OWI’s and the Iowa Public Office

 

            On April 15, 2014 the Supreme Court of Iowa received a case regarding the eligibility of an affidavit filed by Anthony Bisignano for the candidacy for Iowa Senate in District 17 with the Iowa Sectary of State. On March 11, Ned Chiodo filed an objection to Bisignano’s affidavit claiming Bisignano was disqualified from holding public office because of an OWI second offense conviction from December of 2013. Choidos objection was denied in March of 2014, leading him to appeal the ruling which finally landed in the Supreme Court of Iowa.
            Chiodo felt her had two strong arguments on his behalf: 1) Attorney General Thomas Miller was required to recuse himself from considering the objection as a part of the three-person panel due to a conflict of interest, and 2) a criminal conviction for an aggravated misdemeanor constitutes an infamous crime, which disqualifies a person with such a conviction from holding office under article II, section 5 of the Iowa Constitution.

            In the motion filed to the Supreme Court of Iowa it states: “We decline to consider Chiodo’s challenge to the Attorney General’s participation on the Panel. In oral argument, Chiodo acknowledged he does not assert this claim to seek a remedy in this case. We thus proceed only to consider Chiodo’s main contention that the Panel’s ruling that OWI, second offense, was not an infamous crime was contrary to the Iowa Constitution.” In laymen’s terms the Supreme Court of Iowa will rule whether or not an OWI is considered an “infamous crime” which by law prohibits a person from being an “eligible elector.”

            By definition of law an “eligible elector” is a person who possesses the qualifications to be a registered voter, which in Iowa is considered a fundamental right because of its “irreducibly vital role in our system of government.” The law also states that while voting is a right, it is not absolute. Both the mentally incompetent and a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector, according to article II, section 5 of the Iowa Constitution. Unfortunately the founders of the Iowa constitution did not define the phrase “infamous crime” which is why this case has made its way as far as it has in the judicial system.

            The problem is the crime of OWI, second offense, has been classified by Iowa legislature as an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment. However the term “infamous crime” has arisen in several previous Iowa rulings, but holds vast implications and is not easy to articulate an indefinite definition for. The ruling of this case would undoubtedly impact thousands of Iowans right to vote. It is also state within the documentation “This context helps frame both the governmental interest at stake in protecting the integrity of the electoral process and the individual’s vital interest in participating meaningfully in their government.” Therefore not only would Bisignano be unable to run for public office, but Iowans convicted of OWI, second offense, would no longer hold the right to vote.

            It was also noted that some courts have defined “infamous crime” as “affront to democratic governance or the public administration of justice such that there is a reasonable probability that a person convicted of such a crime poses a threat to the integrity of elections,” which make the ruling all the more difficult.

            The Iowa Supreme Court decided that an “infamous crime” must be a crome that is “particularly serious.” It is pointed out that throughout history the courts have separated the seriousness of crimes by felony’s and misdemeanor’s, with felony’s being designated as the more serious of the two.

            It was ultimately ruled that “[an] infamous crime first must be a crime classified as a felony. As a misdemeanor crime, OWI, second offense, is not an “infamous crime” under article II, section 5.” OWI, second offense, in fact has never been considered an infamous crime by the Iowa Legislature. Only crimes deemed as a felony were intended to be considered an “infamous crime” by our founding fathers. All of Chiodo’s claims and arguments were rejected by the courts, which affirmed that Bisignano was is in fact eligible to run for public office.

Snyder V. Phelps Opinion Announcement

 

 

            Justice John G Roberts, Jr. opened the Snyder v. Phelps Opinion Announcement by reviewing the facts of the case. Justice Roberts Jr.  discussed how Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, which Phelps founded, felt that the United States was “over tolerant” of sin and that God killed soldiers as punishment.  And delved into the details surrounding the churches picketing of the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder.

            After Phelps became aware of Synder’s funeral, who died during combat in the Iraq War, the Phelps family decided to head to Maryland and protest down the road from the memorial service. The Westboro Church members followed suit behind their lead, and carried signs with statements like: “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “God Hates Fags,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.” The clan began their protest approximately 30 minutes before the funeral procession began, and none of the members entered the church property. No violence was reported although the church members did sing hyms and recite bible verses.

