The Legal Definition Of A “Presidential Pardon”

There is a lot of confusion over the boundaries of executive authority these days, in part because outgoing president Donald trump has strained these boundaries repeatedly for the last four years. Many talking heads and commentators have floated a fairly obvious question: “Could Donald Trump use his power to pardon any individual for any federal crime on himself?” First, we should probably look at the legal definition of these executive powers. What exactly is a presidential pardon?

The authority in question is provided to the president by Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It allows a president to commute a sentence or pardon someone of a federal crime. Two important factors stick out immediately. First and foremost, you can grant someone a pardon even if that person has not been charged with a crime (such as was the case when President Gerald Ford chose to pardon former president Nixon after the latter’s resignation).

The second point that sticks out is the recipient of a pardon or commutation needs to accept it before it becomes official. Theoretically, a person who wants to prove his or her innocence in court might choose to reject a pardon rather than look guilty.

It’s important to understand that the power to pardon granted to a sitting president is limited to federal crimes. So, for instance, let’s say the new Justice Department under soon-to-be president Joe Biden felt it necessary to indict and prosecute Trump for tax fraud after he leaves the White House. Trump’s best bet to preempt that move would be to resign the presidency in his last remaining weeks, and allow current vice president Mike Pence to take over the office in the hopes that Pence will grant him a full pardon.

But let’s say the attorney general’s office in the state of New Jersey wants to indict and prosecute Trump for crimes relating to his assets there, or that the state of New York wants to indict and prosecute him for tax evasion at the state level. There’s nothing stopping them. Trump can’t be issued a presidential pardon for any crimes that are not federal. And considering the allegations that continue to haunt Trump, his best tactic was to win another term — after which most of those crimes would have expired under the statute of limitations. He failed. 

Will Trump actually be prosecuted for anything at all? Probably not. There would be enormous political fallout down both sides of the aisle for making such a move, which certainly seems to make it less likely. But if Trump gets a whiff that he might be arrested and prosecuted, then what’s stopping him from simply moving out of the country overnight? He’s wealthy and certainly has plenty of foreign assets that can’t be touched by the United States government (state governments are especially powerless). We can only speculate that he would indeed pack up and leave.

 

What Is The Legal Definition Of “Voter Suppression?”

All the talk about mail-in voter fraud from Republicans and voter suppression might have you wondering what those terms mean. Well, fraud is simple enough. It encompassess any activity that could fluff up the vote count. For example, a dead person voting or a living person casting two ballots are both forms of voter fraud. Others have suggested that mail-in votes are more susceptible to being manipulated for or against one candidate or another, although there is no proof that supports this belief, nor is there proof of widespread voter fraud.

There is, however, a lot of evidence of voter suppression. What is the legal definition of voter suppression? It’s a little bit more complicated, because it can include any number of tactics. These include any legal or illegal attempt to prevent voters from making it to the polls. 

How is this possible? It’s not even that difficult. Republican legislatures have been implementing suppressive tactics for years. For example, a Republican-dominated Supreme Court ruled that one state’s mail-in votes that arrive after Election Day are invalid — meaning all of those eligible voters who cast their votes could have them tossed away simply because Donald Trump’s administration did it’s best to slow down the postal service during the weeks prior to the election. The president was open about this attempt at manipulating the vote in his favor.

In another state, Republican legislators passed a law allowing anyone with a firearm license to vote — but not someone with a student ID. The purpose of this kind of distinction between forms of identification is obvious: gun owners are much more likely to be Republican, while college-educated youths are much more likely to vote Democrat. It’s an easy — and legal — way to reduce your opponent’s ability to vote. 

And then there’s the Trump Administration’s aspiration to create an “army” off poll watchers to ward off any troublesome activity. There was a law preventing this for the past four decades, but it recently expired. The goal of sending out poll watchers is also transparent: it’s meant to intimidate minority voters, who seem at odds with radical conservative groups.

What Is The Legal Definition Of An “Elector”?

