Friday, May 31, 2013

Supreme Court considers whether police can gather DNA evidence

Is DNA the 21st century fingerprint?

DNA evidence undoubtedly offers police another tool in solving crimes, but should officers be taking saliva samples from everyone they arrest? Does it make a difference whether they are arrested for a serious crime?

These are among the questions being considered by the Supreme Court as they weigh a case that tests the Constitutionality of police gathering DNA evidence from crime suspects. The case stems from an incident in Maryland, but could cast doubt on laws in other states such as Florida, which allow law enforcement to collect DNA from anyone who is arrested for a felony offense.

"Most important criminal procedure case"

“This is the most important criminal procedure case this Court has had in decades,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., during oral arguments in the case back in February, during which he said DNA “is the 21st century fingerprint.”

If justices truly believe this about DNA, then the Supreme Court may well side with Maryland. But other justices voiced concerns about an individual’s right to privacy. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision before it wraps up its session for the year.

Fourth Amendment vs. DNA sampling

At issue in Maryland v. King is whether states are allowed to collect DNA from people arrested and charged with serious crimes, in light of the fact that the Fourth Amendment protects people from unwarranted and unreasonable searches.

In their brief to the Supreme Court, Maryland officials said that a “quick and painless” swab of the cheek is minimal, a procedure that is no more intrusive than other procedures detainees must routinely go through as part of an arrest.

Maryland case

In the Maryland case, a man named Alonzo Jay King, Jr., was arrested in April 2009 on assault charges for pointing a shotgun at a group of people. He was later convicted of second-degree assault, a misdemeanor crime. During his arrest, police swabbed his cheek for saliva. The DNA sample was later found to match an unsolved 2003 rape. King was later convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

King appealed, saying officers should not have taken the DNA sample during his arrest on assault charges. The Maryland Court of Appeals sided with King.

Is it premature to issue ruling?

In deciding the case, Supreme Court justices must weigh privacy concerns versus the government’s need to solve crimes. Another element that justices are considering is whether it is premature to make a ruling regarding a new technology which is still developing.

Crime victims’ advocates say the DNA evidence that is collected is crucial in solving crimes that would otherwise go unsolved.

Florida’s law regulating how DNA evidence is collected came under similar scrutiny back in 2009.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Florida law bans texting while driving

Points added to driver's license if cell phone used during crash

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a new law banning texting while driving, in an effort to make Florida roads safer for everyone.

The law, which becomes effective Oct. 1, forbids motorists from texting or e-mailing while driving. But critics say the law will be hard to enforce and has too many exemptions. For starters, they note that police will only be able to cite a motorist for illegally driving while texting only if the officer is already citing that motorist for another infraction, such as running a red light.

Scott says law sends clear message 

The governor said the law sends a clear message that texting while driving is illegal.

“Just the fact that it’ll be illegal to text and drive, I think that’s going to stop our teenagers, stop citizens from texting and driving,” the Miami Herald quoted the governor as saying when he signed the law on Tuesday.

Exemptions from new law

Motorists are exempt from the law if they are using their phone for its GPS, to listen to the radio or weather alerts, or texting while using a voice-assisted device, such as iPhone’s Siri. They are also exempt if their car is stationary, such as at a red light or in a traffic jam.

The law does not allow police officers to check a motorist’s phone history to verify whether a phone was being used, except in cases of an accident involving a death or personal injury.

Penalties for infractions

A first infraction carries a penalty of $30. A second offense committed within the first five years after the first infraction carries a penalty of $60.

A penalty of six points will be added to a motorist’s driver’s licenses if the unlawful use of a cellphone results in a crash. A penalty of two points will be added to a motorist’s driver’s license if the motorist is illegally using a cellphone while committing a moving violation, in addition to the points for the moving violation.

Safety groups say law is not enough

The National Safety Council, a non-profit safety advocacy, organization, recommends a total ban on cell phone use, including hands-free devices. The group’s stance is that motorists should always have their full attention on the road. About 25 percent of all crashes in 2011 involved drivers talking or texting on their cell phone, according to the group.