            Although the Phelps family informed Maryland authorities of their plans to picket the Snyder family still filed a suit against them claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and publicity given to private life. The intense circumstances caused the case to go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

            The Snyder family claimed in court they were unable to separate the thought of their dead son from the thoughts of the picketing which eventually caused the father of the deceased severe depression and lead to intensify pre-existing health conditions. Eventually the Snyder family was awarded a 2.1 million judgment, which the Westbrook Church later appealed. The church later claimed in the court of appeals that their “peaceful” protest was protected under the First Amendment. The court of appeals eventually agreed with the Westboro Church, leading the case to the Supreme Court.

            In the Opinion Announcement, Justice Roberts Jr. quoted a ruling from an earlier case involving the First Amendment.

            “There is no threat to the free and robust debate of political issues and there is no potential interference with the meaningful dialogue of these ideas.”

            The Supreme Justices had to decide whether in fact Snyder’s funeral was a private or public concern, which they inevitably decided was public.

            “Well the church’s messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary the issues they highlight, the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens,  the faith of our nation, homosexuality in the military and scandals involving the catholic clergy are matters of import. Even if a few of Westboros signs were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyder’s specifically, that wouldn’t not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of the church’s demonstration spoke to broader public issue,” Justice Robert Jr. ruled.

            The context of the Westboro picketing could not be directly linked to Matthew Snyder, but rather the larger political themes that could be associated with his public standing. The picketers displayed their signs on public land, next to a public street. Mr. Snyder contested that the First Amendment rights of the church should not stand in this case “not only because of the words” but additionally because of their intent to exploit a soldiers funereal and use it as a “platform to bring their message to a broader audience.”

            However the courts had previously concurred in the case of Frisby v. Schultz “we have repeatedly referred to public streets as the archetype of a traditional public forum.” Additionally the courts noted that Mr. Snyder’s emotional distress caused by the picketing could not be totally separated from the sorrow he had already felt in conjunction with the death of his son.

            Even though many found the picketing to be distasteful and claimed it disturbed the peace the courts could not rule in favor of the Snyder family.

            “[But] that does not change the fact that the church was engaged in peaceful picketing addressing matters of public concern on a public street,” Justice Roberts Jr. said in reference to the social disturbance caused by the picketing.

            The case of Snyder v. Phelps demonstrates the power held in the First Amendment. Although the majority of Americans would likely find the views spewed by the Wesboro Baptist Church appalling, and their decision to protest at a fallen soldier’s funeral even more disturbing, the circumstances clearly show that the church had operated well within their First Amendment rights. The ruling can be viewed a loss for those who live by a “politically correct” way of thinking and a win for those who like to push the envelope when it comes to First Amendment rights. Either way the case perfectly represents the thin line between highs and lows associated with the United States justice system. 

Police Ride Along

 

 

