Do “Frequent Filers” Abuse the Court System?

A recent article in the Indianapolis Star detailed the growing trend of pro se litigants in Indiana including Gersh Zavodnik, a 51 year old Russian immigrant. According to the article, Zavodnik is known among Marion County judges as a “frequent filer,” for he has filed over 100 lawsuits in the County since 2008 with a reported 100 more on the way. Zavodnik justifies the lawsuits by stating that he files suits seeking justice. The large number of lawsuits he has filed raises the question of whether he is abusing the court system.

Many in the legal community, including Marion County judges, feel that Zavodnik is flooding the court system with frivolous lawsuits. Judges are growing increasingly frustrated with his efforts which they view as only adding to their overloaded docket. Although the judges have a valid point, Zavodnik, along with all American citizens, have a right to seek justice in the court system. Zavodnik may seem like a detriment to the Marion County judges, but he has a right to be there as long as he continues to bring suits with merit. In Zavodnik’s case, several of his suits have been dismissed, but he has brought several cases with merit in his pursuit for justice. Given these valid lawsuits, judges will have to continue to deal with Zavodnik in his longstanding quest for justice in the American court system.

Food Stamps & Violent Offenders

A recent Senate bill has made convicted offenders of certain violent crimes ineligible for food stamps. The bill extended the current law preventing convicted drug felons to now include “dangerous sex offenders and murderers.” This recent legislation raises several questions. First, is the punishment excessive? Second, will prohibiting violent offenders lead to recidivism? A close analysis of these questions indicates that the bill will likely prove more detrimental than beneficial.

Prohibiting violent offenders from receiving food stamps raises the question of excessive punishment. Given that most violent offenders serve long prison terms in retribution for their committed crimes, any additional punishment is excessive. Although the argument is valid, the more compelling argument involves the increased likelihood of recidivism. Without the ability to meet their basic needs, violent offenders are more likely to reengage in crime. Further, dependent children and other family members in need are going to be left hungry and may be forced to turn to crime. Since the likelihood of recidivism outweighs the punitive aspect of restricting food stamps to violent offenders, the bill will likely do more harm than good.

Forfeiture Abuse in Indiana

Indiana Constitution Article 8 Section 2 states “The Common School fund shall consist of the Congressional Township fund, and the lands belonging thereto from all forfeitures which may accrue.” Under this provision, schools are entitled to receive any of the assets that are seized through criminal forfeiture proceedings by police. Despite this constitutional provision, Indiana police are failing to relinquish assets to schools and are using proceeds for their own benefit. Through this abuse, Indiana police are violating the Indiana Constitution with a high cost to the school system.

An investigation by the Indianapolis Star in 2010 reported that 87 of the 92 counties in Indiana, including Marion County, are failing to comply with the constitutional provision. According to the investigation, the practice results largely from an unclear definition of what constitutes law enforcement expenses during police seizures. Given this gray area, judges tend to go along with the prosecutor’s calculation of expenses without argument. As a result, the money ends up in the hands of the police and the schools are shortchanged.

Reform is needed to rightfully give to schools their constitutionally mandated forfeiture funds. Accountability is the key to effectuating change. It is important to require police to detail their seizure expenses. It is also essential for judges to inquire into these expenses before approving them. If these changes are made, schools will finally receive the money that they are entitled to under the Indiana Constitution.

Stop and Frisk in NYC: Public Safety Interests v. Fourth Amendment Rights

The Supreme Court’s decision in Terry allows a police officer to stop and frisk an individual if he has a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is either armed or that criminal activity is afoot. Such a procedure, more commonly known as a “Terry” stop, provides for officer safety and the prevention of crime.

A recent article on NPR’s website brought to my attention a challenge to the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy. The complaint alleges that the NYPD sets quotas and overwhelmingly targets Hispanics and African Americans. In response, law enforcement officials have cited a declining crime rate as evidence of the policy’s effectiveness. Given this fact, further inquiry is needed to balance the city’s interest in public safety and an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

New York City, as the largest city in the United States, undoubtedly has a high interest in public safety. Additional safeguards are essential for the city to provide adequate protection for its citizens. Despite this fact, the current stop and frisk policy raises some serious Fourth Amendment concerns. Accepting the complainants’ allegations as true, a quota system appears to contradict the very essence of the Terry decision. If NYPD officers stop and frisk without “reasonable suspicion” and solely to fulfill quotas, they violate the Fourth Amendment rights of the individuals who are stopped.

With the decision due out in a few months, it will be interesting to see how the court weighs these interests in reaching its conclusion.

Police Brutality cannot be tolerated

Brandon Johnson was beaten three years ago while he intervened to challenge his brother’s arrest by the IMPD. Johnson’s mother recently settled a lawsuit against the city of Indianapolis for $150,000. Cases like this demonstrate the importance of holding police officers fully accountable for their actions. Without such punitive measures in place, police would be given virtually unbridled discretion to carry out their duties. The bottom line is that there is simply no excuse for police brutality in our society and it cannot be tolerated to any extent.

