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Jan 8, 2018 | 0 comments

Article 1: “Alleged Reckless Driver Charged with First-Degree Murder in Charlottesville Car Attack”

According to the article, the alleged reckless driver who plowed his car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is now charged with first-degree murder, after prosecutors showed a judge surveillance video of the deadly assault.

Prosecutors announced at the start of a preliminary hearing for James Alex Fields that they were seeking to upgrade the second-degree murder charge he previously faced in the August 12 collision in Charlottesville that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured. The judge agreed to that and ruled there is probable cause for all charges against Fields to proceed.

Fields’ case will now be presented to a grand jury for an indictment.
Authorities had initially said that 19 people were injured, in addition to Heyer, when Fields rammed his 2010 Dodge Challenger into another vehicle on purpose on a crowded street. But testimony at the preliminary hearing revealed that there were many more victims, the Washington Post reported.

Fields, who lived in Ohio before his arrest, is charged with eight counts of “aggravated malicious wounding,” meaning that at least eight of the 35 people who were hurt suffered what Virginia law describes as “permanent and significant physical impairment,” the Post reported.

Authorities say the 20-year-old, described by a former teacher as having a keen interest in Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, drove his speeding car into a group of counter-protesters the day of the “Unite the Right” rally that drew hundreds of white nationalists from around the country. The attack came after the rally in this Virginia college town had descended into chaos — with violent brawling between attendees and counterdemonstrators — and authorities had forced the crowd to disband.
Surveillance footage from a Virginia State Police helicopter, played by prosecutors in court, captured the moment of impact by the car and the cursing of the startled troopers on board. The video then showed the car as it reversed, drove away and eventually pulled over.

The video, showed in court by prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony, included some of the final words in the helicopter by crew members, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, were monitoring the demonstration. About three hours after the airborne officers witnessed Fields’s alleged attack and followed his vehicle as it sped away, the helicopter crashed while Cullen and Bates were flying to another assignment, killing both men. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, the Post reported.

Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, sat quietly in a striped jumpsuit with his hands cuffed during the hearing.
His attorney Denise Lunsford did not present evidence or make any arguments at the hearing, although she did cross-examine the detective.

Fields was photographed hours before the attack with a shield bearing the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that took part in the rally, although the group denied any association with him.

A former teacher, Derek Weimer, has said Fields was fascinated in high school with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler, and had been singled out by officials at his Union, Kentucky school for “deeply held, radical” convictions on race.

During her cross-examination of Charlottesville Police Det. Steven Young, Lunsford asked if searches of Fields’ computer, phone or social media revealed any evidence that he was part of Vanguard America or any other white nationalist group. Young said, “No.”

Young also testified that he was among the first officers to respond to the scene where Fields pulled over. No weapon was found in the car, he said.

Lunsford asked the detective what Fields said as he was being detained.

Fields said he was sorry and asked if people were OK, according to Young. When Fields was told someone had died, he appeared shocked and sobbed, Young said.

Young said authorities had identified 36 victims of the car attack, including Heyer — a number higher than officials have previously given. Some have significant injuries and are “wheelchair bound,” Young said.

Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. also presided over preliminary hearings for three other defendants. Charged in cases related to the August rally are Richard Preston, who is accused of firing a gun, and Jacob Goodwin and Alex Ramos, who are accused in an attack on a man in a parking garage that was captured in photos and video that went viral.
The judge certified the charges against all three men. All those cases will also head to a grand jury.
Jason Kessler, the main organizer of the Unite the Right rally, was in court for the hearings. When he arrived, a small crowd of angry protesters outside the courthouse chanted, “Blood on your hands.”

Note: In addition to the article, please see the accompanying video also included at the above-referenced internet address.

Discussion Questions

1. In the context of criminal procedure, what is a preliminary hearing?

A preliminary hearing is essentially a “trial before the trial” during which the judge decides not whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty (that is determined at the actual criminal trial), but whether there is enough evidence to force the defendant to stand trial.

2. What is the difference between first-degree and second-degree murder?

Both first-degree and second-degree murder involve the unlawful taking of the life of another human being; however, first-degree murder involves premeditation and deliberation, while second-degree murder does not.

3. In your reasoned opinion, is a charge of first-degree murder justified in this case? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. In the subject case, the defendant deliberately plowed his car, a dangerous instrumentality, into a crowd of people. Premeditation and deliberation can occur in only a matter of minutes or even seconds, so if the prosecution can demonstrate that the defendant intentionally desired (or exhibited such negligent or reckless disregard for the lives of others that his actions essentially rose to the level of intent) to take the lives of one or more protestors by using his car as a weapon, the premeditation and deliberation element will be relatively easy for the prosecution to prove.

