New Supreme Court Case Could Drastically Limit Homeowners Fourth Amendment Rights
February 24, 2021
Case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court touching on unreasonable searches and seizures. I *hope* they act to protect privacy and liberty against an ever expanding power of government to intrude. If they do not act to protect individual liberties...
"Thanks to overcriminalization, prosecutors could potentially file far more criminal charges over “a staggering array of everyday conduct,” including “doodling on a dollar bill, selling snacks without a license, spitting in public, eavesdropping, littering (including on your own property), jaywalking, and possession of a felt tip marker by a person under twenty-one.” As a result, “millions of Americans unwittingly commit a misdemeanor every day.”
“Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government,” Justice Robert H. Jackson warned more than seven decades ago. “Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart...the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police.”
What is "Stepped-Up Basis" and how does this affect you?
January 28, 2021
Pres. Biden has floated the idea of getting rid of something called "stepped-up basis". What is this and how does this affect you?
When your parents pass and leave you the family house (or any asset), for instance, normally you would inherit that property at what it is worth today, regardless of the cost that your parents acquired it.
So, for instance, if your parents purchased their home for $40,000.00 thirty years ago (the "basis"), and if, at their death (the last parent to die) the house is worth $200,000, and then, after inheriting it, you were to sell that house today (for, say, $205,000), you would only pay taxes on the gain from what it is worth at the time your last surviving parent died and what it sells for (gain=$5,000.00 in this example - see outline below). This is because the "stepped-up basis" automatically increases the "basis" from the original purchase price ($40,000.00) to what it is valued at upon the last owner to die ($200,000.00).
If Biden does away with a "stepped-up basis," a policy/law that has been in place for many, many decades, you will inherit the property at the value your parents paid for the property (this is called the "basis" - $40,000.00). If you decide to sell (at $205,000.00) you will pay taxes on the difference between the original purchase price (the "basis" = $40,000.00) and what it sells for today ($205,000.00 = taxable value: $165,000.00). If you choose to try to keep the property, the IRS could still determine a value as of the date of the last to die and tax you on the gain (depending upon how the law and IRS regulation might be effected by such legislation).
Here is what this looks like:
Current Policy with a step-ups in basis:
House original purchase price: $40,000
Inherited House at Current Value - $200,000
Sells for $205,000
Taxable income = $5000
Taxes Due - 20% of $5000 = $1000
Profit to you = $204,000
Biden proposed Policy:
Inherited House at original purchase price - $40,000
Sells for $205,000
Taxable income = $165,000
Taxes Due - 20% of $165,000 = $33,000
Profit to you = $172,000
If your parent were to have sold this property prior to passing they would have paid no taxes because it was their primary residence. This will be, if Biden goes forward with this plan, a massively huge tax on the middle and lower classes, as well as forcing people to incur additional cost and time expenditures attempting to determine the original purchase price of the asset (houses are easier to track down this information than, say, stocks).
In April 2020, inside a local, Ottawa County, MI sandwich shop, my client expressed his opinion regarding the Governor's COVID orders .... and was charged with "disturbing the peace," a misdemeanor under MCL 750.170. We moved to dismiss the charge on 1st Amendment grounds arguing that the statute was unconstitutionally applied against my client in a manner that unconstitutionally punished his 1st Amendment rights of free speech and expression in a public place.
In its opinion regarding our motion to dismiss, the Court denied our motion, but limited the prosecution to only presenting evidence of his "threatening" conduct (of which the State's witness had already testified in an evidentiary hearing Mr. Steffes did not threaten her).
The prosecution continued its case against my client despite the court's opinion and order.
We then moved to limit the prosecution from using any expressive, non-violent words during trial, arguing, again, that any testimony discussing his non-violent expressive conduct necessarily required testimony about what he was communicating by means of his expressive conduct. This was based upon the Court's prior order and the testimony of the State's witness that she had not been threatened by Mr. Steffes (she did testify that she felt threatened by the content of his speech, but the Court ordered that this was protected speech and could not be used against him in the prosecution's case).
Today we were back in Court to argue the motion. Prior to the commencement of arguments, the Prosecution admitted that due to the Court's order it "could not proceed" and therefore dismissed the case.