There has been a great amount of conjecture and supposition between Republicans and Democrats about which, if either, party, will steal the election if not duly elected. Yet more discussion has occurred between party-associated legal representatives and constitutional scholars on whether or not such an act of treason is even possible based on the law. Before you can form your own opinion, you need to understand what the legal definition of an “elector” is, and what part they play in deciding an election.

Legal-dictionary and West’s Encyclopedia of American Law define an elector as “A voter who has fulfilled the qualifications imposed by law; a constituent; a selector of a public officer; a person who has the right to cast a ballot for the approval or rejection of a political proposal or question, such as the issuance of bonds by a state or municipality to finance public works projects.”

OR:

“A member of the electoral college—an association of voters elected by the populace of each state and the District of Columbia—which convenes every four years to select the president and vice president of the United States.”

For the purposes of “stealing” an election, only the second definition matters. The important thing is that the first definition more describes actual voters — whose only role in deciding an election, believe it or not, is traditional instead of legal. 

The fundamental way the system works is simple. People vote, a state legislature acknowledges the popular vote, and then sends these “electors” to the convention to cast their state’s ballots for president. Those ballots determine the electoral votes won by a presidential nominee for a specific state. 

How could anyone possibly hijack that system? Well, it’s pretty simple: Republicans have already begun seeding doubt about the legitimacy of the mail-in vote (which typically favors Democrats). The president is especially guilty of this. Many scholars suspect the president will try to “cancel” any votes counted after Election Day — he hopes to be winning that night — and then ask Republican legislatures in competitive battleground states to send electors to cast their ballots for him even if Joe Biden technically wins the popular vote in that state. He would do this on the basis of, “oh, well, the mail-in vote is fraudulent.” 

That tactic could result in the presidential election being decided by Congress or the Supreme Court under certain circumstances.

You might be surprised who is getting involved in the election, and what kind of an impact they could have. For example, one employment lawyer NYC said that it’s important for businesses to provide employees with ample time off in order to vote — or even provide the day off. This is because coronavirus will likely affect the ease with which voting takes place. Early voting has already started in many states, and anyone can see that those lines are extremely long.

Few people expect Election Day voting to be any easier, especially since disruptions by Republican operatives are anticipated. Trump has enlisted an “army” of followers to keep “watch” for any “suspicious activity” at polling places around the country.

Could Donald Trump Legally Postpone Election Day In The Wake Of Coronavirus?

Legally, Election Day falls on the first Tuesday of November by federal law. Donald Trump might make a play to change it if he feels his chances for reelection are seriously threatened (we can see it happening), but realistically he can’t really do anything without the approval of Congress. The bad news is this: Republican members of Congress have basically fallen in lock-step with the president, regardless of the laws at stake or the integrity of our government.

That means Election Day could theoretically be postponed because of emergency.

More likely, Donald Trump will contest the results of the election if he loses by a small margin. Because this is likely, there is a plausible scenario in which he and Joe Biden both claim victory and refuse to concede to the political opposition. In this case, a Republic-led Congress might very well side with Trump to “steal” the oval. 

It might seem like the ultimate decision-making power would be lain at the feet of the Supreme Court, but that isn’t exactly the case. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of George W. Bush after a heated battle between him and Al Gore in 2000, Al Gore took the high road and conceded to his opponent while Florida was still recounting votes. Perhaps tragically (for Democrats), one study concluded that the decision would have been reversed had the recount been allowed to proceed, making Gore the winner in 2000.

But, suffice it to say, no one can see either Trump or Biden conceding to the opposition even if Trump clearly loses the electoral vote (he will almost certainly lose the popular vote again).

Legally, this places the country in a tricky position during which we might not have a president. Coupled with the coronavirus, recent unrest, and the possibility of widespread discontent with any election result later this year, and it’s anyone’s guess what might happen — or what the law might do about it.

Can I Sue When Someone Infects Me With Covid-19?

