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No Breakthroughs at North Korea Nuclear Talks
U.S. Legal News | 2006/12/19 22:49

The chief U.S. negotiator at the six-party talks in Beijing that are aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program says there were no breakthroughs after his first bilateral meeting with his North Korean counterpart. From the Chinese capital, Roger Wilkison reports on the second day of the latest round of negotiations.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill looked weary as he returned to his hotel after a long day of negotiations, including his first face-to-face meeting with North Korea's Kim Kye Gwan.

Hill and negotiators from China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are trying to get North Korea to implement a pledge it made under a joint statement by the six in September 2005 to scrap its nuclear weapons in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

"We do not have any breakthroughs to report," he said. "I would say though that it was a substantial discussion where we went through some really specific ideas as to how to get going on implementing the joint statement."

North Korea says it will not consider getting rid of its nuclear-weapons program until the United Nations lifts sanctions on the reclusive communist state that were imposed after North Korea conducted a nuclear test in October. It also wants the United States to end financial restrictions Washington imposed in late 2005 on a Macau bank that U.S. officials say helped Pyongyang with counterfeiting and money-laundering activities.

North Korean and U.S. officials met on the sidelines of the negotiations to discuss that issue, but the U.S. team leader said resolving the financial restrictions issue is a long-term process.

Hill, meanwhile, called on host China, ostensibly an ally of North Korea, to play a bigger role in pushing the North Koreans to fulfill their pledge to disarm. He refers to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK.

"To solve the problem of the DPRK's nuclear ambitions is going to require a great effort by China," he said. "The United States cannot do it. We cannot do it by ourselves. We need to work in this multilateral framework ... Frankly, we need all the six parties. But I would say the Chinese have a very special role to play."

Whatever influence the Chinese may have over North Korea, and they say it is limited, Pyongyang insists that it is already a nuclear power. And it appears that nothing that has been said in the framework of the six-party talks has made it want to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.



Tax Law Changes to Affect People Giving to Charity
Lawyer News | 2006/12/19 22:21

WASHINGTON — Individuals and businesses making contributions to charity should keep in mind several important tax law changes made last summer by the Pension Protection Act.

The new law offers older owners of individual retirement accounts a new way to give to charity. It also includes rules designed to provide both taxpayers and the government greater certainty in determining what may be deducted as a charitable contribution. Some of these changes include the following.

New Tax Break for IRA Owners

An IRA owner, age 70 ½ or over, can directly transfer tax-free, up to $100,000 per year to an eligible charitable organization. This option is available in tax years 2006 and 2007. Eligible IRA owners can take advantage of this provision, regardless of whether they itemize their deductions. Distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans, including SIMPLE IRAs and simplified employee pension (SEP) plans are not eligible.

To qualify, the funds must be contributed directly by the IRA trustee to the eligible charity. Amounts so transferred are not taxable and no deduction is available for the amount given to the charity.

Not all charities are eligible under this provision. For example, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations are not eligible recipients.

Transferred amounts are counted in determining whether the owner has met the IRA’s required minimum distribution rules. Where individuals have made nondeductible contributions to their traditional IRAs, a special rule treats transferred amounts as coming first from taxable funds, instead of proportionately from taxable and nontaxable funds, as would be the case with regular distributions.

Rules for Clothing and Household Items

To be deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity after Aug. 17, 2006, must be in good used condition or better. However, a taxpayer may claim a deduction of more than $500 for any single item, regardless of its condition, if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances, and linens.

Guidelines for Monetary Donations

To deduct any charitable donation of money, a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. A bank record includes canceled checks, bank or credit union statements and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity and the date and amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity and the transaction posting date.

Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card, and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

Prior law allowed taxpayers to back up their donations of money with personal bank registers, diaries or notes made around the time of the donation. Those types of records are no longer sufficient.

This provision applies to contributions made in taxable years beginning after Aug. 17, 2006. For taxpayers that file returns on a calendar-year basis, including most individuals, the new provision applies to contributions made beginning in 2007.

The new law does not change the prior-law requirement that a taxpayer get an acknowledgement from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet the requirements of both provisions.

To help taxpayers plan their holiday-season and year-end donations, the IRS offers the following additional reminders:

  • Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of the year count for 2006. This is true even if the credit-card bill isn’t paid until next year. Also, checks count for 2006 as long as they are mailed this year.
  • Check that the organization is qualified. Only donations to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. IRS Publication 78, available online and at many public libraries, lists most organizations that are qualified to receive deductible contributions. The searchable online version can be found on IRS.gov under, “Search for Charities.” In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even though they often are not listed in Publication 78.
  • For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Schedule A can claim a deduction for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to people who choose the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceeds the standard deduction. Use the 2006 Schedule A, available now on IRS.gov, to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
  • For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes a description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes a description of the property and its condition.
  • The deduction for a motor vehicle, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value of the vehicle is more than $500. Form 1098-C, or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for more information.