A study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute  found no difference in safety between texting using voice-to-text technology and manual texting while driving. That study found that motorists still had to look at their phone to check the accuracy of the text they had dictated.

Photo credit: Intel Free Press

Friday, May 24, 2013

Safety agency says drinking limit is too high

Agency wants to lower the BAC from .08 to .05 

The National Transportation Safety Board wants motorists to be drinking even less than the current legal limit in order to reduce the number of traffic fatalities. The agency is recommending that states lower the legal limit from .08 to .05, following the lead of more than 100 other countries whose legal BAC currently is .05 or lower. The agency said a lowered BAC limit had reduced the number of fatalities in those countries.

“Most Americans think that we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” board chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement issued Tuesday. “On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more are injured.”

Should you have a glass of wine with dinner? 

Specifically, the federal agency had this to say to the average person out there wondering whether they should have a glass of wine with dinner:

“Safety involves understanding your risk and mitigating it. The scientific evidence shows that impairment begins with the first drink, and any alcohol consumption associated with driving reduces safety. Medical research shows that performance is affected with a BAC as low as .01.

There are many websites and apps where people can find information to understand their particular risks if they choose to drink, but you can best mitigate your risk by not driving after drinking.”

In other words, don’t drink and drive.

Recommendations to reduce drunk driving

Last week, the safety agency made public a series of recommendations aimed at reducing drunken driving, which is blamed for nearly 10,000 deaths and 146,000 injuries each year.

Investigators said they found motorists with just .05 BAC had impaired judgment, perception, reaction time and drowsiness, in addition to other impairments in their driving.

The agency also recommended continuing with sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, along with the use of hand-held alcohol sensors that police officers can use to help them better detect alcohol vapor in the ambient environment during a traffic stop.

Will Florida adopt recommendations?

The recommendations were made on the 25th anniversary of the worst drunk-driving accident in the United States, which resulted in the deaths of 24 children and three adults.

It’s hard to tell whether states will adopt the recommendations. It took about two decades the last time states were prompted to lower the BAC limits: Utah was the first state to establish the .08 BAC limit in 1983, but it wasn’t until 2004 that all 50 states had similar laws.

Photo credit: Chuck Coker

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Should jury duty extend to non-citizens?

A California bill would add non-citizens to jury list

How do you view a jury duty summons when you spot it in the mail?

A. With dread. Who has time for jury duty?

B. With excitement. You love watching courtroom drama TV shows like “Law and Order” and “The Good Wife.”

California bill could set precedent

An interesting bill regarding jury duty is pending in California that would expand the jury pool to non-citizens. If approved, it could set a precedent for others states grappling with lack of jurors.

To be sure, the bill is controversial. Supporters cite the need for defendants to be judged by a jury of their peers and note that non-citizens already participate in the courts, as attorneys, judges and witnesses. Critics say jury duty should be reserved for citizens only.

What do you think?

Florida juror requirements

In Florida, the law says that you must meet the following requirements to serve as a juror.

  • Must be a citizen of the United States
Must be a legal resident of Florida 
Must be a legal resident of the county in which you are summoned 

  • Must be at least 18 years old, AND 
Must have a valid Florida Drivers License OR a valid Florida Identification Card

You cannot serve if you are a convicted felon or presently being prosecuted for a crime.

California's juror requirements

California’s juror laws have similar requirements and exclusions, except that they exclude anybody who don’t know enough English. If passed, California’s AB1401 would still require all jurors to meet all other requirements.

The analysis of the California bill notes that expanding the juror pool to legal residents who haven’t yet become citizens would help courts meet the need to find more jurors. “Jury duty is a societal obligation that many see as an inconvenience, if not a burden, and it is well known that courts regularly struggle to find enough prospective jurors to meet their needs.”

