"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.
N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Immigration Law Sources

Immigration law is a very important field and whether you have an interest or plan to practice in this area, the law library has access to several sources in its print and online collections such as the following titles:

Statutes:
Regulations:
  • See Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) (KF70.A3) (available on GPO's FDsys)
Case Law:
  • Federal Practice Digest 5th (KF127.M63 5th) (this source is an index to court cases and will provide listing and summary of cases) (this same is used on Westlaw Next and can be accessed by clicking "Key Numbers" from the main search page.
Secondary Sources:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Texas Car Sticker Rules Change Tomorrow


Texas requirements for automobile stickers are changing tomorrow as the state will consolidate current registration and inspection stickers; beginning tomorrow, motorists will only be required to display the registration sticker.  While most Teas motorists will only be concerned with compliance issues, legal scholars interested in the administrative side of the change may be interested in further resources:
The statutory authority for the new policy may be found in the Texas Transportation Code.  Provisions regarding tomorrows changes may be found at Tex. Transp. Code § 502.0023(j).  These provisions were passed through an Act of June 14, 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1291 (H.B. 2305).
For non-lawyers interested in learning more about the upcoming changes, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has posted a simplified guide and FAQ available here.  Houston residents can find Harris County’s local guide here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

FCC Adopts Net Neutrality


In a 3-2 vote today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a public utility.

This issue was last litigated in Comcast Corp. v. FCC, 600 F.3d 642 (2010) in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that a previous version of net neutrality exceeded the FCC’s authority under the Communications Act of 1934.  This ruling did, however, state that the FCC would be in compliance with the Act if it were to reclassify broadband providers as public utilities.  The language of the current rule was presumably written in response to this determination.  

The official press release on the new rules is available hereC-SPAN’s video of the vote is available here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How Much Attorney Time Is Sufficient for Effective Representation of Criminal Defendants?

Pursuant to legislation passed during the 83rd Texas Legislative Session, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) was instructed to “conduct and publish a study for the purpose of determining guidelines for establishing a maximum allowable caseload for a criminal defense attorney that…allows the attorney to give each indigent defendant the time and effort necessary to ensure effective representation.” The TIDC conducted a weighted caseload study that sought to answer two key questions:
     1.  How much time "is" currently being spent on the defense of court-appointed criminal cases?
     2. How much time "should" be spent to achieve reasonably effective representation?

The caseload study resulted in a lengthy report, recently made available here.

Three types of studies were used in order to answer these questions. First, a Timekeeping Study tracked the time spent on criminal cases by 196 private and public defense attorneys over a period of twelve weeks. Results were separated by seriousness of charges, with Class B and Class A misdemeanors disposed of in 4.7 and 7.6 hours, respectively. The range continues to the highest-level first degree felonies, with average attorney time of 22.3.

Next, a Time Sufficiency Study was conducted via survey of a private and public criminal defense practitioners, asking participants to review the amount of time spent on criminal cases (according to the Timekeeping Study). Respondents viewed the results of how much time attorneys were spending in these case, and making recommendations as to how much time “should” be spent in order to ensure effective representation.

Finally, a panel of 18 criminal defense practitioners were selected to take part in a Delphi process, integrating the opinions of the highly-experienced professionals into the final caseload guidelines. 

The guidelines suggest the maximum caseload an attorney can take on while still delivering competent and effective representation. The study recommends attorneys take on no more than the full-time equivalent caseload of:
  • 236 Class B Misdemeanors
  • 216 Class A Misdemeanors
  • 174 State Jail Felonies
  • 144 Third Degree Felonies
  • 105 Second Degree felonies
  • 77 First Degree Felonies
The TIDC, in creating this tool, aims to define the point at which caseloads become excessive and prevent the effective representation guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. It is hoped that this study will be used by appointing authorities and attorneys both, strengthening the effectiveness of representation, and preventing reversal of criminal convictions based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Texas Considering New Approaches to Combatting Designer Drug Sale and Abuse

In recent years, the prevalence and use of synthetic designer drugs has posed great problems for legislatures, particularly compounds commonly known as “Spice” and “Bath Salts.” Spice is a generic name for synthetic cannabinoids, which are compounds that are not the same as, but that mimic the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or the compound responsible for producing the psychological effects associated with smoking marijuana.  Bath salts are synthetic forms of Beta-ketone amphetamine compounds derived from cathinone, found naturally in the khat plant, native to East Africa and Southern Arabia. These chemicals are structurally similar to amphetamines and have similar effects on the brain and the body as amphetamines.

Despite the dangers associated with these drugs, including reports over 120 overdoses related to Spice in Texas over a period of five days, state legislatures have had difficulty regulating these drugs. Since 2011, all fifty states have enacted laws to ban Spice and Bath Salts as controlled substances. Many states, like Texas, ban these drugs by listing the specific chemical compounds as controlled substances. However, minor changes to the chemical composition of these substances can create new, but very similar, drugs not previously covered by law. These “new” drugs are then not illegal substances under the law, preventing law enforcement measures.  

Two bills recently introduced in the Texas Legislature may, if passed, provide new mechanisms to regulate these drugs, even as they continually evolve:

House Bill 1199, introduced by Rep. David Simpson, would make producing, selling, distributing, or promoting certain synthetic substances as a violation of the Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (Tex. Bus. & Comm. Code  § 17.46(b)). This amendment would make available  the full remedies of the Texas DTPA to consumers harmed by these substances.

House Bill 1212, introduced by Rep. Walter “Four” Price, would allow abusable substances or compounds to be controlled through emergency procedures. It would amend the Health & Safety Code to allow the Texas Commission of Health to “emergency schedule” a controlled substance if necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety. If the commissioner schedules a new controlled substance under emergency circumstances, it would take effect upon publication in the Texas Register, with built-in expiration provisions. Such control would allow the state to act when new versions of these designer drugs appear on the market.

Though operating under different mechanisms, both of these bills could provide Texas with new options to keep pace with, if not eliminate, the manufacture and distribution of dangerous designer drugs in the state.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

New Database of UN Human Rights Treaty Body Case Law


This week the UN Human Rights Office announced a free database that includes case law issued by the UN human rights expert committees, known as the Treaty Bodies.  The Treaty Bodies monitor the implementation of core international human rights treaties and eight are authorized to hear complaints by individuals.  The new database, Jurisprudence, contains findings from the Human Rights Committee (CCPR), the Committee against Torture (CAT), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 

This resource is a continuation and expansion of a database created by the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, which had not been updated since January 2014.  This database can be searched in multiple ways including by keyword, by treaty body, by region/state, and by issue.  See the Jurisprudence website for more information.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Public Access to Federally Funded Research


The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently revealed details about its plan to make articles and data resulting from the research it funds available to the public for free.  The plan is in response to a directive issued by the White House in 2013.  The goal of the directive is to ensure that the “direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community.”

The AHRQ is not the first agency to release its plan for public access, as the Department of Energy unveiled its plan in 2014.  That plan establishes the DOE Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science (DOE PAGES), which is currently being beta tested.  More public access plans are forthcoming, as the directive instructed all federal agencies with “over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures” to create such a plan. 

The AHRQ plan explains that scholarly publications resulting from their funded research will be available via PubMed Central, which is a free archive of biomedical and life sciences journal articles.  Regarding digital data, the agency plans to contract with a commercial repository that will make the data freely available to the public.  The agency hopes to contact with the commercial repository by October 2015.