happened in February, 2014 inside the Revel Casino elevator in Atlantic City and not yesterday with his suspension and termination.

The NFL and the Ravens management and owners  and even the Atlantic City prosecutors got it all wrong.  The 30 seconds of Ray Rice’s abusive life didn’t just start in Atlantic City a few months ago.  There was something deeply wrong and flawed with Rice to be able to punch out his wife regardless of what transpired in the elevator or before the incident.  And Ray Rice needs the rest of his life to reflect and  continually seek help for what happened.  And he should not blame Roger Goodell, the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens or his wife.  He and only he is the one that is to blame.

Debbie Hines is a former Baltimore prosecutor who has prosecuted and defended assault cases of domestic violence.  She often speaks in the media on issues of gender and race in the law having appeared on Arise TV, BET, C-Span, Fox 5, RT America, Sky News and TV One among others.

 

 


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