What Is The Legal Definition Of “Insanity?”

We’ve probably all joked about committing a violent act and pleading insanity when brought forth before a judge. An insanity defense has an enormous impact on how the law is applied. A person declared legally insane would not be subject to an identical set of consequences as a person who committed a crime in a clear cognitive state.

The dictionary of law defines insanity as “a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Insanity is distinguished from low intelligence or mental deficiency due to age or injury.”

Insanity is often invoked as a defense when the crimes are severe or the death penalty is an expected outcome for any other defense. It was thrust into the public’s eye once again over the past few months when former President Donald Trump spent the last few weeks of his administration’s time in the White House forcing through a number of controversial executions despite the threat of coronavirus spread or the fact that those to be executed might be insane or mentally incompetent.

The law specifically states that a person cannot be subject to capital punishment if they cannot be made aware of why they are being executed. The Supreme Court helped Trump push through the spate of executions up until his last days in office.

Before a person can be declared insane, they are usually placed into a medical care facility where they can be examined by psychiatrists. These individuals will then help a judge make a decision based on reports submitted in writing to clarify the person’s cognitive state. But the judge makes the final decision on who should be declared legally insane and why. A person declared insane is considered dangerous and is normally placed in a separate facility from other prisoners.

What Is The Legal Definition Of “Common Law?”

It might sound like common sense to define a phrase like “common law,” but legal terms can confuse anyone without a firm grasp of scope, connotation, or full meaning. And these terms are normally defined in confusing ways. For example, take Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of common-law: “1: Of, relating to, or based on the common law; 2: relating to or based on a common-law marriage.”

Don’t you love it when dictionaries use the word you’re trying to define in the definition for that word? It’s a wonderful cycle.

Merriam-Webster further defines common law as “the body of law developed in England primarily from judicial decisions based on custom and precedent, unwritten in statute or code, and constituting the basis of the English legal system and of the system in all of the U.S. except Louisiana.”

In other words, “common law” is literally the idea of practicing common sense and common decency in certain situations where legal precedent is understood even if unwritten. For example, let’s say we struck the laws on murder from the books today. You would still know murder is wrong, and authorities would still arrest you for committing a murder. But more importantly, common law is based on innumerable interpretations from the judicial branch and jury decisions throughout a country’s history.

But before we go any further, you need to understand that in certain countries those common laws are written down. The United States is one such country. We legalize everything, no matter how obvious a criminal act something is. We provide a set frame of consequence for anything a person might do to disrupt the fabric of our society. See? Common law can be confusing after all!

For something to be ascertained as common law, legislators and judicators usually have a long process of research and review to determine what is in a community’s best interest. This process can be done at the local or state level. If there are already statutes on the books and the law is under scrutiny for some reason, then formal review occurs and legal authorities set about finding information on the law in question.

One type of common law that is under scrutiny based on changing circumstances is a person’s liability for car accidents. Automation is advancing quickly, and it’s not crazy to think that we’ll be living in a driverless future soon enough. Who takes liability for car accidents in that future? The manufacturer? The seller? Or the person? And under which circumstances? There is not yet any legal basis for determining the answers to these questions — but there will be. And that’s the most likely time that the scrutiny will lead to changes in car-related common law. You can visit website here for more information.

Common law results in a complex — and controversial — system of law-making and legal decisions made by lower courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court in the United States. And many believe this system must change.

What Is The Legal Definition Of “Double Jeopardy?”

The “Double Jeopardy” defense was popularized by the popular movie of the same name, which starred Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones (and if you haven’t watched it, we highly recommend you do). The protagonist in that movie was accused of committing a murder for which she was not responsible, and decided to track down the man who framed her. Theoretically, Double Jeopardy is a legal clause that would allow her to kill him in broad daylight without any further consequences.

But would it really work?

Double Jeopardy was introduced when the Fifth Amendment was ratified. The legal definition of Double Jeopardy says that no person shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.

The clause provides legal protection in four very specific situations. A person cannot be retried after a previous acquittal for the same crime. A person cannot be retried after a conviction for the same crime. A person cannot be retried after certain types of mistrials, specifically during which a judge acted in bad faith — but this is more of a technical reason that Double Jeopardy might be implemented. Lastly, a person cannot be punished more than once for the same crime.

