Court to hear challenge to speed up California executions

Court News 2017/06/07 11:02   Bookmark and Share
The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over a ballot initiative designed to speed up executions that could fundamentally change the way the court handles death penalty appeals.

Death penalty opponents are challenging a ballot measure passed by a slim majority of voters in November that aimed to reform a dysfunctional system that hasn't executed a condemned killer in more than a decade.

Foes of capital punishment argue that Proposition 66 was unconstitutional because it would take power away from the state's high court to decide how it handles cases and it would disrupt the court system, cost the state more money and undermine the appeals process.

If allowed to take effect, the measure would require more lawyers to take death penalty appellate cases, some trial court judges would be assigned appeals and all state appeals would have to be completed in five years, which is about a third of the time it typically takes.

With a backlog of 380 death penalty appeals, there's concern judges would be overwhelmed trying to speed through appeals, said Elisabeth Semel, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley, who consulted for death penalty opponents on the case.

"There's an enormous ripple effect to that," said Semel, who directs the school's death penalty clinic. "The attention the justices can pay to each individual case is significantly diminished. When you're talking about life and death, that's important."

The ballot initiative supported by 51 percent of voters was designed to "mend not end" capital punishment in California, where nearly 750 inmates are on Death Row and only 13 have been executed since 1978.

A competing measure to repeal capital punishment lost by a slightly wider margin. Both sides acknowledged the current system is broken.
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Kim Jong Nam murder suspect asks her parents to pray for her

Court News 2017/05/31 10:38   Bookmark and Share
A suspect in the poisoning death of the North Korean leader's half brother wrote to her parents from jail, asking them to pray for her but saying "don't think about me too much."

Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian mother who worked in Malaysia, appeared in court Tuesday along with a second suspect, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam. Their trial was formally transferred to the High Court as the lower court had no jurisdiction to hear a murder case.

They are the only people who have been arrested in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13.
Kim Jong Nam murder suspect asks her parents to pray for her

The suspects are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim's face in the crowded airport terminal; he died soon afterward. The women have said they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show.

Yusron Ambary, counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy, said Siti wrote a letter to her parents recently, asking them not to worry about her.

"I am in good health. Just pray. Don't think about me too much. Keep healthy and pray at night. I have a lot of people helping me. The embassy officials always come to see me, my lawyers also. Don't worry. Pray for me so that the case will be over soon and I can go back home. Send my love to my son Rio," he read from the letter to reporters outside the courtroom.

Armed escorts accompanied the women, who smiled at their embassy representatives as they were brought to the dock.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said the date for their first appearance in the High Court would usually be within a month. The suspects would then enter pleas and the trial would have to start within 90 days, Iskandar said.

The court was also informed that lawyer Jagjit Singh was appointed by the North Korean Embassy to monitor the case for them. Singh told reporters later that he was engaged to "protect the interest" of the North Korean government. He didn't elaborate.

Police have said four North Korean suspects fled Malaysia the day of the attack. Defense lawyers fear the women will be scapegoats because other people believed to have knowledge of the case left the country.

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Family of Colorado man killed by police settles lawsuit

Court News 2017/05/23 00:15   Bookmark and Share
Court documents show the family of a Colorado man killed by police has settled its lawsuit against the city and the officer.

The Pueblo Chieftain says it obtained documents Thursday which showed the settlement resolved “all pending claims” against officer James Ashby and the city of Rocky Ford.

Reports say Ashby fatally shot 27-year-old Jack Jacquez. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the murder.

Jacquez’s mother, his estate and the mothers of his minor children filed a lawsuit against Ashby and the city in October.

The settlement is waiting on the approval of the Otero County Probate Court judge to include the children in it.

A court filling from this week does not show the terms of the settlement.
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Supreme Court strikes down 2 NC congressional districts

Court News 2017/05/23 00:15   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court struck down two congressional districts in North Carolina Monday because race played too large a role in their creation.

The justices ruled that Republicans who controlled the state legislature and governor's office in 2011 placed too many African-Americans in the two districts. The result was to weaken African-American voting strength elsewhere in North Carolina.

Both districts have since been redrawn and the state conducted elections under the new congressional map in 2016. Even with the new districts, Republicans maintained their 10-3 edge in congressional seats.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the state did not offer compelling justifications to justify its reliance on race in either district.

The issue of race and redistricting one is a familiar one at the Supreme Court and Kagan noted that one of the districts was "making its fifth appearance before this court."

States have to take race into account when drawing maps for legislative, congressional and a host of municipal political districts. At the same time, race can't be the predominant factor without very strong reasons, under a line of high court cases stretching back 20 years.

A three-judge federal court had previously struck down the two districts. The justices upheld the lower court ruling on both counts.

The court unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling on District 1 in northeastern North Carolina. Kagan wrote that the court will not "approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence."

The justices split 5-3 on the other district, District 12 in the southwestern part of the state. Justice Clarence Thomas joined the four liberal justices to form a majority. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not part in the case.

The state insisted that race played no role at all in the creation of one district. Instead, the state argued that Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to leave the district in Democratic hands, so that the surrounding districts would be safer for Republicans.


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High court could soon signal view on Trump immigration plans

Court News 2017/05/15 21:36   Bookmark and Share
Supreme Court decisions in a half-dozen cases dealing with immigration over the next two months could reveal how the justices might evaluate Trump administration actions on immigration, especially stepped-up deportations.

Some of those cases could be decided as early as Monday, when the court is meeting to issue opinions in cases that were argued over the past six months.

The outcomes could indicate whether the justices are retreating from long-standing decisions that give the president and Congress great discretion in dealing with immigration, and what role administration policies, including the proposed ban on visits to the United States by residents of six majority Muslim countries, may play.

President Trump has pledged to increase deportations, particularly of people who have been convicted of crimes. But Supreme Court rulings in favor of the immigrants in the pending cases “could make his plans more difficult to realize,” said Christopher Hajec, director of litigation for the Immigration Reform Litigation Institute. The group generally supports the new administration’s immigration actions, including the travel ban.

For about a century, the court has held that, when dealing with immigration, the White House and Congress “can get away with things they ordinarily couldn’t,” said Temple University law professor Peter Spiro, an immigration law expert. “The court has explicitly said the Constitution applies differently in immigration than in other contexts.”

Two of the immigration cases at the court offer the justices the possibility of cutting into the deference that courts have given the other branches of government in this area. One case is a class-action lawsuit brought by immigrants who’ve spent long periods in custody, including many who are legal residents of the United States or are seeking asylum. The court is weighing whether the detainees have a right to court hearings.
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South Dakota and Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe clash in court

Court News 2017/05/14 21:36   Bookmark and Share
The Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe is suing South Dakota over the state's interpretation that contractors working on an expansion of the Royal River Casino are required to pay contractor excise taxes to the state.

The Argus Leader reported that the lawsuit alleges it's an intrusion into tribal sovereignty and is conflicting with U.S. laws that regulate commerce on reservations.

"The economic burden and the intrusion into tribal sovereignty interfere and are incompatible with the federal and tribal interests in promoting tribal self-government, self-sufficiency and economic development," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit is the latest clash between the tribe and the state. The tribe's casino has often been a flashpoint for disputes.

The Flandreau started expanding the casino after Gov. Dennis Daugaard agreed to allow the tribe to double the number of slots it had there. The tribe agreed to increase payments to Moody County to offset law enforcement expenses.

Daugaard's chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said the tribe doesn't collect the contractors' excise tax.

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