Florida juror problems

Florida has had problems finding enough jurors in certain instances. Just two months ago, Hendry County court officials complained to the press that the courts were immobilized by the lack of juror turnout. In one instance, only eight out of 300 people summoned for jury duty appeared on the day they were summoned. Consequently, court officials said they would begin enforcing penalties. A first offense would result in a $100 fine and a second jury summons. A second offense would result in a $500 fine, a jail sentence and a suspended license. 

Photo credit: Daniel Oines

Monday, May 20, 2013

Grandparents Have Limited Visitation Rights in Florida

Florida Courts Say Parents Have a Right to Decide What is Best for Their Own Child

Grandparents have limited visitation rights in Florida. As in most states, Florida courts have increasingly followed suit with a decision made by the Supreme Court a few years ago that takes the position that parents’ right to decide what is best for their own children is a Constitutionally protected right.

However, the state laws are slightly more generous in awarding visitation to grandparents if visitation is in the child's best interest and one of the following situations applies:

A. The marriage of the child's parents has been dissolved, or
B. A parent has deserted a child, or
C. The child was born out of wedlock.

In determining whether to grant visitation rights to grandparents, the courts consider the following

1. The willingness of the grandparent or grandparents to encourage a close relationship between the child and the parent or parents.
2. The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the grandparent or grandparents.
3. The preference of the child if the child is determined to be of sufficient maturity to express a preference.
4. The mental and physical health of the child.
5. The mental and physical health of the grandparent or grandparents.
6. Such other factors as are necessary in the particular circumstances.

A 2009 report on grandparent visitation rights by the Florida Senate found that about 4.5 million children in the United States live in grandparent-headed households. That same report found that 7.1 percent (258,952 children) of all children live in grandparent-headed households in Florida.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Potential Financial Risks Following a Divorce

 Will you be able to keep up your standard of living?

The first few years following a divorce can be the toughest financially as you adjust to a new lifestyle and make adjustments for increased costs.

One report estimates that an individual would need 30 percent more in income after a divorce to continue the same standard of living as when he or she was married.

Assets Are Not Simply Split in Half

You shouldn't think that divorce will mean each spouse will get half of what you both own together.

The equation is a lot more complicated than simply splitting the financial assets and liabilities in half so that each spouse can get his or her half. The reality is that many things come into play that could affect your finances after a divorce. What comes into play depends a lot on how much each spouse earns or has the potential to earn, among other things.

The statistics about the potential financial ramifications of divorce are sobering. They don’t paint a pretty picture, but advance planning in consultation with your divorce attorney can help you be better prepared.

Things to consider: 

Here are some things that could affect your financial picture after a divorce:
  • New rental or mortgage payment.
  • How much is left on your mortgage if you keep your former home.
  • How much your home is worth if you plan on selling it.
  • Upkeep costs of maintaining property you formerly owned jointly.
  • New alimony or child support payments that may not cover all expenses.
  • Cost of increased childcare since you won’t be able to rely on your spouse to help care for your children.
  • Transportation. Do you have a car or do you need to buy one?
  • Do you have enough furnishings or will you need to buy new ones?
  • Do you have health insurance or will you need to get a job that provides one?
  • Can you get a job that provides health insurance?
  • Do you have a good credit history? If not, this could affect everything from the kind of mortgage or rental you will be able to get to what kind of job you get.
  • Have you kept up with your job skills or will you need to pay for education/training costs to update your skills in order to get a job?

The above is by no means a complete list. Unfortunately, one of the harshest realities following a divorce is a radically different financial situation. Are you ready for that?

Photo credit: Dan Esparza

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Teens Who Text and Drive Likely to Take Other Risks

Half of Teens Surveyed Said They Text While Driving

Parents of teen-agers take note: If your teen is texting while driving, chances are that he or she is also engaging in other risky driving behavior that could lead to an accident.

A new study published this week says that teens who text while driving are more likely not to be wearing a seat belt, ride with a driver who’s been drinking, or to drink and drive themselves.