                During my ride along with a Cedar Rapids Police Department officer named Ashley on a sunny Thursday afternoon not much occurred. This came as a surprise to me. Seeing as I was born and raised in this city I’ve seen it turn from a family friendly retirement community to a somewhat unsafe place plagued by street violence. However for this one peaceful afternoon, it seemed as if my city once again felt like home for me.
                After sitting in the Cedar Rapids Police Department Police Station for approximately twenty-five minutes waiting to be introduced to the officer I’d be accompanying I began to become impatient. Over the years I’ve grown a distaste for the CRPD as I’ve watched them lock away good people for menial things such as marijuana possession and driving while barred, yet they never seem to solve murders, capture drug kingpins, or stop unfortunate situations involving women and children.
                Finally after waiting sometime I was introduced to Officer Ashley. To my surprise and pleasure this was not our first meeting. I’d come in contact with her several times over the years as she use to “bust” parties I would frequently attend during my high school years.
                We said our hellos, and she gave me some instructions on what would happen in the event a major event went down. We then exited the building and headed toward her police cruiser. It was strange to be in the front seat of a police vehicle. I found the computer, radio, and dozens of little nobs fascinating and immediately asked her what each one was.
                “As long as you know how to search a person on the computer, and work the radio to call back-up you will be fine,” she told me.
                Initially I had been worried about doing the police ride along in my hometown out of fear that my peers would see me and draw incorrect conclusions as to why I was riding in the front seat. Thankfully however she was scheduled to patrol the northwest side of town which has practically been abandoned since the flood of 2008.
                We discussed our past history, and laughed about the troubles high school kids would get into. She told me that we were actually a highlight of her early days on the police force because although we were disobeying the law by drinking underage she knew we were good kids, just letting loose like so many our age do.
                We drove up and down the streets of the NW side until about 30 minutes in she received a radio message informing her of a collision on Ellis Boulevard. She turned on the police lights, but left the sirens off.
                “We use the sirens for more serious situations, since this is a minor traffic accident there is no need for us to slow down traffic by turning on the sirens,” Ashley informed me.
                When we arrived at the scene we found a 17 year old girl had crashed her 2001 Cavalier into the back of a mid-40’s man’s 2011 Chevy Impala. The girl was in tears, and profusely apologizing to both Ashley and the man whose car she had rear-ended. Ashley was comforting to her and told her that this was a common occurrence among young drivers. The man seemed irritated that his car had been damaged (his back bumper had been hanging and one of his tail lights had been busted,) but he too was consoling to the girl.
                “It’s not a big deal. The insurance will pay for it and everything will be fine,” he told the teenager in an effort to calm her down.
                Finally after about 10 minutes the young girl’s father had arrived on the scene. He was initially furious upon exiting his own vehicle but after assessing the damage calmed down. I over heaerd him somewhat chastising his daughter saying things like “you’re really going to have to get a job now,” and “you’re lucky his (the man who had been rear-ended) car isn’t as bad as I thought or I really would have been pissed.”
                Eventually a tow truck came to take the Cavalier away. The man in the Impala removed his bumper and went one his way after insurance information had been exchanged and all was made right.
                Ashley and I went back to the car, where we both felt sorry for the girl. We took turns discussing our early driving years and the mistakes and minor accidents we ourselves had gotten into, which we shared a laugh over.
                “Kids don’t pay as much attention to the road as they should. Their always texting, changing the music, or doing god knows what else and don’t realize how important it is to fully concentrate on the road until it’s too late,” the officer said.
                We rode around for about another 20 minutes when Ashley was instructed by the radio that there was some suspicious activity reported at an abandoned house not too far away. She turned on the police lights and sirens this time and we arrived at the residence approximately 6 minutes later.
                Ashley instructed me to stay in the vehicle as the unknown circumstances could be something dangerous. She met with two other officers from another vehicle and they approached the house. Eventually it was determined that some teens had been spray painting the inside of the home, but they were nowhere to be found. Ashley came back to the car and informed me of what they thought had happened. I was somewhat let down as my racing mind had lead me to think a possible  meth bust was going to happen as this area was notorious for drug activity.
                I rode with the female officer for another 20 minutes and discussed how the city of Cedar Rapids was quickly becoming a second Chicago, fueled by guns, murder, and drugs. I pressed her for information regarding a close friend of mine who was murdered in March but received no information about the “on-going” investigation.
 She then drove me back to the police station as I had family obligations to take care of.
                All in all I found the experience eye opening. The CRPD work each day to keep the streets as safe as they can, however their efforts fall short. Although Ashley in particular is one of the, in my opinion, few friendly officers on the squad, none of them as far as I am aware have the experience to deal with a city deteriorating as fast as Cedar Rapids. I believe that the city needs to recruit veterans from larger, more established squads from around the United States to really make a dent in the rising crime rates of my hometown. I do however sympathize with the squad because they are trying their best, however sometimes giving your best isn’t always good enough. 

Court Room Visit

 

 

            Sitting in the back row at the Linn County Courthouse is bittersweet. As a teen I saw the inside of this building often, and had many rulings that affected the course of my life. Flash-forward and I’m here as a spectator, observing individuals in positions similar to where I have been before.
            When I first walked into the building the usual occurrences had taken place.

