Firearms are a public health issue in the United States. In 2010, 31,328 people died because of firearms, either from suicide, homicide, or accidents, and approximately 40,000 people were hospitalized with firearm injuries. The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council and the American Public Health Association have identified practices and areas of research that may reduce firearm-related deaths, violence and injuries.

After Colorado and Washington voters approved constitutional amendments in 2013 to allow for recreational use of marijuana, many believe the movement to decriminalize the drug is making headway. But medical marijuana has been around for years. Support is growing in states that don’t allow use of the drug for medical purposes and the number of states that do allow medical marijuana is growing.

Are your state’s traffic laws up-to-date?  If they aren’t consider what might happen…

In Heien v. North Carolina a police officer pulled over a car because he thought that North Carolina law required that motor vehicles have two working brake lights.  It turns out the officer was wrong.  The North Carolina Court of Appeals concluded that state law requires motor vehicles to only have one...

If you follow Supreme Court Fourth Amendment cases you know that seeing unusual line ups of Justice isn’t unusual at all.  Justice Scalia siding with the criminal defendant is usual though.  In Prado Navarette v. California Justice Scalia dissents with the three female Justices from a majority opinion that he claims “serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail.”

In this case an anonymous 911 caller reported that a vehicle had run her off the road.  The Court held 5-4 that a police stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated.  When police stopped the Navarette brothers they smelled marijuana.  A search of the vehicle revealed 30 pounds of marijuana.    

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In response to a problem that the Detroit Free Press says has reached “epidemic proportions” in some communities, Michigan legislators voted in March to give law enforcement more tools to prevent scrap-metal thefts. Three Midwestern states have among the most metal-theft claims in the country, according to a recent National Insurance Crime Bureau analysis. Those states are Ohio (first in the nation), Illinois (seventh) and Michigan (ninth).

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The start of the new year marked the beginning of a four-year pilot project in Illinois that permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Illinois is the second state in the Midwest with such a law and the first in the region where it was initiated by the legislature. Medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan six years ago via a ballot proposal.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in Plumhoff v. Rickard, where the Supreme Court will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high speed chase. 

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”  Qualified immunity is intended to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

The Supreme Court hears cases on a few legal issues every term:  preemption and Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases are two of the most obvious.  Qualified immunity cases are another common staple of the Supreme Court’s diet.  In November the Court decided to hear two such cases and issued an opinion in a third case without oral argument.  The State and Local Legal Center will file an amicus brief in both of the newly granted cases. 

Human trafficking is often described as a form of modern-day slavery through which individuals are exploited through force, fraud or coercion for labor service or commercial sex acts. State legislatures are leading the response to this fast-growing crime, according to Britanny Vanderhoof, policy counsel for the Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking advocacy organization. “States have really taken up the issue of human trafficking as a state issue,” she said during a recent webinar, “Human Trafficking: State Responses to Modern-Day Slavery,” presented by CSG South.

The Supreme Court will decide in McCullen v. Coakley whether a Massachusetts statute prohibiting speech within 35-feet of a reproductive health care facility violates the First Amendment.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case.  From the perspective of the Massachusetts legislature, no good deed goes unpunished.  

Massachusetts law, which was modeled around a Colorado statute the Court held constitutional, initially allowed protesters to come within six feet of those entering a clinic within an 18-foot buffer zone around the clinic.  Protesters would crowd six feet from a clinic door making entry into the clinic difficult and intimidating.  So in 2007 Massachusetts adopted a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around clinics.  The First Circuit held that this statute is a constitutional time, place, and manner regulation of speech because numerous communication channels remain available to protesters.

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