That’s not all. About half of teen-agers surveyed admitted to texting while driving.

All of these factors suggest that teens may be placing themselves at a substantially higher risk than previously thought.

Motor Vehicle Crashes Leading Cause of Death for Teens

As it is, the leading cause of death among teens ages 16 to 19 are motor vehicle crashes, killing about 3,000 teens a year.

Researchers applauded efforts such as graduated licenses for teen-agers (limited driving rights for younger teens) but said the most effective preventative strategies start with parents. They say parents should forbid their teen-agers from texting while driving, and set forth a strong example by not texting while driving themselves.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled a comprehensive list of things parents can do, including providing their teen with a parent-teen driving agreement.

Florida's teen driving laws

Florida’s laws as they apply to teen-age drivers include the following stipulations:

  • A learner’s permit forbids teens from driving after sunset for the first three months and, after, not after 10 p.m.
  • Fifty hours of supervised driving, with ten of those hours at night, are required for learner’s permit holders.
  • The minimum age for a permit holder is 15 and the minimum age is 16 for a driver’s license with restrictions. 
  • Unsupervised driving for licensed drivers is not permitted between 11 pm and 6 am for 16-year-olds and between 1 am and 5 am for 17-year-olds. 

The study was published online this week in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Researchers used data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey assessed the driving-texting behavior among 8,505 students ages 16 years old and up.

You can find the study here.

Photo credit: Highway Patrol Images

Monday, May 13, 2013

Your Tweet Could Have Serious Consequences

When Does Something You Say Over Twitter Become a Crime?

To many, tweeting comes as naturally as picking up the phone to call a dear friend. People using the social networking site Twitter are sending their message to all their followers and anyone else who happens to be "listening." Tweeting is not exactly private and, often, the people paying attention to tweets are law enforcement.

Last week, we talked about tweets that could get your teen in trouble. Today, we thought we'd talk about tweets that could get you in trouble.

Tweeting is protected under the First Amendment freedom of speech rights, but there are exceptions, especially when security is at stake.

An Alabama man is awaiting sentencing next month after pleading guilty to threatening to kill President Obama in a series of messages he sent out over the social networking site Twitter that referenced an anti-government militia group.  Jarvis Britton wasn’t found to have any connections to the militia group and he apologized for “acting stupid” in sending out the tweets, but he now faces up to five years in prison.

A Twitter joke that went too far

Consider also the case of Paul Chambers, a British man who tweeted his annoyance that he wouldn’t be able to travel to visit his girlfriend because the airport was shut down due to snow.

“Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get (it) together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!” he tweeted to his 600-plus followers.

Tweet was considered "of a menacing nature"

Although an airport official said he hadn't taken the threat seriously, the tweet was still considered a threat and a crime. The judge found him guilty of sending a menacing electronic message and levied a $1,500 fine, saying his tweet was "of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live.”

The charges didn’t stop Chambers from tweeting. Even during the proceedings, he continued to tweet about his case, shocked and angry that what he considered a joke had been taken so seriously. He blamed lower level judges for being unsophisticated about social media. It took him more than two years of legal appeals and cost him two jobs but a higher court judge finally agreed with him and overturned the decision.

Law enforcement are patrolling Twitter

Keep in mind that your tweets are public and law enforcement authorities are out patrolling Twitter-land, as part of their increasing social media strategy. A recent show on National Public Radio featured several police officers discussing how their departments increasingly are relying on social media. One law enforcement official told NPR that they are especially active on Twitter and other social media networks during big conventions or events.

Be careful what you tweet

Ultimately, the British man was successful in convincing a higher court judge that his tweet was harmless, but the lesson seems clear: be careful what you tweet. You wouldn’t want to test the system at a time when our country is at heightened security alert in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

Photo credit: tonyhall

Friday, May 10, 2013

Am I liable for my spouse's debts after a divorce?

