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CO Court Puzzle: If Medical Pot Is Legal, Can You Be Fired For Using It?

A Colorado Supreme Court hearing that will have major implications for marijuana and the workplace ended with the justices mostly scratching their heads, reports the Denver Post. The topic was this: If it isn’t illegal to use medical marijuana, does that make it a “lawful” activity for which employers can’t fire you? How the justices answer that question will, for the first time, define whether employers must tolerate medical-marijuana use by their employees and also set whether medical-marijuana patients have any job protection for their cannabis use. The outcome also has implications for recreational marijuana use, which presents similar questions.

An attorney for a quadriplegic man named Brandon Coats, who was fired for medical-marijuana use, said if the justices rule strictly against patients, “that means our medical-marijuana amendment is really just for the unemployed.” Coats attorney Michael Evans and an attorney for Dish Network, the company that fired Coats, sparred over the issue. Coats challenged his dismissal under a law called the Colorado Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. The law protects employees from termination for doing things off-the-clock that are legal. But is medical marijuana, which Colorado voters approved in 2000 but is illegal federally, actually “lawful”?

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CA First Allowing Private Citizens To Seek Order Seizing Family Member Guns

California will be the first state to allow private citizens to ask a court to seize guns from family members who they believe pose a threat to themselves or the public, under a measure signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the New York Times reports. The law will allow law enforcement officials, family members and some others to seek a gun restraining order from a judge. That would authorize officials to seize temporarily any firearm owned by someone deemed potentially violent, who would also be placed on a list of people prohibited from purchasing weapons.

“This puts California in the leadership on efforts to stop gun violence, and it gives a very effective tool to law enforcement and families to intervene before a shooting tragedy occurs,” said Nancy Skinner, the assemblywoman who sponsored the bill. Several states have passed laws allowing law enforcement officials to petition to take firearms from people considered dangerous, but California is the first to allow family members to do so as well Gun control advocates said would be crucial in preventing suicides as well as mass shootings.

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Some OK Employers Want To Allow Guns On Job After Beheading

After last week's brutal attack including a beheading at Vaughan Foods in Moore, Ok., some Oklahoma employers are considering ways to allow guns in their workplaces, The Oklahoman reports. A hospital and a loan company phoned attorneys to ask how they can allow weapons in a responsible way, labor and employment lawyer Nathan Whatley said. “Versus no weapons across the board, they wanted to know how they can take away some prohibitions for employees who have licenses to carry weapons,” Whatley said. “They realize that situations like the one in Moore can happen so quickly,” Whatley said. “If someone isn’t able to respond immediately, a lot can happen before law enforcement arrives.”

In last week’s incident, police said terminated employee Alton Nolen used a knife to attack and to behead a co-worker and injure another before being shot by the plant’s chief operating officer, who also is an Oklahoma County reserve deputy sheriff. A prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty for Nolen. An employer can ban firearms in some of their facilities, or allow particular employees to carry guns, Whatley said. An employer can allow concealed carry but not open carry, or can limit the ability to carry firearms to employees who have undergone specific training, such as managers.

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Ferguson Prompts St. Louis To Drop Fees In 220,000 Pending Warrant Cases

Offenders of St. Louis’ municipal laws with outstanding warrants soon will get a free pass. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says officials plan to announce that the city’s municipal court will automatically clear outstanding warrants for nonviolent ordinance violations and allow offenders to reset the court dates without a fee so long as they act by year’s end, making it the most progressive warrant forgiveness program in the region. About 220,000 outstanding warrants issued before Oct. 1 in the city will automatically be forgiven, says Jeff Rainford, the chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay.

Rainford said the novel approach comes from conversations after the unrest in suburban Ferguson, where many advocates of the poor complain that some residents are burdened by steep court fines and saddled with warrants for minor offenses. “In light of Ferguson, we were thinking of how we can be more fair,” Rainford said. Bench warrants are typically issued when someone misses a court appearance, meaning the offender can be arrested and forced to pay several hundred dollars for bail in addition to their underlying ticket. Now, those with an outstanding warrant stemming from nonviolent municipal offenses, usually for failure to appear in court, will get a postcard informing them that the warrant will be cleared until Dec. 31. If offenders don’t come to the municipal court by the end of the year and schedule a new court date, then the warrant will be put back into place.

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After Suspending Chief, Speed Trap Waldo FL Disbands Police Department

The notorious speed trap of Waldo, Fl., has decided it cannot afford its police department, reports the Gainesville Sun. Last night, the Waldo City Council voted in favor of disbanding its department, effective at midnight. “We’re all going to be unemployed,” said one officer as a silver Mercedes sedan whizzed by his black and white police sport utility vehicle. The equipment in the cruiser showed the luxury car was traveling at 60 mph in a 45-mph zone.