Article 2: “As Bitcoin, Other Currencies, Soar, Regulators Urge Caution”

According to the article, the public’s interest in all things bitcoin and efforts by entrepreneurs to fund their businesses with digital currencies is starting to draw more attention from regulators.

The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently warned investors on the risks of investing in largely-unregulated digital currencies.

In December 2017, the SEC halted two attempts to raise money through what’s known as an initial coin offering. Legal experts believe this signals that a crackdown on sketchy offerings is coming.

“The SEC has given so many warnings now that people should know they are on notice,” said Joshua Klayman, a lawyer with the firm Morrison & Foerster who specializes in legal issues related to digital currencies.

The world of bitcoin and digital currencies can be split into large branches. There are investors who buy the currencies like bitcoin and ethereum. Related but separate from the currencies is an event known as an initial coin offering, or ICO, which allow startups to use the technology behind bitcoin, known as blockchain, to fund projects.

With an ICO, a startup will issue a currency, or sometimes called a token, that can be used to buy services with the company. For example, a startup offering online storage could have tokens that can be used to buy storage.

ICOs have soared in interest this year. CoinSchedule, which tracks the ICO market, says 234 ICOs this year have raised $3.7 billion for startups. In 2016, 46 ICOs raised less than $100 million.
How these tokens are marketed has become a central question for the SEC. Companies issuing tokens that are usable on their own platform right now aren’t a concern, but when the company’s marketing implies that these tokens can appreciate in value, that becomes a red flag.

“We have gotten to a point a few times where some of these tokens start looking an awful lot like securities,” said Clyde Tinnen, a partner at Withers Bergman.

Investors in ICOs are oftentimes early investors in bitcoin or other digital currencies who, with the rapid rise in price, have become multimillionaires on paper and are now looking for the next hot idea. But some of the ICOs that have been funded are just that — an idea on paper. They might even use language copied and pasted from other ICOs to sell their startup to investors. Others have paid celebrities, like boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and socialite Paris Hilton, to endorse their ICOs.

All this has raised concerns about the potential success of these projects and whether some are just outright scams.

“I am not sure why it took so long to chase down some of these,” Tinnen said.

The SEC recently created a division to more closely monitor ICOs for potential scams. The unit brought its first charges last week against a Canadian company known as PlexCorps, which was trying to raise $15 million in an ICO promising its investors “a 1,354 percent profit in less than 29 days.” Two individuals were charged in the scam.

In December 2017, a food review startup called Munchee was forced to withdraw from its $15 million ICO after the SEC raised concerns that Munchee emphasized that investors should expect some sort of return for their investment. By doing so, a company would be offering securities, not tokens, the regulator said. The SEC’s cyber unit also was involved in that investigation. Munchee admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

What made the Munchee case notable, Klayman said, was how quickly the SEC stepped in. Some ICOs have raised money in hours, or only a couple days. Munchee started selling tokens on October 31, and the SEC stepped in the next day.

“The SEC was basically monitoring the Munchee offering in real time – through social media, YouTube, etc. – and stopped it,” Klayman said.

Following the launch of bitcoin futures on the Cboe Futures Exchange this week, SEC Commissioner Jay Clayton issued a statement warning investors to be cautious about putting any money into digital currencies like bitcoin.

As for those celebrity-endorsed ICOs, the SEC also put a stop to that, warning that these paid celebrities might be violating U.S. securities laws.

One reason regulators are concerned is the relative popularity of bitcoin and ICOs with non-traditional investors. Historically, the last group to jump into an asset in a bubble is retail investors, who are often the most hurt when the bubble pops. But in the case of bitcoin and other digital currencies, retail investors were among the first to invest.

“A number of concerns have been raised regarding the cryptocurrency and ICO markets, including that, as they are currently operating, there is substantially less investor protection than in our traditional securities markets, with correspondingly greater opportunities for fraud and manipulation,” Clayton said.

The price of bitcoin has soared this year, going from less than $1,000 to $18,000. Bitcoin’s gains have rippled through other digital currencies as well. The price for ethereum is now at $706 — it was a little over $8 at the beginning of the year. That’s a rise of nearly 8,300 percent.

Note: In addition to the article, please see the accompanying video also included at the above-referenced internet address.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)?

