Archive for the ‘Legal Rights’ Category

Do any of the following people need to sign a power of attorney?

Mr. Jones lives alone, has no close family, and is scheduled for major surgery in a few weeks. Ms. Smith has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mr. And Mrs. Adams will be out of the country for the next 6 months but have a house they need to sell. Ms. Davis is single, runs a successful business, and has no medical or economic concerns.

The answer is yes. They all do. A power of attorney (POA) is a document that allows you to appoint a person or organization to manage your affairs if you become unable to do so. However, all POA are not created equal. Depending on the breadth of control you would like to hand over, a type of power of attorney will correspond:

General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney gives broad powers to a person or organization (known as an agent or attorney of fact) to act in your behalf. These powers include handling financial and business transactions, buying life insurance, settling claims, operating business interests, making gifts, and employing professional help. General power of attorney is an effective tool if you will be out of the country and need someone to handle certain matters, or when you are physically or mentally incapable of managing your affairs. A general power of attorney is often included in an estate plan to make sure someone can handle financial matters.

Special Power of Attorney

You can specify exactly what powers an agent may exercise by signing a special power of attorney. This is often used when one cannot handle certain affairs due to other commitments or health reasons. Selling property (personal and real), managing real estate, collecting debts, and handling business transactions are some of the common matters specified in a special power of attorney document.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney grants your agent authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unconscious, mentally incompetent, or otherwise unable to make decisions on your own. While not the same thing as a living will, many states allow you to include your preference about being kept on life support. Some states will allow you to combine parts of the health care POA and living will into an Advanced Health Care Directive.

Durable Power of Attorney

Suppose you become mentally incompetent due to illness or accident while you have a power of attorney in effect. Will the document remain valid? To safeguard against any problems, you can sign a durable power of attorney. This is simply a general, special, or health care POA that has a durability provision to keep the current power of attorney in effect.

You might also sign a durable power of attorney to prepare for the possibility that you may become mentally incompetent due to illness or injury. Specify in the power of attorney that it cannot go into effect until a doctor certifies you as mentally incompetent. You may name a specific doctor whom you wish to determine your competency, or require that two licensed physicians agree on your mental state.

Looking for Mr. Good Agent

Trust is a key factor when choosing an agent for your power of attorney. Whether the Agent selected is a friend, relative, business, or attorney, you need someone who will look out for your best interests, respect your wishes, and won’t abuse the powers granted to him or her.

It is important for an agent to keep accurate records of all transactions done on your behalf and to provide you with periodic updates to keep you informed. If you are unable to review updates yourself, direct your agent to give an account to a third party.

As for legal liability, an agent is held responsible only for intentional misconduct, not for unknowingly doing something wrong. This protection is included in power of attorney documents to encourage people and businesses to accept agent responsibilities. Agents are not customarily compensated; most do it for free.

Should you, a friend, or relative suspect wrongdoing on the part of your agent, report the suspected abuse of power of attorney to a law enforcement agency and consult a lawyer.

Can Too Many Agents Spoil the Broth?

While you can appoint multiple agents, decide whether these agents must act jointly or separately in making decisions. Multiple agents can ensure more sound decisions, acting as checks and balances against one another. The downside is that multiple agents can disagree and one person’s schedule can potentially delay important transactions or signings of legal documents.

If you appoint only one agent, have a backup. Agents can fall ill, be injured, or somehow be unable to serve when the time comes. A successor agent takes over power of attorney duties from the original agent, if needed.

Being of Sound Mind. . .

A power of attorney is valid only if you are mentally competent when you sign it and, in some cases, incompetent when it goes into effect. If you think your mental capability may be questioned, have a doctor verify it in writing. If your power of attorney doesn’t specify requirements for determining mental competency, your agent will still need a written doctor’s confirmation of your incompetence in order to do business on your behalf. A court may even be required to decide the competency issue in some circumstances.

Signing, Sealing, and Delivering a Power of Attorney

You must sign and notarize the original power of attorney document, and certify several copies. Banks and other businesses will not allow your agent to act on your behalf unless they receive a certified copy of the power of attorney.

Attorneys are unnecessary to execute a power of attorney. However, it may be wise to consult one to provide advice about the powers being granted, to provide counsel on your candidate agent, and to make sure your document meets all legal requirements.

Remember, you can revoke a power of attorney at any time. Simply notify your agent in writing and retreive all copies of your power of attorney. Notify any financial institutions and the County Clerk’s office, if applicable, that your agent’s power of attorney has been revoked.

Needing a power of attorney is almost as certain as death and taxes in everyone’s life. Illness, injury, old age, or daily life commitments happen to everyone. It is important to understand what a power of attorney is and how it can assist in taking care of business, even when you can’t.

