Alex Heidt | Law

Founder of Heidt Law Firm

Category: Regulations

Know the Legal Regulations For Federal Employees Using Social Media

In this digital age it is always important that you are careful what you put out online. It is especially key for federal government employees to be cautious of what they are putting out their as well as know their legal rights when it comes to personal social media usage. Of course, all employees are allowed to have their own personal social media accounts, however they must make sure their usage complies with their employers’ code of conduct.

  • Use a Disclaimer – Adding your job title to social media descriptions is allowed however it is important to add a disclaimer saying that these views are your own and are not associated with the company that you work for. When seeing that you work for a certain association, people tend to assume that you are speaking for your place of employment even when that is not the case.
  • Impersonation Warning – Going off of that, it is fine to have a personal account to express interests, views, and things going on in your personal life. However, it is important that you don’t act as a representative of the company that you work for on these accounts without permission from your agency.
  • When To Use – Some places may allow you to use work computers, etc. and minimal work time in order to go onto personal computers. However, it is important to know that your activity can be monitored by the place you are working for while you are doing this. It is important to check out the policy on social media usage during work hours or on company devices.
  • Be Aware – Make sure to set privacy settings on your accounts and only let people you know follow or friend you. Foreign intelligence has been know to target federal employees online so it’s important to be cautious. In addition, if you are aware of misconduct in your agency do not go to social media to talk about it. Reporting these things to the proper authorities are all legal but putting that confidential information on the internet is not.

These are just a few of the points that federal employees should follow when using social media. It is important to take a look at your agency’s policy as every place could have different rules and regulations regarding social media. In every case, be wary of what you share online.

The Death Penalty and The 2016 Presidential Election

The 2016 Presidential Election was ripe with controversial debate. One topic not as thoroughly discussed as others was that of the death penalty. While public support for capital punishment is continuously waning in America, two out of the four main candidates running for office support the death penalty. It probably comes as no surprise to readers that those candidates were now-President Donald Trump and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.

Prior to announcing his run for President, Donald Trump made the statement to Fox and Friends that the death penalty should be forcefully brought back, citing the May 2015 shooting deaths of two police officers in Mississippi. Hillary Clinton also expressed support for the death penalty. Jill Stein (the Green Party candidate) and Gary Johnson (the Libertarian Party candidate) do not support capital punishment as many have been wrongfully convicted of crimes punishable by death.

Recent research shows a declining trend in support for the death penalty since the 1980’s. In fact, somewhere around 56% to 61% of Americans still favor the death penalty – much lower percentages than thirty years ago.

Support for the death penalty was made evident by voting trends in several states. Voters in Nebraska reinstated the death penalty there, reversing a 2015 decision to repeal it. The state currently has ten men sitting on death row and has not executed a prisoner since 1997.

Although the death penalty has not been repealed in California, the ballot contained a measure that would have repealed it as well as one that would speed up appeals to execute prisoners. The latter barely passed, now limiting the number of appeals a prisoner can make and implementing deadlines that expedite the appeals. In stark contrast to Nebraska, California currently has 750 death row inmates.

Also, voters in Oklahoma voted for a measure that makes it exponentially more difficult to get rid of capital punishment and declared the death penalty to not be a form of cruel or unusual punishment.

While the death penalty is currently legal in 31 states, it is rarely used, and generally is only in extreme cases. Since President Trump recently Tweeted that pedophiles who snatch up children should have fast trials that end with the accused being given the death penalty, it is entirely possible that there will be a resurgence in debate over the death penalty. Whether or not more voters will support or oppose capital punishment remains to be seen.

Alex Heidt explains prison population

Reducing the Prison Population

In my previous blog, I discussed reasons for the high incarceration rate in the United States. These reasons include high prosecution of drug crimes, repeat offenders, prosecuting minors, and excessive prison sentences (often because of drug-related crimes). I also pointed out how this mass incarceration disproportionately affects young black men, which is likely because of racial profiling laws.

Many lawmakers recognize the importance of investigating this issue further and working on ways to prevent such massive amounts of people from being sent to prison. Lots of people feel that the amount of people imprisoned for victimless or nonviolent crime is outrageous and focus their efforts on targeting these specific issues. The question is often asked, “can we reduce our prison populations without also having an increase in crime?” In this post, I’m going to address various ways governments are actively attempting to lower the astronomical prison rate, along with other solutions that are not currently implemented.