Last month, the city's last police chief, Mike Szabo, was suspended pending the results of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation. On Aug. 26, five Waldo officers revolted against Szabo and Cpl. Kenneth Smith with a presentation before the City Council that was rife with allegations that included an unlawful ticket quota, deceptive court appearances and unethical evidence storage.

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How Overnight Chicago Crime Reporter Tells "Human Truth" About Violence

“Cold is the best crime deterrent,” Peter Nickeas, the overnight reporter covering violence and mayhem for the Chicago Tribune, tells New York magazine. The magazine followed Nickeas on his beat to see how he tracks trouble in Chicago. As he listens to the bleats of dispatchers on three different scanners, he talks about the 500 crime scenes he’s visited in his three years on the job, a span in which the city recorded 1,200 homicides and 6,000 shootings.

Nickeas is a barrel-chested 28, with sandy hair buzzed into a military crew cut. He plans for contingencies, with bottled water in the trunk, his photographer in a second car in case one of them gets a flat and requires an ­“extraction.” As he races to a hospital, he says there is little chance of an accident. “I move quickly and with authority. It’s defense by way of offense," he says. He has written 50 “scene of the crime” vignettes, dispatches that have mainly appeared on the paper’s website. These pieces, among the newspapers's most popular online, are more observational: a sergeant who says of a shooting victim en route to the hospital, “He’s dead, but he don’t know it yet.” Gang members who crash their car in a rival clique’s territory and are forced to ask police for a ride home. The magazine says "Nickeas’s hope is that with these short narratives he’s able to move beyond the relentless crime statistics ... and convey a more human truth about the toll of violence on the city." 

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Milwaukee Prostitutes Given Alternative: Six Months In "Sisters Program"

Some Milwaukee women have joined something called the Sisters Program because they were arrested for prostitution and given a choice: a ticket and a fine, or a minimum of six months of participating at Sisters, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The program, housed in a Lutheran church, is a collaborative effort among the Benedict Center — an interfaith, nonprofit agency that focuses on criminal justice reforms — the Milwaukee County district attorney's office and the Milwaukee Police Department District 3. "I think it's an innovative solution to what has, frankly, been an old problem and one in which traditional methods of arrest and incarceration are really just a rotating door," said Jeanne Geraci, the Benedict Center's executive director. "It's frustrating for the police and the residents, and frankly it was not helping the women get to any better place."

Sisters got a grant with a new partner, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and expanded last year. The expansion allowed for the hiring of two part-time outreach workers, themselves graduates of Benedict Center programming, who visit the streets to engage women involved in street sex work. They try to build trusting relationships and offer the women bagged lunches, hygiene products and referrals to Sisters and other resources. Researchers from the Medical College are analyzing data about the women and the program, trying to measure progress and build a best-practices model.

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Houston Probing Jail Inmate In Cell With Feces, Insects, Trash

An inmate in Houston's Harris County jail diagnosed mental health issues was confined to a cell overrun with feces, insects and trash for at least one week last October, the Houston Chronicle reports. The case was reported to the sheriff only a few weeks ago. Photos show Terry Goodwin, now 24, living last year amid bug-infested Styrofoam food containers, what appear to be bags of garbage and ropes of uniform threads dangling from the ceiling that he could have used to hang himself.

The Goodwin case is the latest in a series of long-running problems for the expansive Harris County jail complex over the past decade. On Monday, state jail inspectors made an unannounced visit. Their director, Brandon Wood, said the agency will classify the complex as "at risk" based on the "extenuating circumstances" of the Goodwin case and until the sheriff's internal investigation is complete. "This is an incident that should have never happened," said sheriff's spokeswoman Christina Garza. "There is no excuse for this to have happened. We truly believe that this is an isolated incident."

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How NYC Teen Spent 1,000 Days In Rikers Jail Before Charges Were Dropped

The New Yorker tells the tale of teenager Kalief Browder of New York City, who spent more than 1,000 days in Rikers Island jail charged with stealing a backpack, but was eventually released. In 2010, Browder’s case was one of 5,695 felonies that the Bronx District Attorney’s office prosecuted. Many cases are delayed as defense attorneys drag them out to improve their odds of winning, judges permit endless adjournments, and prosecutors are perpetually unprepared. In Rikers, Browder was questioned about a fight and beaten by jail officers. He ended up spending 17 months in solitary confinement. The case eventually was dismissed when the alleged victim moved to Mexico.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson wouldn't discuss the case but when asked about cases that drag on and on, he said, “These long delays—two, three years—they’re horrendous, but the D.A. is not really accountable for that kind of delay.” His explanation was that either the case did not actually exceed the six-month speedy-trial deadline or the defense attorney failed to bring a speedy-trial motion.

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