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The Max Gruver Foundation Seeks to Bring Change to Hazing

On September 13, 2017, Max Gruver and his pledge brothers were called to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house at LSU to participate in a hazing ritual. The pledges were quizzed on the fraternity and the Greek alphabet, pelted with hot sauce and mustard and forced to do “planks” and “wall sits.”[1] Wrong answers to the older fraternity brothers’ questions were met with the penalty of being forced to chug hard liquor. Max’s pledge brother could hear him messing up the Greek alphabet and a member of Phi Delta Theta making him drink repeatedly.

Sadly, Max would not survive the hazing by his fraternity. He passed away at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital with an astounding blood alcohol content of .495, more than six times the legal intoxication level for driving. An autopsy showed Max died of “acute alcohol intoxication with aspiration.” It became clear that the actions of Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers contributed to Max’s passing. Ten of the fraternity members would later be arrested and charged criminally. One would be indicted by a grand jury for negligent homicide and three would be indicted for hazing.[2]

Max’s family has suffered an unexpected tragedy. However, they are seeking to produce positive changes from their loss, so that no other family must endure a similar experience. They created the Max Gruver Foundation to combat excessive alcohol consumption, bullying, and hazing in college.[3]  The Max Gruver Foundation hopes to strengthen the laws across the country pertaining to hazing, as well as implement regulations colleges should be enforcing.  

A primary goal of the foundation is to increase transparency, making fraternities and sororities disclose hazing incidents, excessive drinking, or penalties they’ve received. The hope is that these disclosures would permit parents and prospective members to make informed decisions while choosing a fraternity or sorority. If they see a long history of violations, they can choose to steer clear of that organization. The Max Gruver Foundation believes transparency and negative attention would cause Greek organizations to avoid engaging in bad behavior.

The Max Gruver Foundation also seeks to solve a critical dilemma often facing fraternity members. When illicit behavior results in a medical emergency, fear of getting in trouble produces a hesitance to get help. A delay in seeking medical attention could be the difference between life and death. Thus, the Foundation hopes to bridge the gap between serious legal consequences for wrongdoing and amnesty for doing the right thing by seeking help.

The advocacy of Max’s family has spurred the Louisiana legislature to take action. In May of 2018, Governor John Bel Edwards signed the Max Gruver Act and a set of anti-hazing bills into law.[4] This legislation has increased penalties and fines for individuals engaged in hazing, as well as created fines for the organizations themselves.

The criminal justice system is currently prosecuting the individuals responsible for Max’s death. Max’s family has also filed a suit against the university and Phi Delta Theta for turning a blind eye to violations and hazing incidents for years.[5]  Max’s family is hopeful these actions will result in significant changes to this culture and protect future college students. The Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm is proud to represent the Gruver family and seek justice for Max.

To carry forward Max Gruver’s legacy and promote positive changes to our laws, schools, and Greek organizations, please donate to the Max Gruver Foundation here.

 


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hazing-in-america/ten-arrested-lsu-phi-delta-theta-fraternity-hazing-death-n809806

[2] https://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2018/03/4_indicted_in_lsu_hazing_death.html

[3] https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_0d3063f6-e74c-11e7-bf2e-8bb41204414b.html

[4] https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/legislature/article_7648a0c0-64e1-11e8-8074-dff7f1422134.html

[5] https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/courts/article_d93cd6e4-a189-11e8-9e61-438d3a74eb1f.html


The Downside of Bitcoin

Black Market + Money Laundering

An attractive feature of bitcoin is that while every transaction is transparent and public, the parties involved are anonymous.  If Party A transfers 3 bitcoin to Party B, they would only be identified by their bitcoin address or “public key.” A user’s “private key” serves as their signature or password and remains hidden.  However, no personally identifying information is necessary to complete the transaction.

Bitcoin was initially adopted by true believers of blockchain technology’s potential, but also by a less savory bunch.  Bitcoin’s anonymity and lack of regulation was enticing for criminals and those looking to fly under government radar.  Thus, bitcoin’s early days saw it become the lifeblood of the digital black market.  For several years, a criminal marketplace known as the Silk Road flourished on the “dark web.”  Before it was shut down in 2013, one could purchase illegal drugs, guns, child pornography, and even hire hit men.  During this time, 30% of all bitcoin transactions took place on the dark web, but now that number is down to 1%. Bitcoin was initially cheap and relatively stable, but this past year’s catapult to nearly $20,000 and subsequent volatility has led the criminal element to adopt other cryptocurrencies.  When the FBI shut down the Silk Road, they seized what is now worth $1.2 billion worth of bitcoin.

