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Research & Litigation

You Have the Right to Remain Silent…

In Custodia Legis - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 10:45am

Police School [between 1909 and 1940]. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

The above phrase is one of the most recognized in the U.S. criminal justice system.  It has been included in so many TV shows and movies that I imagine many people will automatically continue to recite the rest of the words!

June 13, 2016, was the 50th anniversary of the famous Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, which gave rise to what is now commonly referred to as the “Miranda warning.”  This week, the Law Library of Congress will hold an event about the depiction of law in popular culture, which will include a montage of film clips showing the reading of the Miranda warning in movies and TV shows over the last 50 years.  The Law Library has also produced an online publication commemorating the 50th anniversary of the decision.  There you can find various documents, including “exchanges among key stakeholders from the time of the trial, a few of whom are now historical figures of great renown.”

Due to the sheer number of references to the warning in popular culture, people in many other countries might also have a pretty good knowledge of its content and wording.  But do their own police officers actually use the same, or similar, warnings when arresting or questioning suspects?

If you’ve ever wondered about the answer to this question, or if you’ve just started wondering about it now, the Law Library has a great resource for you.  We have published on our website a report, titled Miranda Warning Equivalents Abroad, that provides information on the requirements for law enforcement officers in 108 countries to inform persons arrested or questioned for an offense of their right to remain silent and/or right to consult a lawyer.  Where possible, our foreign law specialists and analysts have included the actual wording that is to be used in a particular country.

“No. 2605. A nut cracker.” (“Photograph shows policeman holding a nightstick.”) (c. 1909.) Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

The countries have been divided into their respective regions: Americas and the Caribbean, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.  As you look through the different entries, you will see that in some countries a requirement to inform a suspect of his or her rights is specifically set out in legislation or constitutional provisions; in others, the requirements have come from court decisions; and in some cases there are other relevant documents, such as police manuals and rules issued by judges.  There might even be a combination of some or all of these different approaches.  Many Commonwealth countries, for example, historically applied a form of caution expressed in the English Judges’ Rules, which date back to 1912.  In some cases these rules are still referred to, but in many of the countries there are now relevant statutory provisions and other documents that set out the requirements.

A quick search through the report for references to constitutions shows that constitutional provisions explicitly require that certain rights information and cautions be given to suspects in at least twelve countries.  It is far more common for the requirement to be included in a country’s criminal procedure code.  I found around 40 references to such codes in the report (although constitutional provisions might also be relevant in some of the countries).  In several countries, the relevant provisions are found in legislation that sets out the powers and responsibilities of police.

The laws of some countries specifically require that a person be informed of their rights in a language that he or she understands, and even provide that a police officer check that the person does in fact understand what they have been told.  While we didn’t locate the actual wording of the warnings given by police for many countries, here is a selection of what we did find:


You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so.  You have nothing to hope from any promise of favour and nothing to fear from any threat whether or not you say anything.  Anything you say may be used as evidence.

It is my duty to inform you that you have the right to retain and instruct counsel of your choice in private and without delay.  Before you decide to answer any question concerning this investigation you may call a lawyer of your choice or get free advice from Duty Counsel.  If you wish to contact Legal Aid duty counsel I can provide you with a telephone number and a telephone will be made available to you.

Queensland, Australia

You have the right to telephone or speak to a friend or relative to inform that person where you are and to ask him or her to be present during questioning.

You also have the right to telephone or speak to a lawyer of your choice to inform the lawyer where you are and to arrange or attempt to arrange for the lawyer to be present during questioning.

If you want to telephone or speak to any of these people, questioning will be delayed for a reasonable time for that purpose.

Is there anyone you wish to telephone or speak to?

Before I ask you any questions I must tell you that you have the right to remain silent.

This means you do not have to say anything, answer any question or make any statement unless you wish to do so.

However, if you do say something or make a statement, it may later be used as evidence.

Do you understand?


You have the right to remain silent.  Any statement you make may be used against you in a court of law in the Philippines.  You have the right to have a competent and independent counsel preferably of your own choice.  If you cannot afford the services of a counsel, the government will provide you one.  Do you understand these rights?

Solomon Islands

If you want to remain silent you may do so. But if you want to tell your side you think carefully about what you say because I shall write what you say down and may tell a court what you say if you go to court.  Do you understand?


Do you wish to say anything?  You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so but whatever you say will be taken down in writing and may be given in evidence.

This was a very interesting report to research, and we hope you enjoy reading it!

