By the account we get today, Billy Chaplain is rich. Not stinking-rich, like Bill Gates; but lets just say that he has twenty million reasons not to have to worry about his financial future in his declining years.
One day in 1996, he met a Moroccan lady who was visiting her brother here in the States. The two instantly hit it off, becoming engaged within two months of laying eyes on one another.
When you marry someone that rich, there are issues to consider, and those issues came to the forefront in a prenuptial agreement that Chaplains lawyer prepared. Chaplain brought her into his attorneys office, ostensibly to have her sign what he described as marriage papers. There was conflict in the evidence over her fluency in English, but there was no conflict in the fact that she didnt have a separate attorney review the document for her; she said that she trusted her future husband, and since the document was open to the signature page when it was handed to her, she signed where she was told.
After a decade of marital bliss, the parties found themselves in divorce court, where the prenup took center stage. The key provisions stated that the parties waived support and equitable distribution, and that the wifes only right to her husbands fortune was that she could receive $100,000 if she was still married to him at his death. Wife contended in the trial court that this provision was unconscionable, particularly given her limited communication skills in our language and the extraordinary disparity in the parties fortunes.
The trial court down here in
The first issue the sexy ones to the appellate geeks is that the ruling on the motion to strike was not contained in a final order in the case. Todays opinion, in Chaplain v. Chaplain, doesnt say what else the trial court had to do, but I infer that it did not grant a divorce or provide other ancillary relief. Despite the fact that this ruling isnt final, the CAV decides the case anyway, owing to that adjudicating the principles of a cause provision.
As a threshold matter, the court determines that the ruling on the prenup essentially does adjudicate the principles of this cause. It helps that the parties had jointly stated below that the validity of the prenup was the only issue to be decided by the trial court and that no other issues were contested. Under the rules governing interlocutory appeals, that means that the ruling on the prenup was basically the whole case, so appellate jurisdiction exists.
I have truncated the courts discussion significantly, so if this aspect of appellate practice interest you, take a look at pages 3-6 of todays slip opinion. After that, the court goes on to reverse the trial courts peremptory ruling on the motion to strike. It finds that, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the wife (the party resisting the motion to strike), that evidence established a prima facie case of unconscionability. This doesnt mean the trial court ultimately will have to rule in favor of the wife on this point, but it erred in striking her evidence.
The court gives us an interesting discussion of what, exactly, is a firearm, for purposes of two convictions of using one in the commission of robberies. The opinion is Startin v. Commonwealth.
From todays factual recitation, it looks like the gendarmes got the right guy; Startin stuck up to drug stores, stealing not money but bottles of the pain reliever Oxycontin. Apparently the stuff is addictive happily, I have never needed it, so Im not sure. But when the police tracked him down, he readily acknowledged that he had perpetrated the robberies.
The problem wasnt in getting him for robbery; it was the companion firearms offenses that produce todays opinion. Startin used one of those replica handguns they sell at the Franklin Mint; this one was a bow to no less a personage that John Wayne. It looks for all the world exactly like a regular .45, but it has no firing pin, and it cannot possibly fire a projectile. So is it a firearm?
Note that the statute criminalizing this conduct doesnt prohibit the use of a firearm-look-alike; it has to be a firearm. We learned last year that a BB gun can be a firearm for these purposes, despite the fact that no fire is involved. From the perspective of the victim, a replica is as good as the real thing theyll both scare the hell out of you when theyre pointed at you. So is a non-working model a firearm for these purposes?
According to a majority of todays panel, it is, despite less-than-clear guidance from past appellate opinions. Judge Powell concludes that the fact that it cant fire doesnt mean that the replica has lost its identity as a firearm (quoting an earlier case). Judge Elder dissents, saying that this was, in effect, a toy, and preexisting caselaw holds that the dispositive feature of a firearm is its capacity to shoot a projectile, something this model couldnt do.