Florida Makes a Distinction Between Separate and Marital Property

Let's say your spouse loved to gamble before he met you and racked up several thousand dollars worth of credit card debt. You've both been dutifully paying off the debt while you were married, but now you've decided to get a divorce and the debt is still rather hefty. Are you liable for your spouse's gambling debts?

No, not in most cases, as the state of Florida makes a distinction between assets and liabilities accrued before marriage and those that came during the marriage.

Equitable Distribution Guidelines

First of all, each state has different laws that apply to these types of scenarios. In Florida, this scenario would fall under “equitable distribution” guidelines which dictate that marital assets and liabilities are to be divided equitably. In some states, this does not necessarily mean that these assets and liabilities will be divided equally, just fairly, and this is true for Florida as well.

Florida law makes a distinction between separate or pre-marital property and marital property.

Separate property

Separate or pre-marital property, which would not be subject to being division during a divorce, could include assets:

  • owned before marriage 
  • those a couple has defined as separate property in a legally binding document such as a prenuptial agreement
  • income earned from separate property
  • items obtained with separate property

Marital Property

Generally speaking, marital property includes property acquired during the marriage, regardless of whether both spouses are on the title. The same rule typically applies for debts. Both spouses are usually jointly responsible for a debt that is acquired during the marriage even if it is only in one spouse's name. An exception would be if the court determines that your spouse spent money recklessly or wastefully.

Each spouse generally works with an attorney that will advocate on each spouse's behalf to come up with an agreement on how marital property (assets) and liabilities (debts) will be divided. A judge or mediator could decide to divide property and debts unequally based on factors such as each spouse's income and the length of the marriage, among other factors.

We recommend that you consult with an attorney who can determine whether you are liable for any of your spouse's debt, whether based on the use of a credit card or a different set of facts. Your attorney can work with you to figure out how to best advocate on your behalf during a divorce, where equitable distribution will function to divide the assets and liabilities at issue in your case.

Photo credit: 401(K)2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Q & A: Do you have to take a blood test during a DUI stop?

A Supreme Court ruling says an officer needs a warrant

This is a scenario that happens more than you think: You’re driving home after an evening out with friends. You had a beer or two at a bar but nothing that you think would impair your driving, especially because you had a full meal at dinner. Suddenly, you look at your rearview mirror and see flashing red and blue lights.

You’re thinking police are after someone else, but when you look again in the rear view mirror you notice the police car is right behind you. Yes, it looks like they want you to stop. As you do so, you begin to panic, but there is nothing else you can do at this point except comply. After some questions and a field sobriety test, the officer says he wants you to take a blood test.

You’ve been as cooperative as you can until this point, but his request throws you for a loop. You wonder: “Do I have to take a blood test?”

Q: Can an officer force you to take a blood test?

A: The answer is no, not if you don’t want to. A police officer can’t force you to take a blood test and must obtain a warrant if he wants you to submit to one. If he has enough evidence, he can get the search warrant but he most likely can’t request a blood test against your wishes, according a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Q: Are there exceptions?
A: Yes, but limited ones, such as in an emergency.

Q: What constitutes an emergency that would make a warrant unnecessary?
A:The ruling said an emergency must be determined on a  case by case basis taking into account all the circumstances surrounding each case. An accident involving a potential death would likely fall in that category.

Q: Is a DUI stop considered an emergency?
No, the Supreme Court explicitly stated in its ruling a few weeks ago that most DUI stops is not considered an emergency and an officer must obtain a warrant to obtain a blood test if the motorist declines one.

Q: How hard is it for a police officer to obtain a warrant?
Fairly easy in most instances, even in the middle of the night. The Court said that, in most cases, prosecuting attorneys and judges are on call anytime to consider issuing warrants. As a matter of fact, at least 30 states provide electronic warrant applications, the Court noted.

Q: Does this mean I should refuse to take a blood test?
A: You should be aware that refusal to take a blood test can later be used as evidence against you. Motorists in many states can stand to lose their license if they refuse to take a blood test.