This is a HUGE win for proponents of First Amendment civil rights, but, once again, the "forgotten man" suffers under the financial strain of protecting that interest. We are asking once again (and thanking you in advance) for any assistance to help cover his attorney fee costs.
IRS Announces Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2020
December 9, 2020
An article from October 2020 provides good information for estate planning purposes:
"...the official estate and gift tax limits for 2020: The estate and gift tax exemption is $11.58 million per individual, up from $11.4 million in 2019. That means an individual can leave $11.58 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax, while a married couple will be able to shield $23.16 million.
The annual gift exclusion amount remains the same at $15,000.
Warning: The $23.16 million number per couple isn’t automatic. An unlimited marital deduction allows you to leave all or part of your assets to your surviving spouse free of federal estate tax. But to use your late spouse’s unused exemption—a move called “portability” — you must elect it on the estate tax return of the first spouse to die, even when no tax is due. The problem is if you don’t know what portability is and how to elect it, you could be hit with a surprise federal estate tax bill.
While Republican death tax foes hope to make the doubled exemption permanent, Democratic presidential hopefuls say they’ll bring it back to its 2009 level of $3.5 million, with a graduated tax rate up to 77%, compared to today’s flat 40% rate.
If you are interested in exploring your estate planning options, please feel free to contact me: 616-257-3300.
We have created a GoFundMe page to help with the expenses of the criminal defense of my client charged with exercising his First Amendment right to express his opinion regarding COVID-19 restrictions, Gov. Whitmer's Executive Orders and people that follow them without thinking for themselves.
We are moving forward, seeking to dismiss the case on constitutional principles. Please consider how you may be to help: a donation of any amount will help, but so will getting this shared EVERYWHERE.
Michigan orders auto insurance refunds due to ‘extreme reductions in driving'
April 15, 2020
It's an interesting argument: can the governor by executive order modify insurance contracts? There's an argument that she cannot under the "Contracts Clause" of the U.S. Constitution. This will be an interesting one to watch. Clearly she believes that she can, via regulatory power through the Michigan Insurance Commissioner.
Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services Director Anita Fox has ordered all auto insurers in Michigan to issue refunds or premium waivers to consumers as a result of insurance companies’ reduced risk during the COVID-19 crisis.
Another full dismissal from a Mason County civil law suit
March 26, 2020
Congratulations! To my client and his company... we obtained a full dismissal of him personally and his construction company from a Mason County civil law suit brought against him and others claiming all sorts of damages based upon state and federal causes of action. My clients are dismissed based on a written waiver AND, in (our and) the Judge's opinion that the Plaintiff failed to support the case with sufficient evidence. At the hearing on our Motion, the Plaintiff's attorney actually claimed to the Judge that it wasn't Plaintiff's job to prove who was at fault, but rather the various defendants' burden to determine blame among and between themselves. All defendants, of course, were claiming that they were not at fault, or that some other defendant might be at fault.
Now.... for a motion seeking my clients' attorney fees based upon our Offer of Judgment that Plaintiff rejected..... *fist pump*
Per the Governor's orders, as of 11:00 a.m., March 23, 2020, our office is now CLOSED to the public. We are still operating and conducting business, but it is now purely and solely via email, telephone and telecommunications (Skype, Zoom and other internet meeting options).
The difference between "deadly force" and "non-deadly force."
August 23, 2019
On August 20, 2019, the Michigan Court of Appeals handed down a favorable decision supporting a woman's right to use her legally owned and possessed pistol where she "reasonably and honestly" believed that there was imminent danger of the unlawful use of force against herself or others. The case is "People v Siwatu-Salama Ra" (CoA Case No. 343202). Ms. Ra, believing that she, her child and her mother were in imminent danger, pulled her (unloaded) pistol and pointed it at another person who had already struck Ms. Ra's parked vehicle (inside of which was Ms. Ra's 2 year old child), and who had attempted to use the vehicle, after ramming Ms. Ra's parked car, to hit Ms. Ra's mother.