Increased government regulation is also making bitcoin less appealing for criminal transactions.  Most popular bitcoin exchanges now require identifying information to create accounts in order to comply with IRS regulations.  Although the public key may just be numbers without personal information, law enforcement has now developed methods of identifying users if necessary.

While criminal transactions using bitcoin have dropped, it is still an attractive option for money launderers.  New research shows bitcoin has led to a large upswing in money laundering.  Now that bitcoin is more mainstream, a growing number of real estate purchases are being made with bitcoin, offering ripe opportunities to convert illicit funds into legitimate assets and cash.  However, the law surrounding money laundering and bitcoin is still being settled, including whether it is subject to the same federal banking regulations as traditional currency.

 

Valuation 

Numerous factors make bitcoin an extremely risky investment.  Bitcoin was created out of thin air by computer code. Bitcoin has no underlying value, other than what people are willing to pay for it.  Its valuation isn’t tied to performance like a company’s stock price, but simply by the whims of market demand.

 Bitcoin’s recent roller coaster price changes have caught the attention of government regulators.  The wild west of bitcoin will likely soon be tamed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The uncertainty about future regulation and its effects will continue to fuel bitcoin’s volatility.

Another major issue for volatility are the exchanges where bitcoin is bought and sold.  One of the most popular, Coinbase, has experienced severe growing pains since demand ballooned so quickly.  At the height of the recent bitcoin boom, the Coinbase exchange crashed several times due to the volume of trading occurring.  With huge price swings occurring by the minute, the inability to sell for hours at a time caused many to lose thousands of dollars.

 

Competition

Bitcoin was the trailblazer of the cryptocurrency world, but there are now thousands of other cryptocurrencies and blockchain platforms.  Bitcoin also only serves a specific function – transferring money. Bitcoin cannot be rewritten now to include added functionality that other cryptocurrencies have added, like “smart contracts.”  This inflexibility may hurt bitcoin in the long run.

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnwasik/2018/03/21/how-new-ruling-will-curb-crypto-bitcoin-bubble/#699f9e42ae2b

http://fortune.com/2017/12/22/coinbase-bitcoin-crash/


Family Alleges University and Frat Ignored Known Hazing Traditions that Resulted in Son’s Death

Baton Rouge, La.,  August 16, 2018 – Today, the parents of Maxwell (Max) Gruver, the Louisiana State University (LSU) freshman who tragically died from alcohol poisoning as a result of hazing in 2017, filed a federal lawsuit against LSU, the local and national chapters of Phi Delta Theta, the housing corporation that owns Phi Delta Theta’s fraternity house at LSU, and members of the fraternity.  Max’s parents allege the hazing ritual that caused his death would never have taken place if LSU or Phi Delta Theta had responded appropriately to numerous complaints of hazing at Phi Delta Theta’s chapter at LSU in the years before Max’s death.

The Gruver family alleges in their lawsuit that LSU’s and Phi Delta Theta’s failure to end the tradition of hazing at the chapter was driven by a broken model of self-governance and outdated gender stereotypes about young men engaging in masculine rites of passage — in direct violation of Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination.  According to the family’s Complaint, because of LSU’s policy and practice of treating the hazing of male students less seriously than the hazing of female students, males participating in Greek Life face serious and substantial risks of injury and death, while female students pledging sororities do not.  LSU’s policy and practice meant that a sorority accused of hazing its pledges by making them sing songs and do sit-ups and putting whipped cream, syrup and eggs in their hair was given “Total Probation” by LSU – the most severe sanction LSU can impose, short of rescinding its recognition of the sorority – while Phi Delt’s chapter, which admitted to hazing in 2016, was only placed on interim suspension for a month.