Q: What is the significance of the Supreme Court ruling?
A: The decision basically upholds a person’s Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches, which the court said includes forced blood tests.

Q: Why did the Supreme Court take up this issue?
A: The Supreme Court ruling this week stemmed from a case in which a man, Tyler McNeely, was stopped by a police officer in Missouri for speeding and crossing the centerline. The man declined to take a breath test, then was taken to a nearby hospital where the officer directed a lab technician to take a blood sample while McNeely remained handcuffed. McNeely tested above the legal limit but successfully challenged the legality of the blood test based on his Fourth Amendment rights.

Q: How do police officers decide a whether a warrant is necessary?
A: Whether police officers have enough guidance to decide whether a warrant is necessary is a concern voiced by the state of Missouri. The Supreme Court, however, warned against taking a “broad categorical approach” to the Fourth Amendment. Basically, the Supreme Court was warning against issue broad rules that would jeopardize people Fourth Amendment rights.

We recommend that you consult with an attorney so you can be fully informed about your rights and responsibilities if you are pulled over for investigation of driving while intoxicated.

Photo credit: BiERLOS

Monday, May 6, 2013

Could Your Teen's Tweets Be Considered a Crime?

Teens Are Not Always Using Twitter Responsibly 

The truth is that there are so many ways that your teen could get in trouble through tweeting. First of all, teenagers often lack the maturity to restrain from making inappropriate comments or to think about the long-term consequences of what they’re tweeting. Not to mention that kids as young as seven are increasingly accessing social media.

When it comes to tweeting, parents are most often concerned about cyberbullying, an act which could range from a violation of school rules that warrants suspension or, in extreme cases, is considered a crime and the teen is charged. But there are other ways that young people can get themselves in trouble.

Some tweeting teens in trouble:

Last month, a 17-year-old girl who was elected Britain’s first youth police commissioner found herself in the center of controversy after people complained that her tweets were offensive. Paris Brown resisted calls to step down from the one-year, taxpayer-funded post, a move supported by her boss.

"I absolutely do not condone the content and language of Paris’ tweets. I suspect that many young people go through a phase during which they make silly, often offensive comments and show off on Facebook and Twitter,” Kent police official Ann Barnes told the media. "I think that if everyone's future was determined by what they wrote on social networking sites between the ages of 14 and 16, we would live in a very odd world.”

Teen tweeted a bomb threat

In Winnetka, Ill., a 16-year-old boy was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after he sent out a Twitter message saying he was going to “bring a bomb to school and blow it up.”  Investigators later found out that there was no bomb and the boy’s case was referred to a peer jury.

"Words matter whether it's said or on social media," said deputy police chief Joe Pellus. "They have to recognize on social media a lot of the content is public and not private."

Police Say Teen's Tweet Was a Hoax

In New Jersey, 16-year-old Kara Alongi alarmed many in her community when she disappeared after tweeting that there was an intruder in her home and asking followers to call 911. Police later discovered it was a hoax and complained about the 6,000 calls they received during a 12-hour period.

But not all news is grim when it comes to teens and Twitter.

Teen's Twitter Account Gains 500 Followers in Two Hours

A story making the rounds on Facebook this weekend was about a 15-year-old girl who created an anonymous Twitter account simply to give out compliments to friends. The girl was concerned about teen suicide after a friend killed himself and decided that the compliments might help teens dealing with low self-esteem. The account attracted nearly 500 followers within two hours.

The lesson for all of us is to teach our teens to use Twitter responsibly.

Photo credit: Global X
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Friday, May 3, 2013

Permanent Alimony Remains On the Books

Gov. Scott vetoes bill that would have ended permanent alimony

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a law this week that would have set limits on the amount of alimony and the length of time that a spouse could receive alimony from the other spouse following a divorce.

The bill would have made it more difficult for those in shorter marriages to obtain alimony and would have restricted the duration of alimony payments to half of the duration of the marriage.