There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from this case, all of which are favorable in a non-deadly self-defense scenario. First, and perhaps foremost, the Court reiterated that pointing a gun at someone, without intent to actually shoot the person, is the use of "non-deadly" force. The Court quoted the following from a legal treatise, that “merely to threaten death or serious bodily harm, without any intention to carry out the threat, is not to use deadly force, so that one may be justified in pointing a gun at his attacker when he would not be justified pulling the trigger.” Discussing the Self-Defense Act addressing non-deadly use of force in self-defense (MCL 780.972(2)) with the facts presented in the case, the Court stated, "because defendant used only nondeadly force by brandishing her weapon, she was justified in using that force if she honestly and reasonably believed that she had to use force to protect herself or others from the imminent unlawful use of force by another. The evidence presented in this case supports the conclusion that it was reasonable for defendant to believe that she had to use force to protect herself or others from Harvey’s imminent unlawful use of force, even if it was not reasonable to believe that she was in danger of being killed or seriously injured." (People v. Ra, at *5).
A second important point that can be taken from this decision is that the Court once again reiterated the meanings and difference between "deadly force" and "non-deadly force." Citing prior Michigan Supreme Court holdings, the Court stated that "Our Supreme Court, however, has applied the term “deadly force” as defined as force used in a circumstance in which the natural, probable, and foreseeable consequence of the act is death." The Court then recited from the model criminal jury instructions the differences:
"The use of deadly force in self-defense requires that the defendant honestly and reasonably believe that she or another is in danger of being killed or seriously injured, M Crim JI 7.15(3), while the use of nondeadly force in self defense requires that the defendant honestly and reasonably believe that the use of force is necessary to protect herself or others from the imminent unlawful use of force by another. M Crim JI 7.22(4)."
This distinction is important for the non-lawyer to understand: it is much simpler to convince a jury of the justification for the use of non-deadly force (the defendant's reasonable and honest belief of an imminent threat of unlawful force being used against them or others) than for the use of deadly force. "Unlawful force" includes simple assault. Thus, the imminent threat of the use of unlawful force would include the reasonable and honest fear of someone about to assault you or someone else. However, to reiterate the Court's point where a firearm is in play, there CANNOT BE ANY intent of actually firing the gun (pulling the trigger). Intent to fire the gun would convert the conduct over from non-deadly defense to the deadly force much higher defense justification requirement.
Another takeaway from this Case was the Court's willingness to criticize, and very resounding criticism of, the trial judge for instituting his own feelings about whether the defendant's conduct involving a firearm, merely because a firearm was involved, automatically implicated "deadly force." The Court was firm and unanimous in holding that the mere presence and use of a firearm DOES NOT automatically transform the conduct into a use of deadly force. The Court said, "the trial court’s conclusion that the brandishing of a gun is the equivalent of deadly force is contrary to this Court’s holding in Pace that brandishing a weapon is not the equivalent of the use of deadly force for purposes of self-defense."
Some final thoughts on this case: The Court has clearly taken a stance that pointing a gun at someone if there is no intent to use it falls within the "use of non-deadly force" and that under the right circumstances, that conduct can be justified as self-defense or defense of others. However, given long-standing prosecutorial practices, the person who does this may well be charged with 2 felonies: felonious assault (where the gun was pointed at someone even without the requisite intent to fire the weapon) and "felony firearm" (using a firearm in the commission of a felony). The "felony firearm" charge comes with a MANDATORY 2 year prison sentence in Michigan if convicted. However, the Court in this case always referred to the defendant's conduct as "brandishing" not "felony assault" such as how she was charged. This *may* hint that the Court, under the right circumstances, may not be favorably inclined to allow stand a felony assault and felony firearm conviction in a brandishing case, especially where there are facts strongly supporting a self-defense or defense of others affirmative defense justification.
Finally, for the legal practitioner, do NOT be afraid to push the prosecution and trial judge on the issue of a jury instruction supporting the use of non-deadly force in the right scenario. Convincing a jury that your client was justified in using non-deadly force is a much lower hurdle to get across than convincing a jury that the use of deadly force was justified. While that may well seem obvious and pointless a point to make, when in the face of a scoffing prosecutor and a former prosecutor-turned-judge trial judge, the pressure is intense to treat these sorts of cases as deadly force cases. That does appear, perhaps, to have also occurred in this case, and I have personally had to fight tooth-and-nail in certain of my defense cases for the non-deadly force instruction against both a prosecutor and a judge who were absolutely adamant that because a gun was involved the force used was therefore "deadly force." If you cannot get the instruction you want, ABSOLUTELY make sure your objection is on the record.