Wednesday, March 31, 2010

$5,000 Tax Credit for Businesses for Each Net Job Created?

Since it's truly that time of year now, let's not forget some positive news regarding taxes.  During President Obama's State of the Union address 2 months ago, he stated that each new job created - on a net basis - will result in a $5,000 tax credit for the hiring company (up to $500,000 per company). The full tax credit is intended for existing companies; start-up companies would qualify for half of the tax credit.

The "net basis" part means that a company which has 10 employees, fires 2 and hires 1, would not qualify. Also, a company could not become eligible for the credit by replacing 1 higher paid employee with 2 less paid employees.

The White House's position is that more than 1 million small businesses could use this tax credit, at a cost of $33 billion.  This proposal needs to be approved by Congress, which did not approve a similar - but lesser - proposal in 2009. The tax credit dollars would be taken from the money left over in the "Troubled Relief Asset Program" enacted in 2008 to bail out banks and other financial institutions.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Raleigh, North Carolina: Convicted Murderer Declared Innocent and Released After 17 Years

In April, 1993, Gregory Taylor was convicted of murdering Jacquetta Thomas near Raleigh, NC and was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment. Upon appeal, Mr. Taylor's conviction was upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court and he remained in prison.

In July, 2007, the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence referred Mr. Taylor's case to the relatively new North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. A few months later, the Commission agreed to accept Mr. Taylor's case for formal review in order to determine whether Mr. Taylor could prove - by clear and convincing evidence - that he was in fact innocent of the murder.

In February, 2010, a three judge panel reviewed the evidence presented at Mr. Taylor's 1993 Wake County trial. The judges also listened to arguments made by Mr. Taylor's attorney, as well as by the attorney representing the State of North Carolina. Mr. Taylor could only be declared innocent and set free if all three judges, independently, ruled that he and his attorney had proved his innocence by clear and convincing evidence. It should be noted that proving one's innocence is quite different - and more difficult - than the challenge Mr. Taylor's lawyers faced at his original trial.

On February 17, 2010, all three judges declared that Mr. Taylor had proved his innocence. He was thus freed after 6,149 days of imprisonment.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission was brought into existence by a 2006 North Carolina law which is perhaps unique in all the United States. According to the Commission's website, less than 2% of all claims referred to it are accepted for formal review. The "clear and convincing" standard requires more certainty of proof than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard (which is typically the lowest standard of proof in the American system of justice) but much less than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof (the highest standard of proof in the American system of justice, and typically only used in deciding whether to convict a defendant of a crime).

In this stunning development, it appears that Mr. Taylor became the first man formally declared "innocent" by a judicial body in modern-day America.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New N.C. Law Bans Tobacco - Including Cigarettes - in State Prisons

As of March 1, 2010 the possession or use of tobacco - including cigarettes - was almost completely banned on the property of North Carolina state correctional facilities. The bad news is that there are some really, really cranky prisoners right now; on the flip side, if you're an inmate, at least the murderer who lives next door to you no longer smells like smoke.

The only exceptions are for the use of tobacco products during religious ceremonies and for employees or visitors while still inside their cars in the parking lot. No word yet on how many new 'religions' worshipping tobacco have been founded this year in tobacco's home state.

Previously, inmates were allowed to smoke “in the yard" and in some other, outside areas on state prison property. The stated goals of the ban are to protect the health, welfare, and comfort of the inmates, as well as to reduce the long-term costs of inmate healthcare.  Violators of this new law will be guilty of a misdemeanor. The banning of tobacco use in state prisons is an ongoing trend in the United States.

As for the conjugal visitors . . . well, I guess they’ll just have to wait until they get back inside their cars to light up that "after" cigarette.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chief Justices Encourage Use of Unbundled Legal Services (The Civil Lawyer Online offers these services)

In an article published January 1, 2010, the Chief Justice of California and the Chief Justice of New Hampshire made strong statements in support of lawyers providing 'unbundled' legal services.  The Chief Justices explained that unbundled legal services are when "people or businesses can hire a lawyer on a limited basis to help them fill out forms, to prepare documents, to coach them on how to present in court or to appear in court for one or two hearings."  Both Florida and North Carolina allow these types of unbundled legal services.

These two Chief Justices emphasized the importance of closing the "justice gap" (between those who can afford justice and those who can't), including the use of unbundled legal services.