First, it’s important to realize the full social and economic impacts of this viral outbreak. Many of us have yet to take it as seriously as we should. To put it into better perspective, here are a few facts: The presumed reproduction rate of the coronavirus covid-19 falls somewhere between 2.0 and 2.5. That means an infected individual is expected to spread it to at least two other people. Big deal, right?

Very wrong.

The seasonal flu has a reproduction rate of R1.3 — and it kills tens of thousands here in the United States each year even though its fatality rate is only .1 percent. By means of comparison, the Spanish flu killed about 2.5 percent of its victims with a reproduction rate of R1.8. Covid-19 kills about 2.0 percent of its victims (although that number might go way down the longer the virus is active) with a higher reproduction rate than the other two viruses.

Spanish flu killed tens of millions of people over a few years. You don’t need to be a mathematician to realize that the potential casualty report for doing little to nothing to contain this outbreak will be very high — the population is much, much higher than it was in 1918. 

Economically, this could push us into a global recession — or even a depression. That means what little savings many American families have could be wiped out nearly overnight. Many of us are already experiencing financial hardship.

Which is why we should think long and hard about whether it’s morally right to sue for covid-19 transmission. Did someone willingly and purposely infect you with the virus? If you can prove it, then you absolutely have a case. But fighting it in court could be exceedingly difficult unless you experienced true financial or personal hardship. If you can prove the virus was then transmitted to family and friends who suffered as a result, then a court might be willing to hear your case.

The problem is this: you might not even make it that far. Because most personal injury lawyers make money based on contingency, i.e. they only get paid when you do, they will only take a case they think they can settle quickly or win easily in court. That probably doesn’t apply to cases involving covid-19.

However, one law firm has already begun to build a class action lawsuit against the Chinese government based on an ineffective response to the outbreak and the conspiracy that the virus came from a secret government facility. So what do we know?

What Is The Definition Of Personal Injury — When Considering Super Bowl LIV?

It seems like we cover personal injury often, in part because it’s one of the most common forms of civil litigation. If you’re trying to sue someone in civil court, it’s probably because you were hurt somehow. Personal injury is therefore defined as a physical injury incurred through a person or organization’s negligence. But the definition can be broadened to include other forms of “injury,” including financial, through defamation.

Still, it seems like a stretch to sue the sponsors of Super Bowl LIV for personal injury according to one’s own beliefs. Maybe that’s why podcaster Dave Daubenmire has said that the halftime show was a form of “discrimination” according to his Christian faith. 

Daubenmire said, “They got crotch shots flying everywhere at the Super Bowl, and they don’t have any warnings.” The halftime show was “piping pornagraphy into his house,” the lawsuit says. He also wants to invite others to join the burgeoning litigation in order to give in class-action status. If granted by a judge (it won’t be), that would mean that anyone who attended or watched the show could attach their names to the litigation.

He called it the “Super Bowl Porn Show.” He said, “Viewing what you put on that screen put me in danger of hellfire.”

Later, he complained: “That’s discriminatory against the values I have in my house — you can’t just do that. I want to sue them. I want to sue them for about 867 trillion dollars.”

Daubenmire is a recorded supporter of President Donald J. Trump, who has been married four times, and whose current wife was has posed for nude photo shoots. This has led some to question his faith.

There’s one obvious flaw in the potential lawsuit. Namely, discrimination is defined by Google dictionary as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”

Legal definitions of discrimination are similar, and Daubenmire has a lot of work to do if he wants to find a way to incorporate those definitions into his lawsuit. He’s the one who decided to turn on the television, and then turn it off. That was his choice. No one actively targeted him or his faith for persecution, which is why a judge will almost certainly strike down his lawsuit long before it makes its way into court.

It’s worth mentioning that Daubenmire’s complaints have mostly been made in the public eye, because, as we mentioned, he is a podcaster. Might he just be looking for attention?

What Is The Definition of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors?”

Sometimes the definitions of commonly or uncommonly used legal terms are challenging to understand, at best. It all depends on who first coined the term. Sometimes the definitions of terms have evolved over time. 