Categories: Research & Litigation

Summer Interns 2016 – Pic of the Week

In Custodia Legis - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 1:26pm

Front Row (l-r): Sahar Saqib, Carla Tejada, Julie McVey, Michelle Thornton, Jaelyn Hawkins, Amanda, Quinn, Kristin Brandt; Back Row (l-r): Jasmine Stewart, Patience Tyne, Rose Likins, Wyatt Smith, Abdul Hazim, Ricardo Wicker, Antonio Ortiz; Not Pictured: Felix Beulke, Cynthia Chen, Noah Lapidus, Calvin Marcus-Barron, Jennifer Proctor, Quinnisha Smith, Zachary Shaeffer (Photo by Betty Lupinacci)

Once again, the Law Library is playing host to another stellar group of summer interns.

They come from as far away as Pakistan and as close as Rockville, MD, yet they all share the same enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge.

We here in the Law Library thoroughly appreciate their hard work and dedication to their projects (that, like their birthplaces, run the gamut from research to collections to administrative work).

Please join the Law Library in thanking them for their contributions.


Categories: Research & Litigation

National Archives and Law Library of Congress to Host Proposed Amendments Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon

In Custodia Legis - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 1:27pm

The National Archives and the Law Library of Congress are hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for the proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution on Friday, July 29 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

The edit-a-thon is part of the “Amending America” initiative at the National Archives, which celebrates the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights with an exhibit and a series of National Conversations on Rights and Justice.

Proposed Amendments Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

There are a variety of great resources that people can draw from for the event.  The National Archives published the dataset of more than 11,000 proposed constitutional amendments to

A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation contains U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates from 1777-1973.  There are also many items that you can search and find in

Dina Herbert, from The Innovation Hub at the National Archives, set up a page with more details about the event.  Feel free to add your name as a remote or on-site attendee.

This is the first in what we hope is a series of collaborative edit-a-thons between our two institutions.

Categories: Research & Litigation

An Interview with Amanda Quinn, Collection Services Intern

In Custodia Legis - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 9:08am

Today’s interview is with Amanda Quinn, a summer intern in the Collection Service Division of the Law Library of Congress.  Amanda is working on our gazette database and we couldn’t be happier with the progress she is making!

Photo by Betty Lupinacci

Describe your background.

I was born and raised in Columbia, Maryland, and recently graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. During college, I served as a captain of UMBC’s crew team and was a member of the mock trial team. I enjoy reading, running, watching baseball, hiking, and generally any outdoor activity.

What is your academic/professional history?

At UMBC, I studied political science, English literature and global studies, while focusing on Russia and the Eurasia region. I spent a full academic year in Russia during my junior year at UMBC. In the fall semester I studied at St. Petersburg State University, where I took intensive Russian language and culture classes. I returned in the spring semester for a State Department internship at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. I’ve also held a variety of other positions throughout college. These include several administrative positions, an internship in a much smaller law library, and an internship conducting research on terrorist activity around the world.

How would you describe your job to other people?

I am working in the Collection Services Division inventorying and researching the Law Library’s collection of foreign legal gazettes. The goal of this project is the eventual creation of a comprehensive database of the Library’s collection of these gazettes. I am putting my Russian language skills to use by working on the gazettes of Russia and former Soviet-bloc countries.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?

I have always been fascinated with the Library of Congress and its history and many functions. I think the work being done here is extremely important and I am glad to play a small role in that. Through my position in the Law Library, I have been able to bring together a variety of my interests.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?

I was truly surprised by the size of the Law Library’s collection and the variety of content within the collection. It has been extremely interesting to work with such a variety of content from so many different countries.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I am an avid skier and I was on the ski team at Wisp in Western Maryland for five years. I was also an instructor for two years. I used to occasionally race competitively, but I mostly just enjoy skiing for fun.

Categories: Research & Litigation

The Crime of Desertion in Roman Law

In Custodia Legis - Tue, 07/12/2016 - 10:22am

The following is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, a senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress. Dante has contributed a number of In Custodia Legis blog posts, including on The Rehabilitation of Dante Alighieri, Seven Centuries Later, Resources and Treasures of the Italian Parliamentary Libraries,  Legislation Protecting Italian Cultural Heritage, and Proposed Anti-Sect Legislation in Italy: An Ongoing Debate.


