The Legal Insider

May, 2010

The Best Free Legal Resources Online

Researching legal issues online is tough because there are so many sites offering information and much of the time what you get is incorrect or out of date. Additionally, many sites offer information on only one area of the law like landlord-tenant or child custody issues. If you're looking to do some research and want good information check out these sites that we think offer the best free legal information and resources:

ProBono.net provides resources as well as free and heavily discounted rates for lawyers who want to help low income or disadvantaged clients. They work with nonprofit legal organizations throughout the United States.

LegalMatch Law Library offers over 4,000 articles on some of the most common topics like divorce, immigration, and criminal cases but also more specific issues like your rights during a field sobriety test and tips on selecting a lawyer.

LawHelp.org is a website run by the Pro Bono folks and focuses on low to mid-income clients. They were awarded 2 Webby awards and offer multilingual interfaces. LawHelp.org has links to court forms and other legal information you may find pertinent.

If you've scoured the web and still can't seem to find the right information, post your question on our Legal Forums. The Legal Forums offer a place for people to explain their issue and exchange ideas on nearly every legal topic from personal injury to family law.


Summer: A Great Time to be Arrested?

A Criminology teacher back in college told us that crime rates tend to spike during times when the weather is hottest. It seems to make sense because we have more interaction with strangers during the summer while the weather is nice and we're out going to concerts and baseball games.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports a 10% spike in crime rates during summer months. Many of the arrests are for violent crimes like assault and domestic violence but there is also a fluctuation in drug and DUI/DWI arrests. Below is an acrostic of important things to remember if you are arrested:

Always be cooperative. Listen to the officer and comply with his orders. You don't want to be charged with resisting arrest and sometimes they'll let you off with a warning if it's a very minor offense.

Resist trying to "lawyer" your way out of the situation. If you're taken into custody you will have your day in court.

Remember information. The officer's names, badge numbers, and other important details of the event are crucial. Being arrested is unnerving and happens quickly. Recalling specific facts and names can make all the difference in proving your innocence or error in procedure.

Evaluate the situation. Police aren't allowed to search you or your car without arresting you, getting a warrant, or having probable cause. If you consent to a search it will be hard to argue it was an illegal search if there is a criminal case.

Say only what is needed. You are only required to give them your name and address.  Miranda Rights will likely be read to you and they will use what you say against you in court.

Take photos. If your rights were violated and you were injured during the arrest, document it by taking photos. Police misconduct happens more often that we like to admit.


Unmarried Parents and Child Custody Isn't Just for TV

You can't turn on the television these days without seeing some show featuring a girl and the impending birth of an illegitimate child. Such is the case with Secret Life of an American Teenager, Glee, and Accidentally on Purpose among other popular shows. But what actually happens when unmarried couples have a baby in the real world? Who gets custody and support payments? Is there anything I can do if s/he wants to move far away?

Mother's Rights: Children born out of wedlock are principally recognized as being under the custody of the mother. The mother is charged with the custody, care, and rights of the child over any other person including the father.

Father's Rights: Unmarried fathers initially have very little rights in terms of visitation and custody of the child; however, he can establish some visitation rights. If an unwed father can prove the mother is unfit or has abandoned the child he may be able to establish primary custody; but full physical custody over the mother is somewhat unusual and largely determined on a case-to-case basis.

Child's Rights: In any child custody case the best interests of the child are primarily taken into account. The moral character and financial status of the primary caregiver are also weighed into custody and visitation awards. If they're old enough, the judge or mediator may also ask the child's preference.

Any custody battle can end up getting rough because there are such strong emotions involved. Consult a pre-certified Family lawyer from LegalMatch who can layout your options and advise on the best course of action for your situation.


3 Common Landlord-Tenant Issues

Security deposits, evictions, and failed maintenance are three major points of contention that weigh heavily on the landlord-tenant relationship. All three issues cost money and time, not to mention the headache of dealing with the situation, and frustrate both parties beyond belief. Below are ways to deal with these occurrences and links to more information about your rights as a tenant and landlord.

Most tenants receive an eviction notice because they've failed to pay rent, willfully destruct property, pose a health hazard, or engage in illegal drug activity. Violating a lease provision like the maximum number of occupants allowed in the residence or engaging in criminal action is also grounds for eviction and enforceable in every state. Evictions are a last resort for landlords and normally come after a number of warnings. In some states, a lawyer can protect you from an eviction.

Security Deposits are a landlord's best friend because they allow them to pay for the repair of any damages as well as unpaid rent without having to bill the tenant who will likely disagree with the charges. Sometimes the system can be abused, such as when landlords simply withhold the security deposit without cause. If your landlord has withheld your security deposit you should first contact them to ascertain the reason. After you have requested your security deposit back but the landlord has refused, and you have proof that the charges are not justified, you should consult a lawyer or file your case in the appropriate landlord-tenant or small claims division of your local court. 

Failed maintenance can range from a broken window to a clogged toilet and often drastically affects the habitability of a residence. Landlords are responsible for maintaining a habitable residence for tenants and are liable for any repairs stipulated in the terms of the lease, verbally, or any other repairs they took on during the tenancy. It's important you check your local laws, but withholding rent payments is sometimes an affective method of getting your landlord to fix a problem they keep glossing over. It should only be used as a last resort in any case.

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