Theoretically, let’s say that you were framed for murder, just like what happened in the movie Double Jeopardy. You are tried and incarcerated for that murder. You are then released. You track down the very much alive person you supposedly murdered, and then actually murder the guy. Would you get away with it?  

Probably not. It’s a great story, but the legal reasoning behind it is unsound. Double Jeopardy protects an individual from being retried for the same crime. The problem is this: no matter how you slice it, a murder on one day is a different crime than a murder on another day — even if the victim of the crime is the same person. The protagonist in the movie would still be tried and convicted (again).

Latin Legal Terms No One Would Know: Part II

In part one of our series on latin legal terms no one would know, we mentioned phrases like bona fide, actus reus, alibi, and ab initio. You probably recognized bona fide and alibi — because they’re words we use all the time thanks to TV courtroom dramas — but you probably didn’t know their exact meaning in latin or why we use them in court. Here are a few more!

Corpus delicti means “body of the crime.” This is a phrase that might be used by an LA, NYC, or DC personal injury lawyer discussing why a particular criminal act resulted in a certain set of consequences (such as death or personal injury or even financial loss). The phrase is sometimes used to indicate a particular piece of evidence that relates to a specific crime.

De facto means “in reality.” It might be used to refer to a social code of conduct, for example, that was never actually written down or codified into law. Another example occurs when a country has no official language, but one in particular is spoken more than anything other. That spoken language is the de facto national language. 

De jure means “by right.” The Old English law “prima nocta” would fall under this category because it is a “right” by law. Prima nocta refers to the right for a king to have sexual intercourse with a subject on her wedding night (but there is little evidence to support this right ever really existed: sorry Braveheart fans). 

Ex parte means “on behalf of.” This phrase refers to either a legal strategy or a judge’s decision to hold court without the involvement of the other side. A divorce court proceeding in which one parent refuses to attend the court summons might result in an ex parte judgement on behalf of the remaining parents, for example, during a child custody hearing.

Ex post facto means “after the fact.” An ex post facto ruling is applied retroactively. Let’s say, for example, that prohibition-era laws are suddenly reinstated tomorrow. If the courts turned totalitarian and decided to start arresting people ex post facto for breaking the new law, it means they could be arrested for drinking alcohol a year ago. Thankfully, the United States Constitution doesn’t not allow ex post facto laws. If Congress decides something is against the law tomorrow, you cannot legally be arrested for breaking that law yesterday.

In camera can be confusing since it’s an English “false friend” or a latin word that looks like an English word. It means “in chambers.” A judge might order a trial in camera, which means that it might take place behind closed doors (and out of the public eye). These rulings usually occur during adoption or guardianship cases.

In limine means “on the threshold.” This is a phrase used when one side of the courtroom believes that the other side is using prejudicial evidence that should be excluded from the case. For example, a 1948 Supreme Court case resulted in a ruling that a prosecutor cannot use a defendant’s past crimes in order to prove the one for which he was being tried now because that would be in limine. 

Latin Legal Terms No One Would Know: Part I

Many of us forget that the United States was built to resemble the Ancient Roman Empire. We see it in our architecture, we see it in our government’s structure, and we even see it in our obscure legal terminology. Although latin legal terms are common throughout the legal lexicon, even lawyers sometimes forget what they mean — especially if they never took Latin. By the way, if you plan to become a lawyer…it might not hurt to learn some!

A subpoena duces tecum is a writ made out to a witness requiring the production of certain types of documents or pertinent evidence during a subsequent proceeding.

A priori means “from what comes before.” This type of argument is akin to starting a sentence with the words: “Needless to say…” It means the idea is obvious, given, or need not be elaborated upon.

Ab initio means “from the beginning.” If something is declared ab initio, it means that the point in fact was always fact, from when the case first kicked off until now. The phrase is used to contrast certain legal points made that are true only when they are first stated. Good, now you’re confused. But ab initio is most often used when the word “void” precedes it. In other words, when an agreement is voided “ab initio,” it legally never existed in the first place. 

Alibi literally means “in another place.”