Please consult your attorney before making this descission.

Bridges to Hope Foundation Blog



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You’ve finally found it – the apartment of your dreams. Maybe that means it comes with a parking space and laundry facilities. Or maybe your piece of paradise has hardwood floors and lots of light or maybe it’s ultra-modern. And the move-in costs don’t even require a bank loan.Naturally, you start wondering – is it too good to be true? Maybe the apartment was the scene of a violent crime or a death. Even worse, maybe the family above you is a troupe of tapdancers. Or that dog next door might start yowling and never stop after your move-in day. Does your potential landlord have to warn you of these property turn-offs before you sign the lease and move in? What are your rights?Renters’ Rights

Renter and landlord rights are generally covered by state and local statutes. In short, laws vary depending on where you live. Housing laws typically cover concerns about the physical property and the terms of the rental arrangement. Major areas spelled out by most states include the following:

  • The amount of rent you pay: Some areas are rent controlled. Rent control limits the amount of rent landlords can charge. In addition, security deposit limits are determined by law.
  • The condition of the rental property: Most laws require that rental property have certain standards for habitability. While this may seem subjective, habitability typically means a vermin-free apartment with functional plumbing, electricity and heat.
  • Access to the rental property: Both landlords and tenants have rights regarding property access. In most places, landlords have to notify a tenant in advance before they enter the property. There are obvious exceptions in emergency situations, like a flood caused by a water leak.
  • Eviction: In a perfect world, everyone would pay their rent on time and move out after giving proper notice. In the real world, renters sometimes abandon property and landlords need to evict. Laws protect the rights of those involved and may even anticipate unusual circumstances. For example, if someone in Iowa is evicted and leaves their personal property behind, the landlord has the right to pile the stuff on the curb. In other places, the landlord must store the property for a set length of time.
  • Liability: If there is an accident on the property, who is liable? What if the property’s condition leads to a health problem or is hazardous? Local laws also address these issues. Recent cases have involved the presence of lead paint and mold in older buildings.
  • Discrimination:Under federal law, housing discrimination is illegal. Rental discrimination is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. No one may be denied access to a personal property rental on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
  • Disclosure: So, what about that former axe-murderer tenant or the family of bagpipers in the building? Does your landlord have to disclose death, suicide or disease to you? Local codes dictate what landlords have to disclose. In some places, a landlord must disclose if a death occurred on the property; in other communities, only violent deaths must be disclosed. Often, there’s a statute of limitations on disclosing death. If you’re really wondering, consider meeting your new neighbors to ask questions and satisfy your curiosity.

How to find out about your housing rights

Whether you are a renter or a landlord, it pays to learn your rights. For more information about your local housing laws, see if your community has a Fair Housing Board. Such groups are usually non-profits or government organizations set up to help people understand their housing rights. You may also find city or state websites with information on rental legislation and answers to frequently asked questions. There’s no reason not to ask the questions that confirm the rental of your dreams won’t turn out to be a nightmare.

Bridges to Hope Foundation Blog


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When can the police search the trunk of a car?
You are driving home after a night out. The evening’s memories are quickly put to rest by the sight of flashing lights behind you. In a moment, you find yourself responding to the orders of a police officer. You show him your registration, allow him to glance around with his flashlight, even step out. Then he asks that you pop the trunk. You may be wondering if the police officer has the right to ask you to do this and whether you have the right to say no. Well, the answer is: it depends.
The Fourth Amendment Protects Us from Unreasonable Search & SeizureThe Fourth Amendment, as it is generally understood, protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. The Supreme Court has looked at a number of cases involving Fourth Amendment rights and warrantless searches. In most instances, the officer can conduct a search if they have probable cause to do so. This is essentially a hunch backed up by reasonable suspicion. There may be something in your behavior, your physical appearance, or the physical appearance of your vehicle that would prompt an officer to search.For example, you might have been pulled over because you were driving erratically. However, a smell coming from the car or signs of slowed reflexes on your part may have indicated you are using some type of drug or alcohol. If the officer decided to search your car from glove box to trunk based on the suspicion that you are using and possibly transporting an illegal substance, this would be probable cause.

Search & Seizure of Cars

Other cases involving the search of cars have involved the “plain view” standard and the right of police to search passengers’ belongings found in a car. In Chimel v. California, the court held that police may search the person and all areas under a person’s control or reach. Anything in “plain view” can be seized. This standard includes car searches. In Wyoming v. Houghton (1999), the court ruled that if the officer has probable cause to search the car, they can also inspect passengers’ belongings. The idea is that the item, a purse for example, might conceal the object of an officer’s search.