            “Remove your belt, and place all items in your pockets in this bucket here,” the older police officer said.

            Entering the Linn County Courthouse has been a routine deal in my life. I removed my belt and placed my items into the bucket to be scanned for any illegal weapons. I then took a step through the metal detector and collected my things.

            My previous experience in the building gave me the knowledge to know exactly where to go to hear the “interesting” cases. I made my way up the large stone stairs, turned to the left, and took a seat, waiting for the secretary to point me in the right direction.

            As I sat there among the defendants, waiting to take their turn before the judge, I wondered what each person had been charged with. Most of the people present seemed to look under the age of 35 and all had a look of discomfort upon their face. One man, who had obviously been to the court house before, was conversing with a female companion.

            “Fuck this courthouse man, Cedar Rapids is always trying to hold somebody down. The system is fucked up.” He said, with tattoos covering his body all the way up to his neck.

            It was then a list of about twelve defendants were called into the court room. Most were just there for initial appearances, or to plead guilty or not to the counts they had been charged with.

            The first name called by Judge Mark Bennett was a familiar one to me. It was my cousin’s baby’s father. The two have had a tumultuous relationship the past four years, and he was being charged with domestic abuse. The judge then called my cousins name, who was nowhere to be found. Eventually the judge dropped the charges as that is the norm in domestic cases when the one who files the suit does not show up to the court date. My cousin’s baby father left the court room, looking neither happy nor mad, and the next person was called.

            The tattooed black man from the lobby walked up to the table next to his attorney. The judge listed his charges, simple misdemeanors, and asked how the defendant wanted to plea to the charges of possession of a controlled substances and interference with official acts. The man wearily looked at his attorney, looked back at the judge, shaking his head no and stood by while his attorney answered on his behalf.

            “My client would like to plead guilty your honor,” the attorney said.

            The judge looked over some paperwork, and ended up giving the man a hefty fine. The man looked pleased upon hearing that all he was receiving was a fine. He then walked over to his female friend and the two exited the room.

            The vast majority of the cases brought up that day were misdemeanors. OWI’s, possession cases, thefts, assaults, domestic assaults, and disorderly conducts were among the charges discussed in the room that day. Although I didn’t witness anyone go to jail I had sympathy for some of the defendants. Some received days in jail, some received fines, and one was determined to go to trial.

            A young girl, who could be no more than 18, was charged with fifth degree theft. Although this charge usually just carry’s a fine and or a class, the girl was sobbing with her mother standing behind her as she walked up to be charged. The girl ended up receiving a fine of a couple of hundred dollars, but seemed to be devastated none the less. I was sad for her, yet embarrassed for her at the same time as her charge was not that serious.

            I ended up leaving the court house an hour later feeling satisfied, because for once I was there as a spectator and not a defendant myself. It was nice walking down the courthouse steps knowing I am a success story, one of the young people that actually turned themselves around. This assignment was eye opening for me, although I do not want to have to step into another court room under any circumstances again.

The Insider

 

 

            The movie The Insider details the true story of Jeffery Wigand, played by Russell Crowe, a former corporate vice-president in the research and development sector at a major tobacco company who had been recently fired. Lowell Bergman, played by Al Pacino, plays the executive producer at CBS’s 60 Minutes. Bergman is working on a piece highlighting the addictive and detrimental effects caused by cigarettes.

    Bergman seeks out Wigand in an effort to have him assist deciphering complex documents produced by the tobacco company into layman’s terms as part of the expose. Wigand is hesitant due to the confidentiality agreement he signed upon his release from the company.  

            “When I talk to someone in confidence, it stays that way,” Bergman reassures Wigand during their initial meeting.

            “This issue is a drop in the bucket, I can talk to you about this but I cannot talk to you about anything else,” Wigand responses after seeing the documents for the first time.

            After the tobacco execs catch wind of Wigand’s association with Bergman they pressure Wigand to sign a stricter confidentiality agreement, using his health benefits as blackmail. Wigand becomes distraught because he has an ill daughter at home who relies on the medical benefits to sustain her health.  

