Civil Litigation Law Guide

To endure the often lengthy process of civil litigation, and to make effective decisions at each stage of a lawsuit, you need to understand the chronology of a case, its importance in resolving the case, and the unique terminology involved. Those who understand this otherwise perplexing process are best-suited to work with their attorneys to achieve the best possible results effectively, efficiently and with an eye toward reducing the cost of litigation.

1. Where to Sue? You don’t need three years of law school to realize that there are many different courts throughout the United States with many different functions. But to understand litigation, it’s important to learn the each court’s role within the system.
2. Filing Suit Cases take many shapes and sizes. To understand lawsuits, one must often sort through a number of parties and claims to figure out “who’s who” and get to the heart of the matter.
3. Serving the Lawsuit To protect constitutional rights, plaintiffs must satisfy due process by serving process on the defendant.
4. Defending Against Lawsuits After being served with lawsuits, defendants only have a short time to respond, with a preliminary motion or an answer establishing defenses to the action.
5. Discovery and Investigation As its name suggests, discovery is the investigative phase of the litigation process. Unlike the surprises typical of cases tried by Perry Mason, the discovery rules are designed to uncover the facts well in advance of trial.
6. Pretrial Motions Just because a lawsuit has been filed, that does not mean that the case will ultimately go to trial. Much can happen en route to the courthouse to derail a case or produce victory long before the trial itself.
7. The Trial Though many cases settle or are decided before trial, the trial provides most of the high-stakes drama. To sort through it, and place the evidence in its proper context, one must understand the mechanics of the trial process.
8. Post-Trial Motions Even after the jury has spoken, litigants may file certain “post-trial motions” designed to grab victory out of the jaws of defeat, to persuade the judge to order a new trial, or to modify the result in some less drastic way.
9. Enforcing and Collecting Judgments Beyond enforcement, judgments also have rippling effects on other litigation, precluding similar claims and similar issues from being tried in the future.
10. Appeals After losing at trial, those seeking relief from adverse judgments often forgo post-trial motions addressed to the same courts that handed them their losses. They go above the trial judge’s head to the appellate court.

Is it Illegal to Have Sex? The Michigan “Romeo and Juliet” Law

Most states have what are referred to as statutory rape laws. Such laws typically make it illegal for anyone to have sex with a minor, though the definition of minor varies from state to state. In many states, the punishment for statutory rape is the same as the punishment for other sex crimes: in addition to incarceration, the offender must register as a sex offender for several years or for the rest of his or her life. When applied to non-violent youthful offenders, many feel that such a punishment is unfair and unwarranted. Until recently, Michigan’s statutory rape law required that a person convicted of having sex with a minor between the ages of 13 and 16 register as sex offender with the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry. The older person would be the offender. Thus, if a 16-year old had “consensual” sex with his 15-year old girlfriend or boyfriend, that 16-year old would have to register as a sex offender for at least 15 years. On July 1, 2011, the law changed. While it is still illegal to have sex with a person age 13-16, if the age of the offender is within 4 years of the “victim” and the offender is 18-years old or younger, the punishment would not include having to register as a sex offender. This new law is referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet Law.”

Consequence of statutory rape laws
Statutory rape laws were put in place to protect children from sexual predators. The rationale is that minors under a certain age do not have the mental or emotional capacity to consent to sex. Thus, even if a child in the protected age group was not physically forced, and in fact agreed to the sexual or even initiated it, it would be a crime to have sex with that child. As a consequence, the offender would have criminal record.

Each time such a convicted offender applies to certain educational programs, or applies to any program that requires a background check, he or she will be flagged as having a criminal record. Many employers may be willing to overlook some criminal offenses, especially those committed by teenagers. Many young people have what some might consider as “petty” brushes with the laws, but clean up their acts to become productive citizens. This is one reason that juvenile records are often sealed or expunged. However, if the words “sex offender” are attached to a job applicant, or any other type of applicant, that application will likely quickly be turned down.

Furthermore, with the recent violence in schools, many schools now have security systems in place that require background checks in order to enter schools. If someone is a registered sex offender that person will not be permitted to enter the school, even if the person is a parent of a child attending that school.

Romeo and Juliet Law
Under the Romeo and Juliet law, while Michigan recognizes that teenagers engage in consensual sex it still prohibits such acts. It simply changes the punishment. If the older of the two “consenting” teens is age18 or younger and is within 4 years of the other teen, the punishment now does not include registering as a sex offender. However, the older teen still faces the possibility of jail time and will still have a criminal record. The change to the law only applies where the younger teen is age 13-16 and does not apply in cases where the sex was forcible. The law is not necessarily retroactive. However, a criminal defense attorney can petition to have a person convicted of such sexual misconduct removed from the registry, if the circumstances fit the Romeo and Julie law.

While the Romeo and Juliet law gives a nod to the reality that teenagers have sex, the law does not change that fact that the legislature deems teenage sex as illegal. Thus, it still reflects a paternalistic attitude that teenagers do not have the mental capacity to consent to sex. While most adults would prefer for teenagers to not engage in sex, it is likely that most would also agree that doing so should not be a criminal act. Given societal realities, do you think that sex between two consenting teens should be illegal?

Criminal Law Guide

Overview of Criminal Cases
When faced with the daily dramas of real criminal cases, be prepared for proceedings that look quite a bit different from those portrayed on prime time television.

1. Criminal Investigations In state and federal cases throughout the United States, criminal investigations are generally orchestrated by prosecutors, police and other members of law enforcement.
2. Grand Jury Indictments Generally, there are two ways to press charges in a criminal case: (1) by the filing of a criminal complaint, sometimes called a statement of charges or a “criminal information”; or (2) in the form of an indictment returned by a grand jury.
3. Arresting the Accused Whether probable cause is established in a criminal complaint, or through a formal grand jury indictment, an accused is often arrested after the issuance of a formal arrest warrant.
4. Arraignments, Pleas & Plea Bargains After an accused is arrested, she is brought before a judge in a proceeding known as an arraignment. There, bail will be set and the lawyers may engage in plea discussions.
5. Preliminary Hearings In the federal system, prosecutors must generally persuade a grand jury that there is probable cause to indict a particular defendant with a specific crime. This process is used in state cases as well, but there are more instances in which defendants are charged with crimes in state courts without being formally indicted.
6. Pretrial Discovery & Investigation In the federal system, prosecutors must generally persuade a grand jury that there is probable cause to indict a particular defendant with a specific crime. This process is used in state cases as well, but there are more instances in which defendants are charged with crimes in state courts without being formally indicted.
7. Pretrial Motions Absent a plea deal, many cases involve pretrial hearings in which the prosecution and the defense lawyers bicker over the admissibility of evidence and the viability of the charges themselves.
8. Criminal Trials Absent a plea agreement or pretrial dismissal of the case, the accused must stand trial before a judge or a jury. To cover trials effectively, reporters must master the elements of a trial, appreciate the significance of each step in this process, and anticipate a variety of evidentiary objections.
9. Sentencing Following a guilty verdict, the accused may file motions to set the verdict aside or ask the court for a new trial based upon a variety of irregularities or evidentiary problems arising during the course of the trial.
10. Criminal Appeals If convicted, defendants typically seek relief from adverse judgments through two methods: Appeals and petitions for writs of habeas corpus.