Search & Seizure of the Trunk of a Car

The same reasoning can be applied in the case of a trunk. It would be in control of the car’s driver, and barring some unusual circumstance, within his or her reach. A trunk generally conceals its contents. So, an officer may look there if there is a belief that what he is searching for might be in the trunk.

No Warrant is Required to Search a Car

Another point on law enforcement’s side is that cars are generally excepted from the advance warrant requirement because of their mobile nature. This gives them license to conduct warrantless searches of cars. An officer only has to meet the probable cause standard in most instances. This is relatively easy to do. Proving that an officer did not have probable cause is much more difficult and has only succeeded in a few cases. Most of those cases have involved racial profiling of some type, lack of consent, or a small exception in the public’s favor…traffic violations.

The Supreme Court ruled in Knowles v. Iowa that police cannot search a driver or passengers after ticketing them for routine traffic violations. In its decision, the Court said that a traffic violation is not an “arrest.” Police officers’ ability to conduct searches is limited so you would not be in their custody. The probable cause argument is also diluted in this case. Ticketing you for turning right at a red light does not give an officer probable cause to search you or your car. Traffic violations are not inherently connected to any other criminal activity. This voids a claim of “reasonable suspicion” on the officer’s part.

This was a small win on the part of individual rights. Interestingly, Fourth Amendment questions are frequently part of the court’s docket and more exceptions may be coming. In the mean time, it is probably best not to carry anything in your trunk you wouldn’t want a police officer to see.

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Can the Police Search Your House Without a Warrant?
Just from watching legal dramas on television, many people know that the police need a warrant to search your house. This is accurate, for the most part, as the Fourth Amendment protects private citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. But did you also know that under the exclusionary rule generally anything seized during an illegal search cannot be used as evidence in court?
As a result of the exclusionary rule, there are important exceptions to the warrant requirement that have developed under the law that everyone should know about.Let’s start with the basics first. What is a search warrant? If a judge is convinced that there is “probable cause” of either criminal activity or contraband at a place to be searched, he or she will issue and sign a search warrant—a court order that allows the police to search a specific location for specified objects at a specific time.That’s a lot of specifics, to be sure, but they are important legal distinctions. This wording means that if officers have a warrant to search your house, they don’t get automatic authority to also search your car parked outside on the curb; or, if the object specified is a stolen painting, they can’t rummage through your underwear drawer, unless, of course, the painting could fit into that space. Note that you may ask to read the search warrant or have the officer read it to you.

There are four main circumstances in which a warrant is not required for police to search your house:

(1)   Consent. If the person who is in control of the property consents to the search without being coerced or tricked into doing so, a search without a warrant is valid. Note that police do not have to tell you that you have the right to refuse a search, but you do. Also, note that if you have a roommate, he or she can consent to a search of the common areas of your dwelling (kitchen, living room), but not to your private areas (bedroom, for instance). On the other hand, the Supreme Court recently ruled that one spouse cannot consent to the search of a house on behalf of the other. (2)   Plain View. If a police officer already has the right to be on your property and sees contraband or evidence of a crime that is clearly visible, that object may be lawfully seized and used as evidence. For example, if the police are in your house on a domestic violence call and see marijuana plants on the windowsill, the plants can be seized as evidence.(3)   Search Incident to Arrest. If you are being arrested in your house, police officers may search for weapons or other accomplices to protect their safety (known as a “protective sweep”), or they may otherwise search to prevent the destruction of evidence. (4)   Exigent Circumstances. This exception refers to emergency situations where the process of getting a valid search warrant could compromise public safety or could lead to a loss of evidence. This encompasses instances of “hot pursuit” in which a suspect is about to escape. A recent California Supreme Court decision ruled that police may enter a DUI suspect’s home without a warrant on the basis of the theory that important evidence, namely the suspect’s blood alcohol level, may be lost otherwise.So what should you do if the police show up at your house “just wanting to look around?” It’s not in your best interest to deny them access because there may be extenuating circumstances that you don’t know about; you certainly don’t want to risk physical injury or being charged with interfering with a police investigation when you didn’t have anything to hide in the first place. However, do make it clear that you are not consenting to the search. Ask the officers for identification and an explanation as to why they are there and what they’re looking for. Also, write down details of the search as soon as possible, in case you need them later.

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Do Internet Filters Abridge Free Speech?
Since the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was implemented on July 1, 2004, schools and libraries that opt to accept federal funding for internet access have had to march to the tune of the United States government. CIPA requires as a condition of receiving such funding that schools and libraries install “internet filtering software.” These software programs, like Net Nanny, are designed to filter websites and to block content that is deemed obscene or harmful to children, such as child pornography or sexually explicit material.
articlesWriteProductBox(27); CIPA, signed into law in 2000, requires that schools “adopt a policy to monitor online activities of minors,” and that schools and libraries address issues including “access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet”and “restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.”

