Category Archives: Advanced Legal Research

ALR Student’s Corner: A lesson in ethical lawyering through an analysis of Presumed Innocent, by Alan J. Pakula.

When contemplating the role of an attorney, one generally associates traits of honesty, righteousness, and selflessness as being the bedrock of all officers of the court. This is particularly true of those attorneys who are the voice of the people – the prosecutors. The American Bar Association publishes a series of Criminal Justice Standards, which “are intended to be used as a guide to professional conduct and performance.” Many, if not all, of the standards set out for attorneys are common sense, i.e., duties that are inherently understood by most professionals, such as avoiding conflicts of interest. Failure to adhere to these standards has the potential for destroying not only an attorney’s career but also his life.

The 1990 drama, Presumed Innocent, portrays the story of a Deputy Prosecutor Rusty Sabich – Harrison Ford – who is assigned to a case involving the murder of a female colleague. Yet, from the very beginning of his assignment, Rusty failed to disclose that he was having an affair with the now murdered colleague. The story unfolds further as a new District Attorney is elected, placing Rusty in the crosshairs of an internal investigation surrounding the alleged improprieties in his handling of the murder case. Within days of the investigation commencing, Rusty is brought before a grand jury and indicted for the murder of his former colleague and mistress, Carolyn Polhemus.

Of course this legal fiction is hyped up with traditional trial surprises such as when the defense locates exculpatory evidence at the last minute. Yet, every law student, lawyer, and judge can take away some important lessons, and perhaps reminders, of their duties as legal professionals.

ABA Criminal Justice Standard 3-1.3 (Conflicts of Interest) advises “prosecutors to avoid conflicts of interest with respect to his or her official duties.” Moreover, subsection (f) states “A prosecutor should not permit his or her professional judgment or obligations to be affected by his or her own political, financial, business, property, or personal interests.” Rusty failed to disclose his conflict of interest with the case, specifically, his romantic relationship with the victim. Making matters worse, Rusty conducted himself in ways that suggested he was controlling the investigation and leading police officers away from finding evidence that would otherwise point to himself as the murderer.

The viewer, of course, knows that Rusty isn’t guilty and there is comfort in the fact that the movie ends with Rusty’s aquittal. The truth regarding who killed Ms. Polhemus remained a mystery. Yet, in a typically Hollywood twist, with only minutes left in the movie, Rusty undertakes some work on his outside fence. Rusty discovers, in his shed, a hammer/hatchet like tool with hair and blood on it. This is important because at trial, the prosecution had an expert testify that Ms. Polhemus was struck with a hammer like object that had a sharp edge – like a hatchet. It is at this moment of discovering the bloody tool, that both Rusty and the viewer realize Ms. Polhemus was actually killed by Rusty’s jealous wife, Barbara.

In addition to the blatant violations of professional standards already discussed, there are a couple of key lessons that shouldserve as important reminders for law students and lawyers. During the initial investigation into Rusty’s handling of the Polhemus murder, one of the newly appointed ADAs confronts Rusty and openly accuses him of murder. Rusty, in an apparent fit of rage, turns around and pushes the ADA, telling him “yes, I killed her.” Later on at trial, the ADA attempts to have this statement introduced as evidence of an admission to the crime, yet the judge does not allow it, because the ADA had been alone when he questioned Rusty and cannot now seek to enter evidence of a conversation which is essentially his word against the defendant’s.

This movie is available in DVD format at the Charlotte School of Law Library.

~Dean Castaldo, L’15~

Class Advisor, Susan Catterall, Esq.

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ALR Student’s Corner: “12 Angry Men”, Many Happy Movie Watchers

“12 Angry Men” is a surprisingly outstanding courtroom drama film.  Produced in 1957, the film is in black and white, and consists of zero state of the art special effects, no hard core action scenes, no romance, no exotic “on location” filming, and no award winning soundtrack.   Aside from a short scene in which the judge recites the jury instructions, the entire film is shot in a small New York City jury room where the twelve jurors debate the verdict of a young man on trial for murder.  The movie relies on superb acting by the twelve jurors and an intriguing plot that twists in unexpected ways to keep the audience enthralled for the duration of the film.

In this movie, the jury must decide whether an 18 year old Hispanic male, from the slums of New York City, stabbed his father to death.  If the jury concludes there is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the young man will receive the death penalty.   The movie does not display any of the actual court proceedings, nor the actions of the young man, but focuses only on the deliberations of the twelve jurors.