While watching –once again—the classic and broadly acclaimed movie Ben-Hur, I thought about the legal consequences of deserting from the Roman Army for Roman conscripts and soldiers. Desertion was a serious crime under Roman military law, as it meant the violation of a sacred military oath of allegiance that was given to military commanders and to fellow comrades in arms (C. E. Brand, Roman Military Law, at 97). More than two millennia later desertion remains a grave military crime in most jurisdictions. In this context, I think that a review of the main aspects of the crime of desertion according to Roman law might be useful to understand more about the topic today.

The Portonaccio Sarcophagus (describing a battle of the Roman Army held around 180 AD), photo by Egisto Sani, used under Creative Commons License,

The Gravity of the Crime of Desertion in Roman Law

The army was the foundation of the Roman Republic, and later the Empire’s strength and dominion over the existing world. Surrounded by enemies, the existence of Rome itself depended on its army. Desertion (desertio) from the Roman Army could also have catastrophic consequences on the morale of the other soldiers, and if the army suffered, then Rome’s power and dominion would as well. Consequently, as the social, political, and economic success of Rome depended largely on its military successes, a military career was a badge of honor for any Roman citizen. Desertion was considered a serious offense and severely punished (“in military life desertion may result in the loss of a whole city,” L.V. Postma, Roman Military Law, 85 S. African L.J. 65 (1968), at 66).

The Power to Impose Military Penalties

The Roman Emperor was the head of the Roman Army. In such capacity, he exercised absolute power (imperium). The Emperor’s  supreme military power was further exercised within the ranks through the concept of imperium militiae (military power), that included the “power to collect an army, to appoint officers, and the right to administer justice to the soldiers.” (Id. at 65). This meant that Roman military officers were empowered with imperium militia and had the authority to punish the crime of desertion. (Vincenzo Arangio-Ruiz, Sul reato di diserzione in diritto romano [About the Crime of Desertion in Roman Law], in Rariora, 1946 at 274). (Rome established military garrisons throughout its territories which were staffed at all times and desertion from a garrison would always be easily detected). Imperium militiae included the power of military commanders to punish conducts which in their opinion were “prejudicial to military discipline.” (L.V. Postma, supra at 66).

The Penalties Associated with the Crime of Desertion

Military penalties in Roman law for lesser offenses included: being hit by the centurion –that is, a Roman commander of 100 legionaries—with his staff (called castigatio or animadversio fustium); reduction in pay, fines or deductions from the pay allowance (called pecuniaria multa); imposition of additional duties (munerum indictio); relegation to inferior service or duties (called militiae mutatio); reduction in rank (called gradus deiectio); and dishonorable discharge (called ignominiosa missio) (Arangio-Ruiz, supra at 103-106).

As a military crime, desertion could be classified as positive or negative desertion –that is, emansio and desertio, respectively. The emansor was the soldier who voluntarily deserted but was not subsequently caught, while the desertor was the soldier who also voluntarily left the Roman Army but was afterwards arrested (Id. at 279).

Roman law defined a “deserter” as he who takes arms against the state or in any other way takes a belligerent stance against the prince, that is, the Roman Emperor. A “transfuga” was a deserter who joined the enemy lines. (Id. at 275-6). Soldiers who were captured trying to join the enemy were also punished. (Id. at 278).  Those who aided and abetted desertors (called receptarores) were punished as well. (Id. at 279).

Desertion was punished with death (Id. at 284).  Resisting arrest for desertion while using arms was an aggravating circumstance. (Id. at 286). The abandonment of a guarding post was considered as an aggravating case of emansio. (Id. at 287).  For cases of long-protracted desertion —that is, where it is not possible to assess the desire to return, which is proper of the emansor— Roman law applied deportation instead of death, a penalty that otherwise was exclusively reserved for pagans and involved the deprivation of Roman citizenship. (Id. at 287).

In addition to the military penalties, civil liability was imposed on convicted deserters which required them to return monies and other monetary benefits (in integrum restitutio) received while having served in the Roman Army (Id. at 289).

Procedural Aspects

Roman law provisions on desertion— as was the case with all provisions related to Roman military law on crime and punishments— have features that are totally different from the common Roman criminal law. (Id. at 273). The punishment was imposed by the military judge summarily and was based on the field commander’s own observations.  No provision was made for the swearing in of witnesses. Only in certain cases could the accused defend himself. (L.V. Postma, supra at 66).