Time for a Change: The High Cost of the Death Penalty in Indiana

The economic recession in the United States has adversely affected the criminal justice system in Indiana. The high cost of the death penalty has only added additional strain to a system with limited resources. Although the cost argument is relatively new, it has gained considerable traction in recent years due to the dismal economy. The cost of the death penalty increased significantly in the years following the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions in Furman and Gregg. Today, the state of Indiana faces the difficulty of combating the cost. Given the death penalty’s costly expense and a limited budget, the state is better off allocating its resources in other useful ways. Although the death penalty was once a viable form of punishment, economic exigencies demand that Indiana abandon the punishment in order to alleviate the burden on its criminal justice system and to better promote the administration of justice throughout the state.

The High Cost

In 2010, a fiscal impact report prepared for the Indiana General Assembly “found that the average cost of a death penalty trial and direct appeal was more than $450,000, compared to $42,658 for a life without parole case.” In addition, the report concluded that “the cost of a death penalty case pursued through execution was found to be five times the cost of a life without parole case and lifetime incarceration.” Given these statistics and the challenges in the current economy, the time has come for Indiana to repeal the death penalty like many other states have done in recent years.

Viable Alternatives

Abandoning the death penalty in Indiana would help to free up scarce resources and to better control crime. In 2008, a poll was conducted surveying 500 police chiefs throughout the United States. The poll results ranked the death penalty as a highly inefficient way to reduce crime and the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money. Police chiefs cited adding police, increasing training, and reducing drug abuse as a better use of their resources. Resources may also be more properly utilized to “provide services to victims’ families, like grief counseling, scholarships for orphaned children, and other financial support.” After Illinois repealed its death penalty statute, it diverted its funds to increased law enforcement training and services for victims’ families. By following Illinois’ lead, Indiana would greatly help to improve its criminal justice system.

Defamation 101

A defamatory statement falls under the category of either “defamatory per se” or “defamatory per quod.” “A communication is defamatory “per se” if it imputes: (1) criminal conduct; (2) a loathsome disease; (3) misconduct in a person’s trade, profession, office, or occupation; or (4) sexual misconduct. All other defamatory communications are defamatory per quod.” (Kelley v. Tanoos, 865 N.E.2d 593, 596 (Ind.2007)).

To suceed in action for defamation “per se” or “per quod,” a plaintiff must show:
1. a communication with defamatory imputation
2. malice
3. publication; and
4. damages
(Kelley v. Tanoos, 865 N.E.2d 593, 596 (Ind.2007)).

1. A statement is defamatory if it tends “to harm a person’s reputation by lowering the person in the community’s estimation or deterring third persons from dealing or associating with the person.” (Kelley v. Tanoos, 865 N.E.2d 593, 596 (Ind.2007)). “[A]ny statement actionable for defamation must not only be defamatory in nature, but [also] false.” Trail v. Boys & Girls Clubs of Nw. Ind., 845 N.E.2d 130, 136 (Ind.2006). Therefore, a plaintiff cannot prevail on a defamation claim if a statement is true.

2. Indiana law requires that a plaintiff prove actual malice. (Journal-Gazette Co., Inc. v. Bandido’s, Inc., 712 N.E.2d 446 (Ind. 1999)). In other words, a plaintiff must show that the person making the defamatory statement had knowledge that the statement was false or acted with a reckless disregard as to whether it was false or not.

3. Publication requires the plaintiff to show that the person making the defamatory statement published it.

4. Damages vary depending on whether the action is defamation “per se” or defamation “per quod.” If the action involves defamation “per se,” damages are presumed and the plaintiff does not have to show damages. However, if the action is for defamation “per quod,” the plaintiff is required to show damages. (Kelley v. Tanoos, 865 N.E.2d 593, 597 (Ind.2007)).

If a plaintiff is successful in proving all four elements, then they will prevail on their claim.

Limiting Police Intrusion: The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Florida v. Jardines (2013)

In Jardines, police received a tip that the defendant was growing marijuana in his home. Based on the tip, police brought a narcotics detecting dog to the front door of the defendant’s home. The dog signaled the presence of an odor of a controlled substance coming through the door. Following the dog’s signal, police obtained a warrant and found marijuana growing inside the home. The defendant moved to suppress the warrant on the grounds that police violated his Fourth Amendment interests.

The Supreme Court majority in a 5-4 opinion found that police had conducted an unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court’s opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, held that police physical intruded on the space of the homeowner. The Court reasoned that a homeowner’s curtilage, the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home, is protected from police intrusion under the Fourth Amendment.

The Court’s opinion helped to limit the extent of police intrusion and provides greater protection for the privacy of individuals within their home.