The jurors are faced with an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence that points to the conclusion that the young man is guilty of the alleged crime.  After the first vote, all of the jurors but one voted that the young man was guilty.  Henry Fonda is the actor who played Juror No. 8, the one juror who rendered a “not guilty” vote.  Fonda’s character was troubled that the other jury members could make a decision so quickly, and without much thought about a matter as serious as sentencing a man to death.  Fonda drove home the idea, to the other jurors, that they had a responsibility to examine all of the evidence thoroughly and without prejudice.  His repeated pleas to his fellow jurors were to remember that they didn’t have to believe the young man was innocent; they just needed to be sure that there was no reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

From a legal perspective there was at least one legal error that may have been overlooked by Hollywood in order to produce a more compelling dramatic effect.  Henry Fonda, in an effort to find out more about the murder weapon, took it upon himself to travel to the neighborhood where the accused young man had lived.  Fonda purchased a switch blade knife that was identical to the knife that ultimately became the murder weapon. On the day of deliberations, Fonda brought the knife into the jury room for viewing by the other jurors.

This act constitutes a legal error because jurors cannot consider any evidence except for those items specifically admitted by the court and developed at trial. Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 722 (1961).  Thus, if the Judge had learned of Fonda’s act of introducing “outside evidence” to the jurors for consideration of the verdict, the Judge would likely have declared a mistrial.

Furthermore, the jury consisted only of twelve Caucasian men. When the movie was released in 1957, it is likely that juries did not represent the community at large.  Women and minorities served infrequently, and therefore the composition of the jury in this movie may well have reflected the reality of jury composition at the time.  The Supreme Court has since ruled on several occasions regarding the constitutional necessity of a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community. See Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357 (1979).  As a result, a jury in New York City today would be much more diverse and reflective of the New York City community at large.

Despite these errors, “12 Angry Men” remains one of the top court room dramas of all time.  In fact, in 2007 the American Film Institute ranked it No. 87 of the 100 greatest movies ever made.  Additionally, there is not the usual Hollywood ending to this movie. In fact, the film makers never let the audience know whether or not the defendant killed his father.  Instead the producers stayed true to the theme that this movie was not about solving a crime but was about whether the jury had reasonable doubt regarding the young man’s guilt. Finally, I would venture to say that law students, lawyers, and general movie lovers alike will find something in this film that will make them feel happy about the time spent watching this movie.

The DVD, “12 Angry Men” is available as part of the Charlotte School of Law Library collection.

~Holly Simpson, L’15~

Class Advisor, Susan Catterall, Esq.

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ALR Student’s Corner: FBI Website: Where the Crime Is

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is an agency set-up to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and provide leadership within the criminal justice system. The FBI’s main website, at http://www.fbi.gov/, offers the user many link options to its various law enforcement functions.

The FBI Crime Statistics page offers the user a wealth of statistical information with the annual Uniform Crime Reports, at http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats.  But one does not need to be a statistician to appreciate the information; the web page is easy to understand and navigate, even for a novice.  The Uniform Crime Report is the FBI’s most comprehensive analysis of violent crime and property crime in the United States, compiling the volume and rate of criminal offenses at the national and state and, in some instances, county and municipal levels. Statistics reflecting arrests, clearance, and law enforcement employee data are also included.     The statistical presentation and analysis of the Report breaks down into such topics as Annual Crime Stats, Hate Crime Statistics, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA), The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), Bank Crime Reports, Internet Crime Reports, National Gang Threat Assessments, and Terrorism Incidents.

With the Uniform Crime Reports, criminologists, students, or the merely interested can locate statistics according to such categories as types of crime, victims of crime, perpetrators of crime, and location of crime.  For example, if a user were interested in hate crime statistics for 2011, she would click on the link for “2011” under the “Hate Crime Statistics” section of the Uniform Crime Reports web page.  This will take the user to the 2011 Hate Crime Statistics page, where she can browse narrower topical categories related to the hate crimes committed in 2011, including the following: Incidents and Offenses, Victims, Offenders, Location and Type, and Hate Crime by Jurisdiction.  Within the “Location and Type” category, for instance, the user can then scroll through and select from a list of subcategories – racial bias, religious bias, sexual-orientation bias, ethnicity/national origin bias, disability bias, and multiple-bias incidents – to find particular percentages for a type of hate crime reported and where.

Additionally, on the 2011 Hate Crimes page, as on those of the other crime categories, there are fourteen tables that represent different statistical charts or data sets, such as 1) Incidents, Offenses, Victims, and Known Offenders, by Bias Motivation; 2) Offenses, Known Offender’s Race, by Offense Type; 3) Offenses, Victim Type, by Offense Type; 4) Incidents, Bias Motivation, by Location; and 5) Agency Hate Crime Reporting by State.  These easy-access table and chart links enable the user to refine her search to more specific statistical information regarding hate crimes.

With the FBI crime statistics web site, a user can find many statistics for many areas of crime. The need to cull crime statistics may propose an unpleasant commentary about our society; however, it is encouraging to know there is an organization like the FBI dedicated to lowering these statistics.

~ Kevin Miller, L’15 ~

Class Advisor – Cory M. Lenz, Esq.