For more on the subject of Roman military law, we invite you to review the resources of the Library of Congress, which include among others:

Categories: Research & Litigation

India’s Regulatory Approach To Uber

In Custodia Legis - Mon, 07/11/2016 - 1:37pm

The following is a guest post by Tariq Ahmad, a foreign law specialist who covers South Asian countries and Canada at the Law Library of Congress. Tariq has previously written for us on a number of issues, including the Library of Congress collection on Islamic Law in Pakistan, sedition law in India, and physician-assisted suicide in Canada.  Tariq’s post today follows a similar recent piece by Jenny, Legal Challenges for Uber in the European Union and in Germany.

Just as many jurisdictions around the world are trying to keep regulatory pace with advances in mobile technology and the emergence of a “sharing economy,” state and municipal governments in India are struggling to regulate Uber and other mobile-based aggregating companies. A primary point of contention between some of these companies and government regulators is their legal status and whether they should be treated as traditional taxi-operating companies or as “intermediary” information technology companies. Aggregators like Uber contend that they do not own or lease any vehicles, employ any drivers, but rather see themselves as only providing a mobile platform for customers to connect with drivers. Most state and local jurisdictions in India are either modifying existing taxi regulations or introducing new ones. In most cases, Uber has considered these rules to be onerous, outdated, and incompatible with its business model.

Taxi hitting the road in Mumbai. Photo by Flickr user Chris Bird (Oct. 13, 2014). Used under Creative Commons License 2.0,

Over the last few years, disputes have arisen on a series of issues involving licensing, safety, the environment, and surge pricing.

Legal Framework

In India, road transport is included in the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, “thereby placing road transport primarily in the [legislative] domain of State administration.” The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, a central law that regulates road transport vehicles, requires specific permits for transport vehicles, and stipulates various conditions and requirements for holding such permits. In addition, the Act grants state authorities the power to issue rules regulating taxis. In exercising this power, state governments have established radio taxi systems, which regulate the operation of traditional radio taxis. The Information Technology Act, 2000, on the other hand, provides the legal framework for IT companies, including rules regulating e-commerce and cybercrime.

India does not currently appear to have a national law specifically tailored to regulate digital aggregators such as Uber; however, attempts to develop one are underway. In mid-October 2015, the country’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways issued nonbinding guidelines for states to regulate companies such as Uber and Ola, which identify themselves as “on-demand information technology-based transportation aggregators.” In addition, draft legislation, the Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2015, which is still in its consultation stage, contains provisions regulating IT-based transportation aggregators, including a statutory definition of such entities.

Ban in Delhi Related to Safety and Licensing

The regulatory challenges faced by Uber over the last few years appears to have started in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the capital of India. On December 8, 2014, the Delhi government imposed a general ban on all app-based taxi services, including Uber, after a 26-year-old female passenger was allegedly raped by her driver. S. Roy Biswas, Delhi’s deputy commissioner of transport, is reported to have stated that “[a]ll other transport/taxi service providers through web-based technology, who are not recognised, are prohibited from providing such services… till they get licence/permission from the transport department.”

At the end of December 2014, the Delhi government modified its existing radio taxi licensing rules to allow app-based taxis aggregators to be eligible for a radio taxi license and issued the relevant requirements that have to be fulfilled. Under the modified taxi system:

  • licensees, including app-based taxi aggregators like Uber, must abide by all relevant statutes, including the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and the Information Technology Act, 2000;
  • a license will only be granted to a company that is registered under the Companies Act, 1956, and “mandated to provide public transport services”;
  • a driver must have a clean criminal record and be of “good moral character”;
  • radio taxi licensees will be “responsible for the quality of drivers, their police verification, and their conduct with passengers”;
  • licensees must have a registered office in Delhi, details of which (telephone number and email) need to be submitted to the Transport Department;
  • licensed companies must establish and maintain a call center or a web portal;
  • licensees will be required to maintain a minimum fleet of 200 taxis; and
  • taxis must be fitted with a panic button so that, in case of any distress, a signal will be transmitted to a control center of the licensee and then to the nearest police station. A GPS or GPRS system must also be maintained in order to keep constant communication with a “central control unit of the radio taxi service during the entire time it is on hire.”

Uber took issue with many of these rules because it sees itself as a technology company rather than a traditional radio taxi service. According to one report, an Uber spokesperson stated that “[w]e are not a radio taxi company, therefore the Transport Department’s amendments to the radio taxi scheme do not help us serve our riders and drivers in Delhi” and “[i]t also does not accurately reflect the primary role that the Information Act 2000 plays in regulating intermediaries like Uber.”