What Texas Did

First off, let’s talk about Texas. Like many other states, Texas wanted to reduce the number of prisoners and money spent maintaining prisons but didn’t want to risk a crime increase. So, they implemented various programs and reforms to help with these issues, which resulted in their prison population lowering by 10 percent and their crime population lowering around 18 percent.

They first decided to invest in the short term in the hopes of saving more in the long term, so they restructured various aspects of their prison system for around $250 million. Texas also made the effort to drastically reform their juvenile correction system to lower the rates of juveniles in prisons and correctional institutions. So far, their methods have been a success and other states, such as Georgia and Alabama, have followed suit.

Shorter or Non-Existent Sentences for Drugs

To many people, the biggest issue with the high rate of incarceration is excessive sentences for drug-related offenses that are usually excessively long.

Since many drug offenders were merely carrying the drug on their person and are often lower-level users (small-time drug dealers or people who use the drugs), there would be a significant decrease in the prison population if these individuals weren’t handed long sentences for just possessing drugs.

Instead, they can be used to help locate the higher-level criminals or be given shorter prison sentences so there are more space and resources for the people who commit more serious crimes.

Drug Sentences Include Rehab

Since repeat offenders are such a prevalent issue, often with drug users, a possible solution is to include rehab as part of drug-related sentences. Instead of people remaining incarcerated for the full number of years, send them to a rehab center for part of their sentence. That way, it’s more likely that they can get the help they need and avoid drugs in the future, thus avoiding being placed back into the system for drug-related crime.

Credit Good Behavior

While prisoners getting out on good behavior occasionally happens, prisons could increase the use of this incentive. By positively rewarding inmates who display exemplary behavior behind bars, they can reduce their sentences if they committed a nonviolent or lower level crime. Encouraging good behavior will positively reinforce prisoners and make them more likely to continue this behavior when outside of jail.

Release Older Inmates

It’s been proven that inmates over the age of 55 are highly unlikely to commit new crimes, so they could be released after they’re monitored for good behavior and evaluated. If these older prisoners are good candidates for release, then they can be released before their full sentences have been served.

Work and Education Incentives

Finally, many people acknowledge the truth that education and whether or not someone has job opportunities plays a huge role in their likelihood to commit crimes.

By providing ample opportunities for prisoners to educate themselves and learn skills they can use in a future career, they’ll be less likely to revert to crime once they leave prison. These programs can be incentivized so prisoners are encouraged to participate in them.

Also, make employers more open to hiring a former prisoner through incentives for that employer. If prisoners become more educated and feel that they have options for their futures, the temptation to commit crimes will be less.

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Crime Stats in Washington D.C.

Millions of people live in Washington D.C. and tens of thousands more visit every day. This city is the seat of United States government and the capital of the country, yet is considered a hotbed of criminal activity. D.C. has some of the strictest gun laws of any city in the country, yet it still sits in the top five of the most dangerous cities in the United States, with frequent shootings and other types of violent crime.

Though, luckily, overall crime seems to be decreasing. It is difficult to associate the stunning monuments along the Mall with neighborhoods where it’s not necessarily safe to walk, or even drive, through after dark, because of drug and gang violence. The federal government has put a lot of effort into making D.C. safe for its citizens and visitors by reducing the crime rate, with varying levels of success over the past few years. I’ll take a closer look at some specific incidents of crime and the recently gathered statistics.

Recent crime

This past May, a series of shootings occurred in suburban Washington, when a federal officer murdered his estranged wife. He then committed more shootings at a shopping mall and later outside of a grocery store. Schools went on lockdown, but an officer soon spotted the suspect. He was eventually taken into custody without incident. Various other shootings have occurred in the last couple of weeks, such as a man shooting into a car at a person who owed him money, a woman shot and killed while she was driving, and drug-related incidents. Various burglaries and break-ins have also occurred throughout D.C. neighborhoods.

Statistics

Though D.C. continues to rank at the top of cities with the most crime, recent reports show that overall crime has decreased in the last year. As of October 18th, all crime has decreased by about 5% from 2015. Homicides dropped by 11%, from 123 to 110, though there are still a few months left in 2016. Most crime occurs during hotter weather, when tempers are short, so the numbers may not change too much in the duration of this year. Assault with a dangerous weapon saw a 1% drop, from 1,902 to 1,888. While that may not be a huge difference, progress is being made, which is important. Total violent crime has dropped by 4% and property crime has dropped by 5 percent.