For example, we’ve heard a lot of discussion over what kind of activity constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” because of the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump — but the relevant definitions today are much different than the definitions were in the late 1700s, making common contemporary interpretations of impeachable conduct much different from what the framers originally intended.

Trump’s defense has already argued that he cannot be impeached for an abuse of power or any behavior that does not constitute a crime because those activities do not rise to the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But dozens of public officials have been impeached for everything from drunkenness to simply breaking the public’s trust. 

Gerald Ford said, “An impeachable offense is whatever the majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

While technically inaccurate, he wasn’t exactly wrong. And there’s a lot of precedent that goes into the impeachment process because the Constitution never spells it out for us.

Law professor Frank Bowman says that “the defenders of the impeached officer always argue, always, that a crime is required. And every time that misconception has to be knocked down again.”

The premise of impeachment is to hold public officials to an extremely high bar — which is a stark contrast to Trump’s Republican supporters, who have all argued that the high bar should be the evidence required to impeach a president. But isn’t that counter-intuitive? If the bar set for presidential behavior is set high, then shouldn’t the bar for evidence for impeaching a president be set low?

Bowman said, “Let’s say the President were to wake up tomorrow morning and says, ‘All this impeachment stuff is kind of getting on my nerves. I think I’m going to Barbados for six months. Don’t call me, I’ll call you,’ and just cuts off all contact and refuses to do his duty.”

If the president is above the law — above impeachable behavior — as his lawyers have argued, then there’s no remedy. Bowman continues, “That’s not a crime. It’s not violating a law. But could we impeach him? Of course we could — otherwise what’s the remedy? We have a country without a president.”

Few officials in the country who have been impeached broke the law. Instead, they violated the public trust. And that’s all one needs to do to be impeached. That’s because the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the late 1700s when the clause was placed in the U.S. Constitution means exactly that. We know this because Alexander Hamilton spelled it out for us in Federalist Paper No. 65. Hamilton was one of the Founding Fathers — so he’d know.

What Is The Legal Definition Of The Gay Panic Defense?

The gay panic defense is often used in conjunction with more common defenses such as provocation or self-defense — when legal at all. The gay panic defense, sometimes called the LGBTQ+ panic defense where transgender or other identity-based victims are concerned, is under increased scrutiny because it so often is based on the preconceived notion that something is “wrong” with the LGBTQ community.

At least four states have made the gay panic defense illegal, and New Jersey legislators seek to make their state the ninth. 

But the gay panic defense might soon be struck down at the federal level thanks to a “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019” put forth by the Washington, D.C. Council.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced the legislation earlier this year. If passed, defendants would no longer be allowed to base legal strategies on acting in the heat of the moment after discovering someone is gay or transgender. 

Representative Joe Kennedy (Democrat-MA) said, “Claiming a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity justify murder or assault expressly tells entire segments of our society that their lives are not worthy of protection. As long as gay and trans panic defenses are allowed in our state and federal courts, the LGBTQ community will be deprived of the justice all Americans deserve. With four states already implementing bans, we have the federal momentum to outlaw this bigoted legal practice across the country.”

Senator Ed Markey (Democrat-MA) said, “Our courtrooms are supposed to be chambers of justice, not hate. So-called gay and trans panic legal defenses perpetuate bigotry and violence toward the LGBTQ community and should be banned. They corrode the legitimacy of federal prosecutions, and blame victims for the violence committed against them. All Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity in our justice system…Relegate hateful practice of gay and trans panic defense to the history books.”

Not everyone agrees with the new legislation — even when they don’t agree with the gay panic defense. 

George Washington University Law School Professor Cynthia Lee said, “I…argue that banning gay panic arguments from the criminal courtroom is a bad idea. When gay panic arguments are forced to take a covert turn — when they are not explicit or out in the open — they may actually be more effective than they would be if out in the open. Social science research on implicit bias suggests that making race salient can diminish the otherwise automatic effect of racial stereotypes on perception and beliefs.”