The company resumed operations in January after a short suspension of its operations, despite the ban still being in place. The Transport Department warned that it will impound vehicles if Uber drivers continue to operate without a license.


India. Photo by Flickr user Herry Lawford (Dec. 11, 2005). Used under Creative Commons License 2.0,

Court Challenges

On December 23, 2014, relief from the general ban in Delhi was granted by the Delhi High Court to a few aggregate taxi service companies on the basis that the ban order was passed “without affording the parties affected an opportunity of being heard.” However, the Court did not lift the ban on Uber’s operations. In any case, operations still appeared to be prohibited since Uber and other companies were continuing to have their license applications rejected. In June 2015, the Delhi government rejected the companies’ applications on the grounds that they had failed to file certain undertakings affirming that they were in compliance with the ban imposed on December 8 and other rules and regulations. 

On July 8, 2015, the Delhi High Court struck down an order rejecting an application for a license for Uber, which cleared the way for the company to operate in the capital city while it seeks a license from the Delhi Transport Department. The Court held that the objections raised by the government in the case were not the grounds upon which the license was denied. Moreover, the Court found that the legal basis for the order, namely, that the petitioners were not complying with the general ban, had been held to be “legally untenable” in a similar June 11 case (involving the rejection of a license for ride-sharing apps Ola and TaxiForSure). In the June 11 case, the Court found that since the general ban had already been set aside in the Delhi High Court’s decision of December 23, 2014, it cannot be a valid ground for the rejection of the application.

Generally, the Court reasoned that a total or blanket ban on the right to carry out any trade, business or profession should be imposed only in the “rarest of rare or in exceptional circumstances.” The Court stated that the state should allow “everyone to carry on trade, business or profession without any restriction. However, if that is not possible, then the same should be allowed subject to reasonable restrictions. It is settled law that restrictions must not be arbitrary or of excessive nature so as to go beyond the requirement and interest of the general public.” In August 2015, Uber’s application for a license was reportedly rejected again for not complying with the existing ban order and for not filing an “undertaking stating that they are following all laid-down rules.” However, a spokesperson for Uber stated at the time that the company had not received any official notification.

Situation in Other States

In the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, similar situations are playing out.  The Karnataka state government has directed Uber and other app-based aggregators to stop operations until they are licensed under newly issued rules, Karnataka On-Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules, 2016. The government has also started to impound taxis affiliated with Uber and other companies. Uber has described these rules as “regressive” and “practically impossible to comply with” and “not in line with our business model.” Uber is currently challenging the constitutionality of the rules in the High Court of Karnataka, which as of now has directed the government to stop impounding vehicles for non-compliance with the new rules.

While most state jurisdictions in India are trying to regulate Uber as a taxi operator, the police commissioner of a suburb of Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, seems to be taking a different approach in a newly issued order, which recognizes an “on-demand transportation technology aggregator” as a technology company.

Surge Pricing

Karnataka, in southern India, was the first state to curb surge pricing, the practice of automatically increasing fare rates during a time of high demand. As one news report notes, this often means that “customers have to deal with fares that are several times the actual rate advertised by these companies. Uber and one of its competitors, Ola, in the past, have fought against any state-level regulation of surge pricing, insisting that they provide incentives for drivers to move into high-demand areas and ensure customers always have access to cars.” Moreover, they argue that since they don’t hire drivers or own the cabs, the same price caps applied to traditional taxi companies shouldn’t be applied to them.

The April 2016 rules introduced by the state government provide the government with the authority to set a price ceiling above which Uber cannot charge fares. According to section 9(2) of the Karnataka On-demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules 2016, “…the fare including any other charges, if any, shall not be higher than the fare fixed by the Government from time to time.” According to one report, the state government had made the decision to “ensure competitive fares between online and offline taxi players.”

On April 18, 2016, the government of Delhi announced a ban on surge pricing in the city of Delhi and threatened companies with permit cancellation and impounding of their vehicles. This ban was imposed during the “second phase of the city’s odd-even traffic restrictions, which had been a test to reduce congestion by limiting the number of cars on the road.”

In response to the announcement, Uber and Ola temporarily suspended surge pricing in Delhi, but Uber reintroduced it soon after. However, at the end of May, Uber announced its decision to restrict surge pricing to government-prescribed rate ceilings.