The problem with internet filtering systems is that they are not infallible. They operate by searching for particular words, phrases and criteria and blocking any website that meets their filtering criteria. Quite often, the filter blocks websites that are harmless or even educational. For example, there are a number of widely used internet filtering programs that routinely block human rights organizations’ sites, health information sites and even the official website of the classic rock band, The Rolling Stones.

Prior to the enactment of CIPA, a 1998 Consumer Reports magazine article on internet filtering software noted that, “filters block harmless sites merely because their software does not consider the context in which a word or phrase is used. Far more troubling is when a filter appears to block legitimate sites based on moral or political value judgments.”

In 2001, a number of organizations, among them the American Library Association (ALA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), filed a federal lawsuit challenging CIPA on numerous grounds, including charges that it requires libraries to violate the First Amendment Constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The First Amendment to the Constitution provides as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Groups like the ACLU, the EPIC and the ALA charge that the Children’s Internet Protection Act, regardless of its noble objectives, has the unwanted side effect of “abridging the freedom of speech” because it blocks websites that are not offensive or harmful to children and that are, in some cases, educational and informative.

Even the Congressional committee assigned to evaluate the proposed CIPA legislation before it was signed into law rejected it, citing the possibility that, “protected, harmless, or innocent speech would be accidentally or inappropriately blocked.” The EPIC has gone even further, questioning whether internet filtering software not only abridges freedom of speech, but facilitates government censorship.

In 2002, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that CIPA was unconstitutional and enjoined enforcement of the law, holding that: “[W]e are constrained to conclude that the library plaintiffs must prevail in their contention that CIPA requires them to violate the First Amendment rights of their patrons, and accordingly is facially invalid.”

The following year, however, in U.S. v. American Library Association, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling and upheld CIPA as constitutional. The Supreme Court based its ruling on the fact that internet filters can easily be turned on and off, and noted that adult library patrons should be allowed to ask the librarian to disable the filter, without giving any reason for the request.

The ALA has expressed disappointment with what they hold is a narrow decision in U.S. v. American Library Association. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, the ALA has urged individual libraries accepting federal funding under the constraints of CIPA to advise patrons of the option to disable the internet filters. The ALA and other organizations are also continuing efforts to require internet filtering software companies to disclose a list of blocked websites, as well as their filtering criteria. This effort continues in light of evidence that some companies are using their own subjective criteria, rather than using the legal definitions of terms such as “obscenity” and “harmful to minors.”

Another concern of the ALA is that filtering software may lull parents “into a false sense of security.” According to the ALA, parents should be aware that the filters not only routinely block harmless content, but may also allow illegal content to get through.

As more and more Americans in every single age group rely on the Internet for information and communication, rules which govern the Web become increasingly important and affect us in our daily lives. While the Supreme Court grapples to fit very old laws with very new technology, true exercise of the bill of rights again falls into the lap of the average American. Ask your librarian to turn off your computer’s filter and you’re turning on your government guaranteed rights to freedom of speech.

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Are Blogs Protected under the First Amendment?
With the emergence of the World Wide Web, global communication has accelerated on an unprecedented scale. It seems impossible to comprehend all that has occurred since 1989, when two inventions, the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and HyperText Markup Language (HTML) made the first web browser possible. To put the explosive growth of the Internet into perspective, Yahoo! announced in August, 2005 that its search engine index now encompasses over 20 billion Web documents and images.
Riding the wave of the new technology is “blogging.” For the first time, almost anyone can instantly publish and reach a global readership with minimal resources. It’s no longer necessary to publish paper-based media, or even manufacture discs, to reach a vast audience. Blogs, (short for “web logs) allow people to convey thoughts, opinions, histories, anecdotes, and political ideas to the world, unimpeded by time and distance.Any observer of the blogging practice might note that the Internet is being rapidly transformed into a virtual soapbox. With an instant, worldwide platform at our command, profound questions concerning social responsibility, potential malfeasance and the law are inescapable. Arguably, the quality of public discourse exhibited on the web is not keeping pace with technological change.

Based on our country’s speech-supportive social history, one would think “virtual soapbox” an apt characterization; Americans pride themselves on living in a country that boasts a free press and a right to criticize their government, both in speech and in writing. In a country where the First Amendment (freedom of speech) is so close to the heart of our democracy, one would suspect that blogs, seemingly a new form of journalistic expression, would be welcomed with open legislative arms.