Government actions

Various efforts have been made to further decrease these crime numbers. The federal government is working on measures to decrease crime nationwide. Many government officials, particularly those in the Democratic Party, are calling for stricter gun control across the country in an effort to prevent anyone who should not have a weapon from acquiring one.

Democrats in D.C. have also recently vowed to do more to assist domestic violence victims. Over 30,000 domestic violence calls are made to the D.C. police every year, making this issue incredibly important. Lawmakers intend to do all they can to decrease these numbers.

While Washington D.C. may be one of the most violent cities in the country, these numbers are getting lower and government officials are aware that improvements can be made. We should all hope that these improvements will be made quickly and D.C. can move forward as a city with significantly less crime.

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

Understanding Corporate Governance in 2016

Governance of public corporations continues to move in a more shareholder-centric direction. This is evidenced by the increasing corporate influence of shareholder engagement and activism, and shareholder proposals and votes. This trend is linked to the concentration of ownership in public and private pension funds and other institutional investors over the past 25 years and has gained support from various federal legislative and regulatory initiatives. Most recently, it has been driven by the rise in hedge fund activism.

It remains unclear whether, over the long term, greater shareholder influence will prove beneficial for shareholders, corporations, and the economy. In the near term, however, there is the reason to question whether shareholder influence is the panacea that some posted, or whether the current focus on shareholder value and investor protection is at the expense of other values that are central to the sustainability of healthy corporations.

These concerns underlie the issues that will define the state of governance in 2015 and likely beyond, including:

  • The long-standing debate about the purpose of the corporation and governance roles.
  • Tensions between achieving short-term returns and making a long-term investment.
  • The impact of shareholder activism on board decisions.
  • Shareholder litigation and the reactive use of corporate by-laws to protect boards.
  • Concerns about proxy advisory power and influence.
  • Drawing the line between board oversight and management.
  • Rebuilding society’s trust in the corporation.

The Corporate Purpose and Governance Roles

The corporation is a legal construct that arose as a way to accumulate and devote capital to and share the risk for, large-scale entrepreneurial activities that would otherwise be difficult to fund. Shareholders bear the risk of their investment and receive the residual profit, expressed as an increase in share value or dividends. Therefore, the ability of the corporation to return long-term shareholder value is a key metric for assessing whether the corporation is effective and efficient in its activities.

Therefore, the ability of the corporation to return long-term shareholder value is a key metric for assessing whether the corporation is effective and efficient in its activities.

The purpose of the corporation has been a matter of debate since its formation. This debate centers on whether maximizing shareholder value is the ultimate goal of corporate activity or whether the goal is some other broader societal “good.” Where the balance between these interests is defined is relevant to how the corporation is regulated through state corporate law and federal securities regulation, and the role and responsibilities of and limits on shareholders and directors with respect to corporate decisions.

While investor protection is a primary goal of securities regulation, it cannot be viewed in isolation. As a regulatory goal, investor protection has value in that it provides positive value to capital formation and the long-term contributions of viable corporations to the economy. More intentional deliberation about the role of the corporation and its relationship to society is necessary for the dialogue over expanding shareholder influence, and also with respect to rebuilding societal trust in the corporation.

A closely related issue concerns the balance in governance roles and responsibilities between shareholders and boards. Two theories of corporate governance failures have emerged in the past 15 years. The first theory is that there is too little active and objective board involvement.

This theory is reflected in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act  and its focus on:

  • Improving board attention to financial reporting and compliance.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules and listing rules on independent audit committees and their function.
  • Director and committee independence and function.

The second theory is that there is not enough accountability to shareholders. This concern is expressed by the focus of the Dodd-Frank Act, and related SEC rules and rule interpretations, on providing greater influence to shareholders through advisory say on pay votes and access to the proxy for shareholders to nominate director candidates.

Given federal law and regulations, listing rules, and other related influences, the question that emerges is whether these are altering the balance that state law intentionally provides between the roles of shareholders and the board, and if so, whether that shift is beneficial or detrimental.
State law places the management and direction of a corporation firmly in the hands of the board. This legal empowerment of the board and the implicit rejection of governance by shareholder referendum goes hand in hand with the limited liability afforded to shareholders.

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