At the end of April it was reported that a cap on surge pricing is also being considered by the Maharashtra State government.

View of West of Delhi (and air pollution). Photo by Flickr user Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy (Jan. 12, 2011). Used under creative commons license 2.0,

Environmental Issues

In an effort to improve the quality of air in the city of Delhi, on December 16, 2015, the Supreme Court of India ordered that all taxis (including aggregators like Uber and Ola) operating in the National Capital Region of Delhi move from diesel to CNG fuel in the hope that “it will contribute substantially to the reduction of the pollution.” The Court gave taxi operators until March 1, 2016, to comply. At the request of cab operators and their respective associations, the Court extended the deadline twice, but made it clear that it will grant no further requests for extensions.

Though both major aggregators, Uber and Ola, appear to favor a planned phase-out of diesel taxi cabs over an immediate ban, they have, nevertheless, agreed to comply with the order, and are attempting to assist their drivers with initiatives to make the switch. The ban has caused taxi drivers to protest and reportedly has had a disruptive impact on the livelihood of thousands of private cab operators, including those associated with aggregating companies. Taxi drivers are pleading to the Court for leniency, arguing that they need for more time to make the switch. Many drivers are already paying installments on the loans they owe for their diesel vehicles and the costs that are involved in switching to CNG are significant. According to reports, on May 9, 2016, the Supreme Court decided to allow diesel taxis with national permits to operate in Delhi “until their permit expired but banned new registrations of such vehicles that provide pick-up and drop facilities in the Capital.”

Categories: Research & Litigation

New Mexico Supreme Court Library – Pic of the Week

In Custodia Legis - Fri, 07/08/2016 - 1:07pm

While on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, earlier this week, I had the chance to visit the New Mexico Supreme Court Law Library.  The Library was recently renovated and is housed in the Administrative Office of the Courts building near the New Mexico state capitol building, known as the “Roundhouse.”  The symbol on the light fixtures is the Zia sun symbol, which also appears on the New Mexico state flag.

New Mexico Supreme Court Law Library / Photograph by Anne Kelly

New Mexico Supreme Court Law Library / Photograph by Anne Kelly

Categories: Research & Litigation

Legal Disputes Concerning Trees: A Beginner’s Guide

In Custodia Legis - Thu, 07/07/2016 - 11:08am

It is said that good fences make for good neighbors. The same might not be said for trees, which are a frequent source of litigation among neighbors. Overgrown branches, fallen leaves, and downed trees all serve to embroil neighbors in acrimonious litigation. This Beginner’s Guide will provide you with some background and provide resources that can help answer your questions about disputes among neighbors concerning trees.

Statutes and Ordinances

As you might note when you begin your research in this area, much of the law concerning one’s responsibility for trees can be found at the state and local levels.  These state and municipal codes and regulations can clarify a multitude of situations, such as: (1) what kind and how many trees a landowner can plant on their property; (2) whether, when, and how an owner can remove trees from their property; (3)  when a tree is owned by a landowner or the government; and (4) who is responsible when the branches, leaves, fruits, nuts, or seeds of a tree cause damage on one piece of property when its roots are on another piece of property, among many others.  The Law Library of Congress provides, through our Guide to Law Online page, links to the statute collections provided by each state.  In addition, if you need any assistance in finding your local municipal codes and ordinances, review our previous research guide, “Municipal Codes: A Beginner’s Guide.”

Print-Based Resources

Considering the frequency with which tree issues might crop up in everyday life, it might not be too surprising that there are a collection of books on the topic of tree and neighbor law in the United States.  Some of these books focus particularly on the tree law of a certain state. However, there are some resources in our catalog that take a nationwide approach:

Storm Damage. Fallen Tree on White House North Drive. Photograph by Harris & Ewing.(Created between 1913 and 1918). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

To see if there are any tree and neighbor law resources regarding the laws in your state, consider doing a subject search in WorldCat for subjects like: “Trees–Law and Legislation,” “Trees–Law and legislation–[State Name],” “Trees in cities–Law and legislation–[State Name],” and “Adjoining landowners–[State Name].”

Web Resources

Researchers can also find legal resources regarding tree law online.  Below, find a non-exhaustive list of some of these helpful resources:

We hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any questions, please contact us through Ask A Librarian.

Categories: Research & Litigation

An Interview with Zachary Schaeffer, Law Library Summer Intern

In Custodia Legis - Wed, 07/06/2016 - 10:00am

Today’s interview is with Zachary Schaeffer, who is a college student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He is currently working as a summer intern with the Law Library’s Office of Legislative and External Relations.