Actus reus means “a guilty act.” Crimes committed in actus reus refer to those that are voluntary in nature or occur through deliberate intent. Self-defense does not fall into this category.

Bona fide means “in good faith.” A bona fide act is one made in good faith and without malicious intent. Even when something untoward occurs, so to speak, a company that caused the problem might have its actions described as bona fide.

What Is The Legal Definition Of “Debt Settlement?”

Debt settlement confuses some people because it goes by other synonyms like “debt reduction” or “debt negotiation” or even “debt resolution.” They all mean the same thing. There are a number of means through which the process of debt settlement occurs, but in general the legal definition of debt settlement revolves around the act of settling debts through negotiation with a creditor. 

Because creditors realize that sometimes people dig themselves a hole with no way out (financially speaking, of course), they agree to forgive a portion of the debt. This is done because the creditor isn’t going to be paid through other means, and the debtor cannot pay through other means. Often, the agreement involves a single payment. The agreement is always written and signed by both parties because it is a legally binding contract.

Creditors are accustomed to dealing with debtors who cannot pay the full amount. For them, there are two options: pay off a debtor’s debt to a third party or seek payment without a middleman. If they go through a third party, the third party will seek to have the debt paid through more aggressive means.

Most banks choose the third-party option but other banks — like Bank of America — will usually attempt to acquire payment through other legal means such as civil litigation.

Debt settlement is often an alternative to declaring bankruptcy, although each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. 

How does a debt settlement transpire? Generally, the debtor will make the choice to reach a debt settlement either with the help of an attorney or by oneself. Either the debtor or the debtor’s representative will do their best to provide an honest evaluation of the financial situation that led to this meeting.

The debt settlement agency would make a sneaky arrangement that usually works like this: First, the debtor would agree to pay the debt settlement agency instead of paying their bills. These payments would usually be less than the payments owed to the creditor — and they would instead be put into a savings account. Eventually, when there is enough in the savings account, the debt settlement agency would contact the creditor to make a deal to reduce or eliminate the debtor’s debt. 

One portion of the money in the account goes to paying the creditor, while a smaller portion goes to the debt settlement agency. 

Keep in mind that a debt settlement agency isn’t always a part of this process. Some debtors prefer to eliminate the need for a middleman just like creditors who do the same.

There are two key advantages to debt settlement: You avoid bankruptcy and you pay less of the overall debt. But there are potential disadvantages as well. First, the settlement agency might not be able to reach a deal with the creditor. Second, the creditor could litigate (like Bank of America often does). Third, a person’s credit score will plummet during this process. And last but not least: if the debt settlement process fails, then the interest on the original amount will result in an even larger amount than the debtor would have paid in the first place.

What Is The Legal Definition Of “Impeachment?”

Even though our country has now impeached three presidents four times, there is still a disconnect between the term “impeachment” and its actual definition. For whatever reason, most of us are still confused. For example, many people remember the impeachment proceedings for former President Bill Clinton, but they don’t actually realize he was impeached. That’s because they believe impeachment means removal, when in fact that’s not the case at all.

The legal definition of the word “impeachment” according to Cornell University is: “The process of charging a public official, such as a U.S. president or a federal judge, with a crime or misconduct, which results in a trial by the senate to determine whether the official should be removed from office.”

Basically, the choice to impeach a president simply means that the United States House of Representatives has decided to bring charges against a president (although other bodies reserve the right to impeach different types of public officials). Senators notably cannot be impeached — they must be removed by other members of Congress, which makes the likelihood of it ever happening very low. Historically, senators have only been removed during the Civil War.

That means former President Donald J. Trump has been impeached twice. He was not convicted of “high crimes and misdemeanors” (another oft-misunderstood phrase) — but the lack of a conviction doesn’t nullify the impeachment. He was and always will be impeached. Because conviction requires two-thirds of the Senate, it isn’t likely to happen this time around either, even though many Republican senators have voiced distaste or open blame for the former president’s conduct. 

Legally, Trump’s lawyers will likely argue that it is unconstitutional to try a president who has already left office. But Trump was still in office when he was impeached, and the Senate is legally required to hold a trial once articles of impeachment are transferred — and this is also not without precedent. The argument is therefore flawed.

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.