It also would have ended permanent alimony, one of six different types of alimony in Florida. The others are: durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, bridge-the-gap alimony, temporary alimony and lump sum alimony.

Permanent alimony is usually awarded in long term marriages (17 years or more) and sometimes in medium term marriages (between seven and 17 years), but very rarely in short term marriages of less than seven years. The court is more likely to consider awarding permanent alimony in medium term marriages when there is more disparity of income and the marriage has lasted longer rather than a shorter length of time. The proposed law would have required that the spouse requesting alimony must establish a need for the amount requested and that the other spouse has the ability to pay that amount.

Among the many factors currently considered in awarding alimony:

  • The duration of the marriage 
  • The financial resources of each spouse
  • Earning potential, education, skills, etc. of each spouse 
  • The contribution each party made to the marriage, including homemaking, child care, helping the spouse build up their career, etc. 
  • The responsibilities of each spouse regarding their children 
  • Tax consequences of any alimony that is considered
  • Age and health (physical and mental)  

Sponsors and advocates of the 34-page bill said the new legislation would have been an important overhaul of alimony laws, but the governor said he was troubled by the fact that the bill would have applied retroactively. The bill also sought to redefine a long term marriage as 20 years or longer, a medium term marriage as between 11 and 20 years and a short term marriage as less than 11 years.

Gov. Scott said he had concerns about the bill

“The law also ensures that spouses who have sacrificed their careers to raise a family do not suffer financial catastrophe upon divorce, and that the lower-earning spouse and stay-at-home parent will not be financially punished,” said Gov. Scott in vetoing the bill, just four hours before it would have become law. “Floridians have relied on this system post-divorce and planned their lives accordingly."

Four other states have abolished permanent alimony.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Get It In Writing: Entertainer Contracts

A Good Contract is Tailored to Fit Your Needs 

Congratulations, you’ve just landed your first real gig as an entertainer. Now, comes the hard part: negotiating the contract. Making your way through all the legalese in the pages of documents that are a part of any solid entertainment job is definitely not fun, but necessary, to make sure both you and the venue that hired you are happy after the performance.

We highly recommend hiring an experienced entertainment attorney who can advise you on the ins and outs of a good contract that’s tailored to fit your needs. In general, a contract should cover the basics of what both you and the venue expect from the performance. In addition, a good contract should include provisions for unexpected complications or difficulties, such as illness.

Some things that may seem common sense should be included on the contract so that neither party is surprised on the day of the event. These include details about setup, which members of the group (if more than one person) will be performing, whether you’re available for overtime, perhaps even what the performers will be wearing.

Things to look for in a contract

Some other things to think about before you sign any entertainment contracts:

Insurance. Be aware that you may be asked whether you have personal injury and property damage liability insurance and, if you do, you may be asked to show proof.

Cancellation. One of the most important provisions of the contract is the cancellation clause. This should state clearly how much notice the entertainer or venue needs in order for the deposit to be refunded, if at all.

Space. Perhaps the venue is a multi-stage venue. Make sure you know where you’ll be performing to avoid any disappointments.

Equipment. Equipment needs are another issue that may need to be included in the contract. Will you as the entertainer come equipped with everything you need, except for sound and lighting? What do you expect the venue to provide for your performance?

Payment. Most likely the venue has paid you a deposit. A good contract should state whether the deposit is refundable and under what circumstances. Most important, the contract should state what forms of payment you accept for the balance and when you expect that payment.

Marketing and promotion. If you’re just starting out, any marketing and promotion that the venue conducts may seem like a dream to you, but you still want to make sure that you’ll receive appropriate billing in any marketing campaign. Also, if you have CDs or T-shirts that you want to sell at the event, you want to make sure this is something mentioned out in the contract.

Hiring an attorney to handle a contract for you is the best way to ensure your needs are met. In the long run, an attorney can save you money - and potential headaches.

Photo credit: BJ Carter