“We refuse to accept that the events that caused Max’s death can be explained away as ‘boys being boys,’” said Mr. and Mrs. Gruver in a statement.  “That notion is deeply offensive and wrong-headed. LSU and Phi Delt knew dangerous hazing was taking place at Phi Delt’s LSU chapter for years, yet they continued to allow the chapter and its members to investigate and police themselves. This inaction allowed dangerous hazing traditions at the chapter to persist.  We’ve lost Max as result of those hazing traditions, and his loss has created a devastating impact that reaches not just us, but Max’s siblings, family, friends, and all who knew him.  Until institutions and national fraternities begin treating the hazing of young men as the serious offense that is, with real consequences for members and local chapters that engage in it, hazing and other dangerous misconduct at fraternities will continue.  And each year, more families like ours will have to suffer through these horrific tragedies.”

“Every year, and for decades, young men have died or suffered traumatic injuries pledging fraternities that are dangerous, yet glowingly promoted with false and misleading information by the partnerships between fraternities and universities,” said Douglas Fierberg, legal counsel for the Gruver family.  “A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions, end the killing of young men, and stop lying to students and families who have the right to know information that may save lives.”

To learn more about this case and the Gruver’s fight to stop hazing, please visit The Max Gruver Foundation.


How a Genealogy Company Helped Catch a Serial Killer

Police in California recently captured a serial killer that killed at least 12 people and raped dozens of women in the 1970s and 80s. Police were finally able to track him down using a genealogy website called GEDmatch. Users of GEDmatch can upload their results from companies like 23andme or Ancestry (which do the actual DNA sequencing) to locate distant relatives and create family trees. The police created a fake profile for the killer, uploaded his genetic profile and found a match with a female relative. After locating the man police believed was the killer, they waited outside his home to collect DNA from his trash. It is legal for police to surveil your house and take your garbage; you do not have Fourth Amendment protections from searches or seizures of trash that you leave on the curb. Once the DNA sample from the trash conclusively matched the DNA collected from a crime scene in the 1970s, police knew they had found the right person.

While it is undoubtedly a good thing this serial killer will be brought to justice, many have expressed concerns over the privacy and ethical issues these police tactics raise. In recent years DNA testing has become very popular for people to trace where their family originated. These services have also expanded to analyze DNA markers for particular diseases, or genetic traits showing susceptibility to certain types of cancer. However, it is unlikely that any of the consumers of these products envisioned that submitting their DNA would be used for their arrest or even a relative’s arrest. These companies and genealogists are worried that the police tactics and publicity from this case will scare people away from using these services in the future. 

However, the police acted within the law in this case. The website GEDmatch is a public, open-source site that anyone can use, so there is no reason law enforcement should be precluded from using it. Even though 23andme and Ancestry were not involved in this case, law enforcement could issue a subpoena or warrant to these companies to locate a suspect. Also, the FBI already has its nationwide DNA database that state and local law enforcement agencies use for investigations. After sequencing a DNA sample, police can upload it into this database for cross-referencing, to see if it matches someone already in the system.

It is foreseeable that law enforcement will continue to use methods like this to solve cold cases. Police are currently attempting to use the same method to identify the Zodiac Killer, another California serial killer case that has been cold for decades. There will always be privacy and ethical concerns when we willingly turn over our data to third parties. These companies may use data improperly, leave it insecure against hackers, or turn it over to law enforcement after receiving a subpoena or warrant. You may not be concerned about these companies or law enforcement having your DNA now, but it’s good to be mindful of how it may be used in the future.

  1. https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/health/dna-privacy-golden-state-killer-genealogy.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur
  2. https://m.sfgate.com/business/technology/article/Use-of-DNA-in-serial-killer-probe-sparks-privacy-12868330.php
  3. https://www.fbi.gov/services/laboratory/biometric-analysis/codis/codis-and-ndis-fact-sheet
  4. https://apnews.com/ac6bb05bbe754dbfbaa57e0cfef5a878

LOUISIANA’S 2017 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM PACKAGE

Louisiana holds the unfortunate title of having the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.¹  Being the number one incarcerator takes a toll on the state’s resources; Louisiana spent $625 million on adult corrections in 2017.²  With the hope of shedding that ranking and its associated costs, the Louisiana legislature passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package, which Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law.  The amended criminal laws aim to decrease our prison population and government spending, primarily by:

  • Reducing sentences and probationary periods for certain crimes
  • Easing eligibility requirements for drug court, reentry programs, probation, or suspension of sentence
  • Reducing sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders
  • Changing the calculation of “good time” credit for prisoners

Sentencing Guidelines

The justice reform package changed the sentencing guidelines for many non-violent felonies.³  Several of the maximum sentences were reduced and some mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated.  A few examples:

  • The mandatory minimum sentence for “Felon in possession of a firearm” was reduced from 10 years to 5 years.
  • “Money laundering” more than $100,000 was reduced from a 5 – 99 year sentence to 2 – 50 years.
  • The maximum sentence for “Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” was reduced from 10 years to 2 years.
  • Simple arson no longer has a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, with a new sentencing range of 0 – 15 years.

