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Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Estimated reading time: 8 minutes I am the only lawyer in my family. That’s important to my story because – as you’ll read in a minute – my thinking about the legal system, especially the criminal justice system, was largely shaped by popular culture. I grew up believing that as long as you did the right thing, you’d never be in trouble. I thought that folks who ended up in jail clearly did something wrong. I thought that justice was blind to race, gender, and economics. I now know that’s not the case. More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement, was on the receiving end of repeated harassment by tax authorities. Inquiries into Dr. King’s finances were not new: He was investigated in two separate states (Georgia and Alabama) on numerous occasions…

As more and more states legalize marijuana, pressure has been growing for Congress to take some action. This week, the House passed legislation that would end the federal ban on marijuana. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) garnered support from both sides of the aisle, passing with a 228-164 vote in the House. Under the terms of the bill, marijuana would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. History Of the Criminalization Of Marijuana In the early part of the 20th century, booze was illegal during Prohibition, but marijuana was not. Under the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, there was a two-part tax on the sale of marijuana, one which functioned like a sales tax and another which was more akin to an occupational tax for licensed dealers. Violations of the Act resulted in severe consequences. In 1969, Timothy Leary challenged his arrest for possession of marijuana under the…

On this day in 1931, Al Capone was found guilty of tax evasion. The gangster who had reportedly boasted, “They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money” was sentenced to 11 years in prison for failing to file tax returns. Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899, to Italian immigrants. His parents, Gabriele Capone and Teresa Raiola, found working-class jobs and settled into their new lives. Capone, however, had trouble fitting in and was expelled from school at age 14 for hitting a teacher. After he left school, Capone tried his hand at odd jobs, but nothing stuck. Capone eventually turned to a friend, Johnny “The Fox” Torrio, who was just getting started building an empire. Torrio would go on to be called “the father of American gangsterdom” by Elmer Irey, the first chief of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Enforcement Branch, now referred to as…

“I drunk his liquor,” said one potential juror. “And honestly, I really like moonshine,” said another. The jury selection in a 2018 trial in western North Carolina was proving to be complicated. On paper, the matter appeared straightforward. A woman called 9-1-1 when her husband attempted to kill himself. Responders to the scene found marijuana and illegal booze. As a result, the woman, Michelle Lynn, and her husband both faced charges. Lynn was specifically charged with one felony (intent to sell or deliver marijuana) and several misdemeanors (possession of marijuana paraphernalia, possession of non-tax-paid alcohol, and maintaining a dwelling for a controlled substance). It was the non-tax-paid alcohol that was problematic. The alcohol allegedly belonged to Popcorn Sutton, a legend in the area. Sutton was born in 1946 in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. He was a modern-day bootlegger, not only producing but selling and promoting moonshine. For those of you…

Chances are that you are spending today gathered around a grill or trying to soak in some sun. Labor Day weekend is considered summer’s last hurrah and ushers in fall and, including, in areas like mine, the beginning of the school year. (You can read more about the tie-in to the school year and Labor Day weekend here.) But Labor Day is actually less about sunshine and beaches than… offices and factories. Here’s a little Labor Day history mixed with tax trivia: The holiday falls on the first Monday in September each year. The earliest national recognition of Labor Day happened on June 28, 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed a law making it a national holiday. The date was made official as part of a law signed by President Johnson on June 28, 1968, to “provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for…

It’s my annual Taxes from A to Z series! If you’re wondering how to figure basis for cryptocurrency or whether you can claim home office expenses during COVID, you won’t want to miss a single letter. X is for X Tax. Yes, there really is an X tax. And while it sounds like something developed by scientists (or aliens, cause clearly, I watch too much television), it’s actually a tax developed by a Princeton economist named David Bradford. Bradford, who is now deceased, was a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton since 1966. He also served three U.S. presidents, including serving as a member of President George H. W. Bush’s Council on Economic Advisors and consulting on what would become the 1986 Tax Reform under President Ronald Reagan. According to Bradford, the X tax is based on a combination of company and individual taxation. It’s a variant of…

This week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had restaurant owners calling “fowl” on new rules requiring bars to serve food with their drinks. The New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA) issued guidance making clear that, “Pursuant to Executive Order 202.52, effective Friday July 17, 2020, all licensed establishments with on premises privileges (e.g. restaurants, taverns, manufacturers with tasting rooms, etc.) shall not serve alcoholic beverages unless such alcoholic beverage is accompanied by the purchase of a food item which is consistent with the food availability requirement of the license under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.” Today, Cuomo ruffled feathers even more at a press conference when he appeared to suggest that sandwiches were more “substantial” than chicken wings, recalling that “To be a bar, you had to have food available. soups, sandwiches, etc.” He added, “More than just hors d’ oeuvres, chicken wings. You had to have some substantive food — the…

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement, was on the receiving end of repeated harassment by tax authorities. Inquiries into Dr. King’s finances were not new: He was investigated in two separate states (Georgia and Alabama) on numerous occasions and together with his legal team and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Dr. King was repeatedly investigated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It was clear to many of his supporters that Dr. King was targeted because of the color of his skin and the words that he dared to speak about inequality. In 1960, he made news as the first person ever criminally charged in the state of Alabama on tax fraud (you can read the statement issued “Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, Jr.” accusing the state of Alabama of falsely distorting Dr. King’s 1958 income…

Today, there will be lots of fireworks, parades, speeches, and hot dog eating contests to celebrate Independence Day. The day is often believed to be the day we officially gained our independence from Great Britain. But it’s a little more complicated than that: Independence Day wasn’t the end of the road to independence, it was only the beginning. Here’s what you need to know, including the role that taxes play in the story. On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is exactly what it sounds like: an announcement to the world that America was declaring its independence from King George III and Great Britain – our own version of Brexit. The Declaration came more than a year (442 days) after shots were fired at Lexington, Massachusetts, considered the start of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. The…

I spent much of the weekend wandering around my old stomping grounds in Raleigh, North Carolina, with my daughter. We stopped into one of my favorite spots for dinner, and the waiter brought out the beverage list: There was practically an entire page dedicated to local beers. It was quite a change from back in the day and speaks to the popularity of craft beer in America these days (for the record, I opted for a brown ale from Lonerider). According to the Brewers Association, small and independent brewers collectively produced 25.9 million barrels and realized 4% total growth last year. Beer is so popular that it even has its own day: National Beer Day falls on April 7 and marks the day that beer was allowed to be legally manufactured and sold following a long, dry Prohibition. On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law, which…

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