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is an independent, federal government agency responsible for protecting investors, maintaining fair and orderly functioning of securities markets, and facilitating capital formation. It was created by the U.S. Congress in 1934 (after the stock market collapse of 1929, and during the Great Depression) as the first federal regulator of securities markets. The SEC promotes full public disclosure, protects investors against fraudulent and manipulative practices in the market, and monitors corporate takeover actions in the United States.

2. What is an “ICO?”

As the article indicates, an “ICO” is an initial coin offering. Through an ICO, startups can use the technology behind bitcoin, known as blockchain, to fund projects. With an ICO a startup will issue currency, sometimes called a token, which can be used to buy services with the company.

3. In your reasoned opinion, should the Securities and Exchange Commission closely regulate ICOs? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. In your author’s opinion, the initial coin offering (ICO) parallels the initial public offering (IPO) of standard securities.

A security is defined as a financing or investment instrument issued by a company (or government agency) that denotes an ownership interest and provides evidence of a debt, a right to share in the earnings of the issuer, or a right in the distribution of a property. Securities include bonds, debentures, notes, options, shares and warrants, and may be traded in financial markets such as stock exchanges. In your author’s opinion, the obligation(s) related to an ICO parallel the obligation(s) associated with an IPO of standard securities.

In your author’s opinion, the federal government must not only determine whether ICOs should be regulated (and if so, to what extent), but also the extent to which it should regulate the cryptocurrency associated with an ICO.

Article 3: “Uber Driver Accused of Raping Teen He Drove Home from Bar”

According to the article, an Uber driver faces a rape charge after investigators say he attacked an intoxicated 16-year-old passenger. Police identified the Uber driver as Abdoulie Jagne, 58. He has been jailed and charged with rape.

Gwinnett County police say the incident happened in the early morning hours of Monday, December 11. The girl told officers she had been drinking with friends at a local bar when one of her friends arranged for an Uber driver to pick her up and take her home.

The Uber driver arrived and later dropped the girl off at her apartment complex. After she exited the vehicle, according to police, the girl began beating on doors asking for help. One of the residents called 911.

When officers met the girl, she told them she had been sexually assaulted by the Uber diver. Her pants were down around her ankles when she was found, police said.

The friend who arranged for the Uber ride gave officers identifying information on the driver, along with vehicle information.

The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment and an evaluation. The case was transferred to a Special Victims Unit detective, who contacted Uber for information.

With the information gathered from Uber, the detective said the incident likely happened along South Norcross Tucker Road.

“The information provided by the company of Uber does corroborate the victim’s story,” said Cpl. Michele Pihera of the Gwinnett County Police Department. “We know that the trip from the bar to the apartment complex should have taken a specific amount time, but the trip data indicated that it took a much longer amount of time to complete.”

Gwinnett County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the driver, Abdoulie Jagne, and took him to the Gwinnett County Jail. Additional charges could be forthcoming, police said.

Investigators in the case ask that any other women who may have been sexually assaulted by Jagne call the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Uber issued the following statement regarding the incident: “What’s reported here is horrifying beyond words. Our thoughts are with the rider and her family during this time. This driver has been permanently removed from the app.”

Discussion Questions

1. Describe the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Respondeat superior literally means “let the master answer.” The doctrine of respondeat superior stands for the proposition that if an employee commits a wrongful act in the course and scope of his/her employment that causes harm to a third party, the employer is responsible for damages associated with the harm to the third party.

2. In your reasoned opinion, does the doctrine of respondeat superior apply to this case? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. The strongest argument for Uber in this case is that the driver, Abdoulie Jagne, was not an employee when he allegedly raped the minor passenger; instead, he was an independent contractor. As a general rule of law, employers are not responsible for harm to third parties resulting from the wrongful actions of their independent contractors. Ubers drivers are classified as independent contractors.


3. How might the doctrines of negligent hiring and/or negligent retention apply to a case like this?

According to the doctrine of negligent hiring, if an employer failed to do what a reasonable employer would have done under the same or similar circumstances in terms of the hire decision, the employer is responsible for intentional or negligent acts committed by an employee or independent contractor that result in harm to third parties. Under the doctrine of negligent retention, if an employer failed to do what a reasonable employer would have done under the same or similar circumstances in terms of retaining an employee or independent contractor, the employer is responsible for intentional or negligent acts committed by the employee or independent contractor that result in harm to third parties.

In the subject case, if the evidence should indicate that Abdoulie Jagne (the driver) had a propensity to commit an act of aggression against a third party (for example, he had a previous rape conviction before Uber hired him, or he was convicted for assault against a third party while employed by Uber), the plaintiff would have a strong case based on negligent hiring and/or negligent retention theory.