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•  Continuing Education - Legal News


Johnny Gibbs has been trying to get a valid driver’s license for 20 years, but he just can’t afford it.

To punish him for high school truancy in 1999, Tennessee officials told him he would not be able to legally drive until he turned 21. He drove anyway, incurring two tickets and racking up more than $1,000 in fines and fees.

Like other low-income defendants in similar situations across the country, Gibbs couldn’t pay and ended up serving jail time and probation. That incurred another cost: a monthly supervision fee to a private probation company.

Rather than risk another arrest, Gibbs, now 38, decided to quit driving, which he said makes it nearly impossible to work. He said he spent several years living in a motel room with his mother, his disabled father and his sister before they all became homeless. In August, the family found housing in a dilapidated trailer, miles from the nearest town or food source.

A growing number of legal groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. are challenging these practices, but they continue — despite a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to incarcerate defendants too poor to pay fines.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Washington-based Civil Rights Corps, which has litigated more than 20 lawsuits since it was founded in 2016 to undo various aspects of “user-funded justice,” is challenging policies that it claims have led to one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Counties across the state of Oklahoma refer debt collection to a for-profit company, Aberdeen Enterprizes II, which adds an additional 30 percent fee and threatens debtors with arrest. Many of those who can’t pay are not just thrown in jail; they’re also made to pay for their incarceration, further increasing their debt.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivens said reforming fees, fines and bail is a priority of the Conference of Chief Justices, a nonprofit organization comprising top judicial officials from each of the 50 states.



A Japanese court has rejected a request by former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, released on bail last week, to attend the Japanese automaker’s board meeting on Tuesday.

Nissan dismissed Ghosn as chairman after his Nov. 19 arrest, but he remains on the board. The Tokyo District Court said it rejected Ghosn’s request on Monday but did not elaborate on the reasons.

It had been unclear whether Ghosn could attend the board meeting. The court’s approval was needed based on restrictions imposed for his release on bail. The restrictions say he cannot tamper with evidence, and attending the board meeting could be seen as putting pressure on Nissan employees.

Prosecutors had been expected to argue against his attendance. They were not available for immediate comment.

Ghosn has been charged with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his compensation and breach of trust in making payments to a Saudi businessman and having Nissan shoulder investment losses.

He insists he is innocent, saying the compensation was never decided or paid, the payments were for legitimate services and Nissan never suffered the losses.

Since his release on March 6 from Tokyo Detention Center on 1 billion yen ($9 million) bail, he has been spotted taking walks in Tokyo with his family, but he has not made any comments.

His attempt to exercise what his lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, called his “duty” by attending the board meeting signals one way he may be fighting back.

Hironaka has said Ghosn will speak to reporters soon. A date for a news conference has not been announced.




Florida's new gun law is keeping courts busy, and the state Supreme Court also says lawsuits over hurricane disputes could be on the rise.

The Florida Supreme Court said Friday 100 petitions a month have been filed statewide to try to keep guns out of the hands of people at risk to themselves and others. The Legislature passed new gun restrictions in March following a school shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead.

The court also said to watch out for a rise in claims related to Hurricanes Irma and Michael, particularly involving indebtedness and contracts. Irma affected nearly the entire state in 2017, and Michael devastated communities from Mexico Beach to the Georgia border in October.

The court said four additional circuit court judges are needed next fiscal year, including one in the circuit that covers counties hit by Michael.




In a case that has attracted national attention, Massachusetts' highest court ruled Monday that judges in the state have the authority to order people to remain drug free as a condition of probation and under some circumstances order a defendant jailed for violating the drug-free requirement.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that such a requirement does not violate the constitutional rights of people with substance use disorder or unfairly penalize them because of a medical condition beyond their control.

The court ruled in the case of Julie Eldred, who was jailed in 2016 after she tested positive for the powerful opioid fentanyl days into her probation on larceny charges. Eldred, who has severe substance use disorder, spent more than a week in jail after relapsing until her lawyer could find a bed for her at a treatment facility.

Eldred's lawyer argued before the high court in October that her client's substance use disorder made her powerless to control her desire to use drugs, and that jailing her effectively criminalized relapse - which often happens in the recovery process.

But the justices said the defendant's claims were based partly on untested science.

"Nor do we agree with the defendant that the requirement of remaining drug free is an outdated moral judgment about an individual's addiction," wrote Associate Justice Barbara Lenk. "The judge here did not abuse her discretion by imposing the special condition of probation requiring the defendant to remain drug free."

The court called the actions of two district court judges and the state probation department "exemplary." The justices noted that Eldred had admitted to police that she had stolen to support her drug habit.

Most addiction specialists - including groups such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and American Society of Addiction Medicine - view substance use disorder as a brain disease that interferes with a person's ability to control his or her desire to use drugs.



Spain's National Court has sentenced seven men and a woman to between two and 13 years in prison for beating up two police officers and their girlfriends, but rejected the prosecutors' argument that the defendants should face terror charges.

The call for terror charges caused outrage at the trial because the incident took place two years ago in an area of northern Spain with a strong Basque identity.

The Basque region is trying to put behind it decades of violence at the hands of armed separatist group ETA, which killed more than 800 people, including police, before giving up its armed campaign in 2011.

The court said in sentencing Friday that terrorist intent was not proven and that the accused did not belong to a terrorist organization.



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