In other words, keep an already mostly ineffective legal defense legal, and those accused of committing the crimes are still more likely to end up in jail than if you made such defense illegal outright.

Think You Know The Law? Here Are The Most Important Rights You Can Legally Exercise!

Why do you need a lawyer when standing before a judge? You need one because they’re well versed in the nuances of law when those laws may or may not infringe on your inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Try as you might, we can virtually guarantee you don’t have the expertise that they do — unless, of course, you’re a lawyer yourself. That’s why we’ve put together this short list of rights you should know you can exercise at will.

  1. Depending on the state wherein you reside, there might be different relevant bans on the amount of talking you can do on your phone. Most states ban handheld phones outright, while others ban any talking on the phone at all. What’s most important? Never text. It’s illegal almost everywhere and the police have little tolerance when they catch someone in the act.

  2. Another right you might have is to record someone with whom you’re having a conversation. That might surprise you based on what you see on TV, but remember: just because you have the right doesn’t mean that the recording is admissible in court. New York, for example, is a one party consent state. That means as long as you’re taking part in the conversation, you have the right to record anyone. Other states have two party consent rules.

  3. Taking photographs and recording videos is a little murkier. Sure, in most situations you’re okay as long as you’re in a public place, but there are limits — especially if your actions can be deemed harassment. For example, you cannot start taking photos of a woman’s underside and expect you won’t be arrested for it. Also, it’s perfectly legal in all fifty states to record police during their routine duties.

  4. You have the right to remain silent — and you also have the right to refuse a search without probable cause. You also have the right to ask a police officer whether they have made a request or an order. If they make a specific order, the order needs to be based on the law. If it isn’t, you have the right to defend your rights with force (even though we strongly recommend you don’t).

  5. You should always check state laws regarding renting an apartment from a landlord. Check fees with which you can be charged. Check whether or not you should be receiving interest on a deposit. Check how your state treats that safety deposit — you might be entitled to its return in full no matter what.

When Is Unwanted Contact Considered Harassment By Law?

The legal definition of harassment is different depending on the state, because these are usually misdemeanor charges (meaning they are determined by state law and not federal law). Because of this, the definition is usually broad in scope. Harassment might include a number of unwanted behaviors such as any that annoy or intimidate another person. When you threaten another person or make them afraid, you might be charged with harassment.

Then again, you might not.

Police officers will often charge an individual who has threatened another person with simple assault — which is also generally defined as threatening behavior that may or may not include bodily contact (the latter of which is more likely defined as battery). If this seems like a complicated spider web of laws and potential charges, well, that’s right — and that’s the point.

You see, when a police officer charges you with a crime, there’s a process already in place for how to handle your arrest. Depending on the charge, you might sit down with a judge for arraignment, and then be released immediately. You would then go find a criminal defense attorney. The attorney would sit down with the prosecutor assigned to your case. They would work out a deal. The deal would usually include a lesser charge with reduced penalties.

So you might have annoyed or threatened someone, gotten yourself charged with simple assault, and then pleaded down to harassment, which is sort of the same thing except with reduced penalties.

See how the system works?

The potential for reduced penalties compels you and your attorney to work with prosecutors instead of against, saving the court system time and money, and making you feel like you’ve won a second chance. 

If you were to instead plead not guilty and ask to go to trial, the prosecutor could actually add or amend the charges against you. For example, if the harassment includes unwanted touching, then the prosecutor might charge you with battery, in which case you would be at risk of increased penalties. This is another way that they get you to work with them and not against them.

Harassment falls under that umbrella in several classes or degrees depending on where you live. It can be further defined depending on whether or not you harassed someone because of a person’s race or religion, etc. One aspect of harassment that is nearly universal is that the perpetrator needs to have “intended” to harass the victim. That means an easy legal defense for harassment is simply that the annoyance or contact had an unintended consequence.

Then again, very few people are charged with harassment. It’s usually part of a plea deal — in other words, it’s a battle strategy for the prosecution.