However, recent events have indicated that those legislative arms may be wrapped more tightly than most Americans might have previously thought. Foremost among current concerns is the Federal Election Commission’s worry that blogs are being used for a variety of speech forms and so do not always reach a journalistic standard. In a recent California case one judge characterized blogs as failing to qualify as journalism.

Bradley Smith, Chairman of the FEC, has even suggested that the FEC take measures to regulate political speech in blogs—an extending a 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet. Smith has suggested that bloggers could soon invite federal punishment if they improperly link to a campaign’s web site.

To many, suggestions that the FEC could in any way regulate political speech seem preposterous. First Amendment doctrine routinely points to political speech and declares, “this is the sort of speech we must carefully protect!” Perhaps even more surprising, Congress has introduced the “Free Flow of Information Act,” which looks like it would limit protected categories almost exclusively to pre-internet media. With legislation, there is always room for interpretation and refinement, but at face value the Act appears at least somewhat problematic.

So why is Washington shying away from blogging in favor of more conventional channels of information? One reason is to try to protect sources from exposure. This concern seems increasingly relevant in light of the recent attacks on journalists. Yet, it would seem that the appropriate remedy would be to prevent those attacks by creating more severe penalties for the attackers, not to revamp the entire scheme of what is and is not granted journalistic weight.

Some experts speculate that these recent waves of change in America indicate a movement toward only allowing professional writers to communicate information. Such a change is dangerously speech suppressive because most professionals work for some entity and so are subject to losing their jobs, meaning that their work will be subject to the influence and so will be less objective than a private individual’s blog.

Yes, it appears there are subtle whisperings of Brave New World type regulation in the future of America’s media. While such whisperings may seem extreme, only time will tell whether or not they are unfounded. Today, it seems that bloggers will continue to post until Congress legislates otherwise. And if a day comes when Internet speech is indeed heavily regulated, how will these independent voices face a new world of heightened regulations? Why, bravely, of course.

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Understanding the 6th Amendment
The framers of the U.S. Constitution knew a thing or two about government abuse through the legal system. They wrote the Constitution with two aims: (1.) to make sure it established our system of government and (2.) to make sure each citizen was protected from that same government. These protections are guaranteed through the Bill of Rights. Protection from the legal system is granted through the 6th Amendment, which we know as the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury.
At the time of the Constitution, English courts were controlled by the king. That means when and how a person was tried was up to the king or someone loyal to the king. Juries were never impartial. Many times, peasant trials were presided over by lords and landowners. It was the equivalent of being tried by your accuser. If you were a peasant going to trial in the king’s court, you might as well pack your bags for jail. The framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure the abuses people suffered in the English courts never happened here.So exactly what are these unique 6th Amendment rights? The text of the Amendment states:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The first protection is the right to a speedy and public trial. While the definition of “speedy” depends on state statutes and court dockets, you will always be notified of a court date. The words “public trial” protect you from being tried in secret and mean the public has access to the proceedings. With very few exceptions, anyone can attend a trial. You also have the right to an “impartial jury,” meaning the jury will be composed of people with no knowledge of the case or favoritism towards either party.

Though the right to notification appears in the middle of the text, it is normally the first step in the judicial process. It means you have the right to be informed of the nature and cause of any accusation against you. If someone files suit, they must serve you with a complaint. If you are accused of a crime, you must be informed of both the charges and your rights when you are arrested or confronted by police.

The next parts of the Sixth Amendment deal with witnesses. First of all, defendants have the right to obtain subpoenas to call forth witnesses, documents and evidence that will help their case. The history of this part of the amendment is disputed; however, many believe it came from the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh. He was convicted based on the statement of an alleged co-conspirator who never appeared in court and is believed not to have existed. To put it simply, a subpoena is a protection against false accusations and a staged witness selection process.

Secondly, defendants have the right to be confronted by or to confront any witnesses. In court, this confrontation happens through cross-examination. Out of court, this happens through affidavits and depositions.

The Amendment’s final clause guarantees the accused person the right to assistance of counsel. Legal representation was once a privilege only available to the rich. The poor were often left to their own devices in English courts. While defendants in America can choose to represent themselves, the right to counsel gives you the right to free legal help. In criminal trials, indigent defendants are assigned legal counsel. Around the country, community legal services, legal aid societies and other groups help the poor deal with civil issues.

No matter how well our founding fathers’ executed on their plan, our judicial system is not perfect. We all know injustice and frustration are everyday legal occurrences. Even so, the framers made vast improvements for everyday citizens through the 6th Amendment to make sure American courts really are the people’s courts.

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