Skyrocketing Violent Crime...and Other Legal News You May Have Missed

By Richard Dahl on October 12, 2021

We've already learned that auto fatalities increased sharply in 2020 even though the pandemic reduced the amount of driving. Now the latest FBI figures show that widespread coronavirus lockdowns did nothing to reduce violent crime.

For the first time in four years, the estimated number of violent crimes in the U.S. increased when compared with the previous year's totals. According to the FBI, the violent-crime rate in 2020 increased by 5.2% over 2019, while the property crime rate declined by 8.1%.

Although rape offenses declined by 12.0%, the volume of murder and nonnegligent (willful) manslaughter increased by an astonishing 29.4%, and aggravated assault offenses rose by 12.1%.

Vermont's 'Hound Hunting' Law Draws Howls of Protest

viral TikTok video has drawn critical attention to a Vermont state law that allows "hound hunting," an age-old practice where human hunters use packs of dogs to track down animals.

The image of an English fox hunt might come to mind, with well-dressed hunters on horseback following a pack of braying hounds.

Today, the practice is a bit more space-age, with hunters attaching GPS devices to the dogs' collars. Then the hunters follow in their pickups, the dogs often miles away, until they know the dogs have their prey cornered. They can then kill the animal or let it go.

In this case, the situation involved private property and trespass laws. The man who shot the video, Morgan Gold, was approached by a hunter asking permission to enter Gold's property, where the dogs had chased a bear up a tree. After first denying permission, Gold then provided it and accompanied the hunter, recording what he saw. The hunter, incidentally, did call off the dogs and let the bear run free.

While Vermont law prohibits trespassing on private property, domestic animals can cross property lines without penalty. That's the problem, at least as critics see it.

Gold, the video shooter, is unhappy and wants to overturn the law allowing hound hunting. He calls it a "barbaric practice" and has launched a petition drive to halt it.

Southwest Water Fight Gets a Hearing

A virtual trial got underway the week of Oct. 4 to resolve a dispute between New Mexico and Texas over the waters of the Rio Grande.

Texas filed suit against New Mexico in 2013, claiming that by allowing farmers near the Rio Grande to pump groundwater, New Mexico is violating the Rio Grande Compact by failing to provide enough water downstream. Texas says this is harming its own farmers.

Texas contends that New Mexico's groundwater pumping reduced the flow of water required in the Compact, but New Mexico claims that a 2008 operating agreement that shifted some surface water to Texas led New Mexican farmers to rely more on groundwater.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion allowing the U.S. to intervene in the case and appointed a special master, New Orleans attorney Gregory Grimsal. One month later, Grimsal was replaced by Judge Michael Melloy of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Melloy, who heard opening arguments and witness testimony in the virtual trial, must provide a report to the Supreme Court before an in-person trial begins in Iowa next spring.

Vax Harassment Now Illegal in California

It is now illegal to harass people on their way to COVID-19 vaccination clinics in California.

On Oct. 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law making it a misdemeanor to harass people going to get a vaccination of any kind, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail.

First Amendment proponents, however, are critical of it.

David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, which advocates for free speech, told California Healthline: "It sweeps up broad activities that are protected by the First Amendment and defines them as harassing."

But vaccination advocates counter that the law is necessary.

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who introduced the bill after protesters briefly shut down a mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium in March, said in a statement: "While, as a public official, I must live being threatened and stalked at my work, my home, and in my community by extremists, there is no place in the Constitution that says ordinary people and health care workers have to be subjected to that behavior."

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