Zachary Schaeffer, Law Library summer intern. Photo by Donna Sokol

Describe your background.

I’m from a small town called Smithsburg, which is outside of Hagerstown, Maryland. I went to high school in Smithsburg, where I played multiple sports including lacrosse, soccer, and cross country. I now attend Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where I study economics, politics, and Arabic.

How would you describe your job to other people?

I work in the Law Library’s Office of Legislative and External Relations. I assist with various administrative tasks, which mostly pertain to future Law Library events. I also provide subject research support and complete tasks related to outreach efforts.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library?

I knew that the Law Library would be a great opportunity for me to get some real world experience in politics before I graduate. Since I am studying economics and politics, I figured that Capitol Hill would be one of the best places to pursue work. Also, my brother works in the same building as I do, so he has been able to help me acclimate to the government office environment—not to mention it makes commuting much easier!

What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Law Library?

I had no idea that the Law Library of Congress organized exhibitions for the public, including one last year which displayed an original copy of the Magna Carta. It’s incredible that the Library has the ability to host such interesting events.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I don’t think many of my co-workers know that I have a tattoo.

Categories: Research & Litigation

The Protection of Champagne Wine

In Custodia Legis - Tue, 07/05/2016 - 10:00am

This is a guest post by Nicolas Boring who has previously written for the blog on a variety of topics including FALQs: Freedom of Speech in FranceHow Sunday Came to be a Day of Rest in France, Napoleon Bonaparte and Mining Rights in FranceFrench Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights, and co-collaborated on the post, Does the Haitian Criminal Code Outlaw Making Zombies.

Sonoma County, California. Champagne master tests champagne for dryness, flavor and other qualities at winery. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Champagne wine has long had a reputation for sophistication and high quality, and has come to be considered by many as the celebratory drink par excellence. Given its special image, it is no wonder that many wine producers outside of the actual French region of Champagne have sold wines labelled as Champagne. And, likewise, it is no wonder that the wine producers of the region of Champagne have sought to protect their collective “brand name.”

French law is notoriously protective of its geographical indications – not just for Champagne but for many other regional products as well. According to the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (National Institute of Origin and Quality, known under its old acronym I.N.A.O., ), 49 dairy products (mostly cheeses) benefit from an Appelation d’origine controlee (A.O.C., Controlled Designation of Origin), as do 42 other agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, olive oils…) and 364 wines and liquors. Various provisions of the Code rural et de la pêche maritime (Rural and Maritime Fishing Code), Code de la consommation (Consumer Code), and Code de la propriété intellectuelle (Intellectual Property Code) regulate and protect the use of these geographic indications. Article L115-16 of the Code de la consommation, for example, punishes the fraudulent use of a controlled designation of origin with up to two years of jail time and 300,000 Euros (approximately US$332,000).

Two dogs chasing mouse through open case of champagne. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Beyond French law, specific geographical indications are protected by European law and by international treaties. One of the more recent developments was the 2006 Agreement between the United States and the European Community on Trade in Wine, which limited the use of the term “Champagne” and some other semi-generic names in the United States. The agreement provides that American producers who were using the term “Champagne” when the agreement was signed were grandfathered in, which is why you still see some “Champagne” wines from California. Apart from these exceptions, only Champagne from the official French region of Champagne (and made according to specific rules) can claim that term.

Sonoma County, California. Champagne which is fermenting in the bottle is shaken daily in the vaults at the winery. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

While they certainly were not the only ones interested and active in protecting their geographical brand name, Champagne producers have certainly been at the forefront of that fight for a long time.

Their main trade association, the Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (Inter-professional Committee for Champagne Wine) was founded in 1941 and has been very active since. Even before that, Champagne producers had formed different organizations such as the 1882 foundation of the Syndicat du commerce des vins de Champagne (Champagne Wines Trading Union). Going back even further, various Champagne winemakers often got together on an ad hoc basis to defend their collective interests, such as the group that successfully got the Cour de cassation (roughly speaking, the French equivalent of the Supreme Court) to prohibit the use of the name “Champagne” as a generic term for sparkling wine in 1845.

So the next time you look at the label on a bottle of French Champagne, you will know that the A.O.C. designation was the result of over a century and a half of legal evolution driven by generations of winemakers.

Categories: Research & Litigation


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