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ALR Student’s Corner: Department of Commerce: Minority Business Development Agency

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The Commerce Department’s mission is to make American businesses more innovative at home and more competitive abroad. Responsible for everything from weather forecasts to patent protection, the following twelve departments of the Commerce Department impact the everyday lives of all Americans:

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) embodies the Commerce Department’s goal of maximizing job creation and global competitiveness by creating a new generation of minority-owned businesses that generate $100 million in annual revenues.  The MBDA provides services in five major areas globally through its business center:

Global Business Development: Focus is on the importance of minority-owned businesses as a key component of U.S. international trade. Minority-owned firms have the most favorable export attributes of any sector of the U.S. economy and represent the future of export growth.

Access to Capital and Financial Management: MBDA’s business advisors offer extensive experience in commercial lending and banking, financial, credit and risk analysis and general finance counseling.

Access to Contracts: MBDA business development specialists provide procurement assistance to help minority-owned firms do business with the federal, state, and local governments as well as private corporations. These specialists provide identification of procurement opportunities, solicitation analysis, bid and proposal preparation, research contract award histories, post-award contract administration, and certifications assistance.

Access to Markets: MBDA services in this area include government procurement assistance, private sector contract identification, and specialized certification assistance, including 8(a), MBE, and Small Disadvantaged Business. Assistance with market research, market plan development, and marketing communications is provided, as well.

Strategic Business Consulting: This service area includes strategic and business planning, staffing, organization and structure, policies and procedures, and general business consulting.

Most recently, MBDA featured a segment on how minority manufacturing businesses have strengthened the “Made in America” brand. This year, MBDA recognized a couple of businesses for outstanding manufacturing impact and achieving significant success in employing new and innovative techniques that led to a significant increase in market share, job growth, and customer satisfaction. “Manufacturing creates good jobs and has the largest multiplier effect of any part of the economy,” said Alejandra Y. Castillo, MBDA National Director. “We are very proud of the tremendous achievements of minority businesses in the manufacturing industry that help grow the national economy through innovation, job and wealth creation.”

MBDA’s website is user friendly and provides an unlimited amount of information and resources, including a repository of publications for public research and review, dedicated to minority business developments.

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~ Zona Julien, L’15 ~

Class Advisor – Cory M. Lenz, Esq.

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ALR Student’s Corner: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – An Overview of the Agency

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.  As a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, the USCIS was created to strengthen the security and integrity of the immigration system.  Its chief purpose is to administer the process of obtaining citizenship and/or naturalization.  Furthermore, this agency also attempts to assist and educate people on how to initiate the immigration process for themselves.

The USCIS’s official website, found at http://www.uscis.gov/, is designed for the following users:

  • Individuals who want to come to the United States,
  • Permanent residents who want to become U.S. Citizens,
  • S. Citizens who want to petition for a family member,
  • Employers who want to verify the immigration status of employees,
  • Attorneys who want to obtain forms, and
  • Individuals who want to learn about Immigration and Nationality laws.

The USCIS’s website is user-friendly, and it provides access to immigration laws, forms, and handbooks and manuals, and a means for users to set up appointments and check the status of their cases.  The following is a list of some of the content that the agency makes available to the public:

Everyone benefits from the information on http://www.uscis.gov/. The government wins because the electronic access to the information decreases its workload. The people win because, provided they have access to the Internet, they can fulfill many of the citizenship and naturalization requirements online, rather than wait in line and/or pay the expense to travel to the United States. Even lawyers can use this website to help their clients with immigration matters.

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How to search and locate information on the website:

The simplicity of uscis.gov allows even a computer-novice to quickly navigate through the website.   Below, I will demonstrate how to access the application for naturalization and how to make an appointment.

  1. Accessing the Application for Naturalization:
    • Step 1:  Access the Website:
    • Step 2:  Click on the tab that says “Forms”
    • Step 3:  Click on “Apply for Citizenship (Form N-400)” (left column)
    • Step 4:  Click on “Form N-400 (1.48 MB PDF)” (middle of the screen)
    • Step 5:  Follow the Instructions on http://www.uscis.gov/n-400
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  1. Making an Appointment:
    • Step 1:  Access the website
    • Step 2:  Click on the Calendar icon, entitled “Make an Appointment” (middle of the page)
    • Step 3:  Click on the link “Click here for English” or the language that you prefer (left side of page)
    • Step 4:  Click on the link “Make your appointment with INFOPASS”
    • Step 5:  Enter your Zip code or Country and click Continue
    • Step 6:  Select an Office and click on Continue
    • Step 7:  Select the kind of service you need and click Continue
    • Step 8:  Click Continue after you read the alternative options available
    • Step 9:  Enter your information and click Continue.

For more information please visit http://www.uscis.gov.

~ Luis Jimenez, L’15 ~

Class Advisor – Cory M. Lenz, Esq.

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