            “We’ve drafted a supplement to your agreement that expands and defines what is confidential. We are very serious about protecting our interest, and we want you to sign it,” the tobacco CEO tells Wigand after finding out about his meeting with Bergan.

            The CEO and his assistant go on to list a myriad of repercussions they have in place if Wigand decided to tell his story. The elimination of his severance package, health care, and the threat of litigation were among the unconventional consequences the new confidentially agreement listed as a result if Wigand revealed insider information.

            After being followed by goons hired by the tobacco company, Wigand eventually decides to not only assist in interpreting the documents, but also to expose the tobacco industry entirely in an on-air interview with 60 Minutes. He reveals to Bergman the details of how the big seven tobacco CEOs knowingly went in front of congress exclaiming they did cigarettes were either addictive nor caused health issues, although they were well aware of the harm cigarettes cause.

            Although Wigand ends up making testifying in Mississippi court on behalf of Medicaid and even gives 60 minutes an interview, inevitably the entire piece is canned due to legal pressures applied by both the Tobacco Company and CBS, who would lose out on a lucrative deal stricken with the tobacco company to keep the interview quiet. The tobacco company even went as far as to serving Wigand with a gag order to prevent from speaking on the issue at hand to both the media and the court.

            When asked by Bergman if he would still like to tell his story in a Mississippi courtroom, even though it would result in him going to jail Wigand responds:

            “fuck it.”

            Not only did Wigand discover the drawbacks of being an honest American, but Mr, Bergman did also. The entire situation lead the tobacco company to pay CBS Corporation to keep the story quiet, or suffer the legal consequences. The more truth that Wigand tells in his interview, the more libel CBS could be found in litigation. The show was not aired, and Bergman found that he wasted his time. He then distributes the information to another news media outlet in an effort to finally get the information they had been fighting to make public brought to light.

            Wigand ended up losing his job, did a short stint in jail, and getting divorced from his wife. The tobacco company paid investigators to investigate his life in an effort to discredit Wigand’s story, in case perhaps he did release it. However Bergman provided journalist at the Wall Street Journal with the correct information. The Wall Street Journal then ran a front page story chastising the tobacco companies and news media outlets that planned on creating a smear campaign against Wigand. Eventually the truth came to light and CBS realized that airing the interview was the right thing to do.

            I found the film extremely interesting seeing as a communications major you are so avidly taught the values of maintaining honorable ethics in the field. It seemed to me that the execs at CBS set their ethics and loyalty to the public aside for a financial gain, instead of informing people internationally of the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes.  It seems unfortunate to me that an influential multi-billion dollar company would set such a bad example for future employees of the communications industry. They inadvertently sent a message that money is more important than honoring noble honesty expectations viewers hold to such an influential company as CBS.

ALICE Training

          On April 1st, 2014 my Mass Communications Laws & Ethics class found ourselves in the upstairs classroom in the Union on the University of Northern Iowa’s campus. The reason our meeting in this unusual location? Training on what to do in the event a school shooting occurs.
            After attending my weekly Campus Activities Board meetings, I swiftly headed to class, approximately 45 minutes late. When I opened the door at the back of the class, immediately all 40+ of the rooms occupants turned around and starred. Normally I’d be used to this as, I’m quite a looker. However because every eye in the room was laying upon me at that moment, I realized something was going on.
            Little had I known the class was in the early stages of the ALICE technique. ALICE stands for: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It was obvious that everyone was highly alert that day from the looks I was shot upon entering the room. ALICE was designed to increase student and faculty survival, decision making, and aftermath schools when school shootings occur.
            After watching a series of clips detailing a number of school and public shootings around the world, the University of Northern Iowa Campus Police went into detail about what should occur if an unfortunate incident like the ones in the clips were to take place here at UNI.
            First off students need to be alert at all time. Being aware of your surroundings; what room you’re in, exit points, and safety cards are key. Knowing your surroundings are key to initial escape, when possible. Another important aspect of being alert is knowing what’s going on around you. What are you seeing and hearing? Taking notice of these things are often times the key to identifying the assailant, which can help the authorities lead to a quicker arrest.
            The next step is Lockdown. When individuals are unable to safely exit the building mandatory lockdown must occur. Closing the blinds, locking the windows, silencing all cellular devices, placing signs in windows, quieting all occupants of the room, and securing the room through whatever means necessary are essential in the event a lockdown situation occurs. By securing the room, and placing the necessary cards in the windows, authorities can be alerted that people are still inside waiting to be rescued. The lockdown will also help slow the gun man’s access to students as he struggles to enter secured classrooms and offices.
            The I in ALICE stands for inform. As soon as the room is secured a designated person should contact the authorities, notifying them of the building name and room number the occupants are held in during the lockdown. It is essential that one notifies the authorities of the number of people in the room as well as of any injuries sustained, if any at all. Providing real time information can also be the key to capturing the assailant. This is why staying alert is important, because if you have any information that can help the police identify the gun man, you can relay that information to them in a timely manner.
            Counter, otherwise known as the ‘C’ in ALICE is one of the most important letters in the abbreviation. If the gun man tries to access the room this is what ALICE instructs students to do:

  1. Throw any and all items available to you at the assailant when he/she attempts to enter the room
  2. Once the assailant is down, one individual must take the lead along with at least three others to swarm the assailant. The team lead should grab the gun in a secure position, then the team of four should each grab a limb, arms and legs, and hold the assailant on the ground.
  3. Once the assailant is secured by the team of four, the gun needs to be secured.

Once the gunman and his weapon are both secured, students should begin to aid the injured.
            The final step in ALICE is ‘E,’ which stands for Evacuate. It was stated in our presentation that “shooting is a skill,” meaning if you are able to exit the building, do not run in a straight line. Assailants armed and trained to use riffles can hit targets straight on from nearly a mile away. Also by becoming aware of your surroundings you can choose the best evacuation method for you. Is it better for you to cover yourself and run or conceal yourself in bushes? You must decide. It is also imperative that if, when evacuating the building, you see police you head toward them.
            The importance of knowing what to do if a school or public shooting occur is imperative to your survival. Before walking into that classroom I had always envisioned myself in a superhero-esque mode if a shooting were to break out. I envisioned myself fighting off the attacker, securing the gun, and saving the day all by myself. Now I realize how unrealistic that scenario actually is. The ALICE training technique is a smart move on the all campus who make it mandatory. I believe that if every school in America teaches these tactics far less fatalities will occur during the next school shooting.
             

Chapter 6, Privacy

Memo

 

To: Communications Laws & Ethics Students
From: Isaiah Bradford
Subject: Chapter 6, Privacy

Since the inception of the United States in the mid 1700’s American have had concerns with privacy. Because of this this US government enacted the Fourth Amendment, which protects “the right to people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

A major component to privacy in various states includes false light, a privacy tort that involves making a person seem in the public eye to be someone he or she is not. When a plaintiff files a violation of privacy suit many factors must be considered including publication, identification, falsity, highly offensive, and fault.

Defenses against a plaintiff’s case include appropriation, or using a person’s name, picture, likeness, voice, or identity for commercial or trade purposes without permission. Other defenses include commercialization and right of publicity.

Famous cases involving privacy include Kareem Abdul-Jabar v. Oldsmobile, Rosa Parks v. Outkast, Rick Rush v. Tiger Woods, and Cox Broadcasting Corp v. Cohn.

Another major factor in privacy laws is intrusion, which is defined as physically or technologically disturbing another’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Often times we will hear this term in suits filed by celebrities against the paparazzi.

The relation between the Fourth Amendment which fights for privacy and the First Amendment is difficult aspect for the courts to navigate in these cases. Especially in cases involving public figures it is hard to decide what is considered “private” matters and which are free game for the press to report on. One star who is struggling with this issue is reality tv icon Kim Kardashian, who last year gave birth to a daughter with Kanye West. The couple has been fighting to create laws protecting celebrity children from the dangers that come along with the paparazzi.