State to pay legal fees in video-game lawsuit
Legal Career News | 2006/12/19 16:45

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration told a federal judge Monday night that it will pay legal fees in a lost lawsuit over video-game restrictions by late January.

Lawyers for Blagojevich and Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan said they had decided to pay the $520,000 fee from unspent money in the budgets of several agencies under the governor.

The document filed in federal court in Chicago indicated necessary paperwork would be to the state comptroller by Friday.

Video-game industry representatives sued Blagojevich and Madigan last year over a law the governor promoted that made it a crime for retailers to sell violent or sexually explicit video games to minors.



Violent crime still on rise, FBI data show
Legal Career News | 2006/12/18 19:19

Violent crime in the US increased during the first half of 2006 when compared with the same period in 2005, according to the FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report  released Monday. Violent crime, including murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, increased 3.7 percent since 2005 but property crimes, such as burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, decreased 2.6 percent. The number of arsons increased 6.8 percent.

The overall 3.7 percent uptick in violent crime between January and June comes amid a still-incomplete Justice Department study of 18 cities for clues on why criminal activity is increasing.

Property crimes like auto theft and other larcenies were down by 2.6 percent over the same six-month period, the data show. But the number of arsons shot up by nearly 7 percent, the FBI reported.

If the numbers stay at the current pace, the rate of violent crime will increase in 2006 for the second year in a row. The FBI's 2005 annual report on violent crime showed that violent crimes increased in 2005 for the first time since 2001; the 2.3 percent increase was the largest jump since 1991. The US Justice Department has launched an investigation to examine why the violent crime rate has increased.

“This is a concern we’ve been focused on,” said Gene Voegtlin, legislative counsel for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents an estimated 20,000 law enforcement officials and has been pushing for more crime-fighting funding. “A lot of (police) agencies are really stretched thin when it comes to the budget and their ability to aggressively combat crime.”

The Justice Department did not have an immediate comment.



17 Guantanamo detainees sent home
Headline News | 2006/12/17 23:16

The U.S. military repatriated 18 detainees from Guantanamo Bay over the weekend to Afghanistan, Yemen, Kazakhstan, Libya and Bangladesh, a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday.

The men, flown out of the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba on Friday, were all transferred to the custody of governments in their native countries except for one Yemeni detainee, who was released without conditions, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.

The detainees, held for years at the isolated detention center without being charged, were cleared for departure by a military review process that assesses whether detainees have intelligence value or pose a threat to the United States. The military does not provide details about individual cases.

Since the prison opened in January 2002, about 380 detainees have been released from Guantanamo. About 395 prisoners are still held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban, including roughly 85 others cleared to leave for other countries, Peppler said.



Former officer gets 19 years for robbing drug dealers
Court Feed News | 2006/12/16 18:47

A former reserve officer with the Memphis Police Department, Andrew Hunt, was sentenced today to 19 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release for his part in plotting and taking part in robbery and kidnapping while on duty, the Justice Department announced.

In addition, Hunt will pay $300 in special assessments for his involvement in a conspiracy to deprive citizens of their civil rights, for extortion affecting interstate commerce, and for using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime. Hunt pleaded guilty in Sept. 2006.

“It is profoundly sad when one individual abuses a position of power and public trust,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to prosecuting all cases of official misconduct and to bringing these individuals to justice.”

As part of his guilty plea, the defendant acknowledged that a co-conspirator arranged to purchase a kilogram of cocaine from an individual known as "J.J." Officer Hunt, while in uniform, on duty, and using a marked squad car, made a traffic stop of “J.J.” prior to the transaction and robbed him of $1,000 in cash, a $15,000 watch, and a cellular telephone. Hunt told “J.J.” he would return the kilogram of cocaine if J.J. produced $15,000 in cash. The next day, “J.J.” produced $9,500, but Hunt took the money and kept the cocaine.

The defendant further acknowledged that on Sept. 12, 2005, a co-conspirator arranged the purchase of four kilograms of cocaine from Pedro Moreno and Victor Saucedo. While in uniform, armed, and driving a marked squad car, Hunt and his co-conspirators robbed the men of the cocaine and kidnapped them. When the men could not produce the ransom demanded by Hunt, he arrested them for possession of 189.5 grams of cocaine and split the remainder of the four kilograms of cocaine with his co-conspirators.

In related matters, former Memphis police officers Arthur Sease, Antoine Owens, and Alexander Johnson were charged in September in a 50-count indictment charging conspiracy to violate civil rights, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, violation of civil rights, extortion, possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime.

The Civil Rights Division is committed to the vigorous enforcement of every federal criminal civil rights statute, such as those laws that prohibit the willful use of excessive force or other acts of misconduct by law enforcement officials.  In fiscal year 2006, nearly 50 percent of the cases brought by the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division involved such prosecutions. Since fiscal year 2001, the Division has convicted 50 percent more defendants for excessive force and official misconduct than in the preceding six years. 

Assistant United States Attorney Steve Parker of the Western District of Tennessee and Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti from the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.



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