Louisiana’s “Theft” statute bases the severity of punishment on the value of the property stolen. The new law adjusted the dollar value ranges, making some of the penalties more lenient.⁸  For example, a theft under $750 formerly resulted in a zero to six month sentence (misdemeanor) and anything more than that amount was a felony.  Now, the misdemeanor/theft threshold has been raised to $1,000.  Other similar statutes that use this dollar amount threshold followed the same pattern: issuing worthless checks, residential contractor fraud10, access device fraud11, and organized retail theft12, to name a few.

Probation, “Good Time,” and Parole

The changes to the criminal code expanded the ability of judges to suspend a sentence for certain crimes, placing the defendant on probation rather than in prison.13  Defendants charged with drug-related crimes are now eligible for substance abuse probation programs.  Also, entry into the drug division probation program was expanded to permit defendants charged with a crime of violence, as long as the crime was not against a family member or dating partner and does not carry a maximum sentence over 10 years.

Inmates will now earn “good time” more easily, which is a way for them to earn credit toward an earlier release from prison.  For non-violent and non-sex offenses, the new changes increase “good time” to a rate of 13 days for every 7 served, or an extra 130 days annually shaved off their sentence.  Certain inmates can reduce their prison time by participating in educational programs, drug programs, and work programs.

The new law changes the time the defendant must serve prior to becoming eligible for parole. Now, for non-violent crimes and non-sex offense crimes, defendants are parole eligible once 25 percent of their sentence has been served, including those sentenced as a non violent habitual offender.  Upon a first conviction for a crime of violence, a defendant with no prior sex crime convictions will be eligible for parole once 65 percent of the sentence is served.

Sentencing Enhancements for Habitual Offenders

Due to Louisiana’s habitual offender statute, a defendant convicted of a felony can receive a significantly enhanced sentence if they have a prior felony conviction.  Those enhancements are no longer quite as harsh.14  The mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced.  Also, for certain felonies, the “cleansing period” has been shortened from 10 years to 5 years.  The “cleansing period” means that after a certain amount of time has passed, prosecutors can no longer use a defendant’s previous convictions against him.

Conclusion

This article is merely a brief overview of what Louisiana’s criminal justice reform package entails.  The changes made to our criminal statutes were vast, but also highly specific depending on the crime. The date when certain aspects begin to take effect and to whom they apply will also vary person to person.  If you believe these changes may affect the charges you or a loved one face, or if they may affect your sentence or probation, do not hesitate to contact the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm.  As former federal prosecutors, these experienced attorneys understand the nuances of the changes to our criminal law and will provide you with a tailored analysis of your situation.

 


[1] http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/louisiana_incarceration_rate.html

[2] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/16/louisiana-has-the-highest-incarceration-rate-in-th/

[3] Act 281/S.B. 220, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051860

[4] (La. R.S. 14:95.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78740

[5] (La. R.S. 14:230) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78382

[6] (La. R.S. 14:68.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78631

[7] (La. R.S. 14:52) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78556

[8] (La. R.S. 14:67) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78605

[9]  (La. R.S. 14:71) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78645

[10] (La. R.S. 14:202.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=508538

[11] (La. R.S. 14:70.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78642

[12] (La. R.S. 14:67.25) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=451833

[13] Act 280/S.B. 139, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051859

[14] Act 282/S.B. 221, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051861

 


Donald Cazayoux Named a 2016 Super Lawyer

Attorney Donald Cazayoux of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm was recently named a 2016 Super Lawyer for Criminal Defense. The Super Lawyers designation is given to those attorneys who demonstrate excellence in practice, and are chosen through a selective review process. At the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm, we are dedicated to representing those who have been accused of committing white collar crimes and those who have suffered catastrophic injuries caused by the negligence of another party. To find out what our team of experienced attorneys can do to help you with your legal concerns, contact us today at (225) 650-7400.

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