Supreme Court ruling gives immigrant facing deportation hope

Court Watch 2021/06/01 15:20   Bookmark and Share
A Guatemalan man who lived in a Massachusetts church for more than three years to avoid deportation said Tuesday he’s hopeful a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision boosts his efforts to remain in the country.

Lucio Perez’s lawyer, Glenn Formica, also said in a virtual news conference with his client that the April decision in Niz-Chavez vs. Garland also potentially affects the cases of millions more immigrants living in the country illegally.

The high court ruled in the Niz-Chavez case that federal policy has long deprived immigrants facing deportation of proper notification.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement typically issues a notice of a person’s deportation proceedings and then provides the hearing date and other key details in subsequent communications. The court ruled all relevant information should be included in a single notice.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who joined Perez for the news conference, said the ruling is an opportunity to renew legislative efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

Perez left the First Congregational Church in Amherst in March after receiving a temporary stay of his deportation. He was among more than 70 immigrants nationwide who took sanctuary in churches during former President Donald Trump’s administration.
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Justices signal they could limit Indian Country ruling

Court Watch 2021/05/26 12:19   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted Oklahoma’s request to retain custody of a man who has been on death row for killing three Native Americans, a sign the court may be willing to limit the fallout from last year’s ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma remains a tribal reservation.

The action came in the case of Shaun Bosse, whose conviction and death sentence for the murders of Katrina Griffin and her two young children were overturned by a state appeals court.

The order makes it likely that the high court will weigh in soon on the extent of its 5-4 ruling last year in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

The state court had held that state prosecutors had no authority to try Bosse for the killings, which took place on the Chicksaw Nation’s reservation, based on the McGirt decision.

Hundreds of criminal convictions, including several death sentences for first-degree murder, have been set aside, and tribal and federal officials have been scrambling to refile those cases in tribal or U.S. district court.

Oklahoma argued to the Supreme Court that it can prosecute crimes committed by non-Native Americans like Bosse, even if the scene of the crime is on tribal land. The state also said there might be technical legal reasons for rejecting Bosse’s claims.

The three liberal justices dissented from the order but did not explain their disagreement. They were in last year’s majority, along with Justice Neil Gorsuch, the author of the opinion. Gorsuch did not publicly dissent from Wednesday’s order.

The fifth member of the McGirt majority was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. She has been replaced by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Bosse already has been charged with the killings in federal court, and he had been scheduled to be transferred to federal custody. But he could not be sentenced to death under the federal charges.
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Supreme Court: Guam can pursue $160M dump cleanup lawsuit

Court Watch 2021/05/24 10:31   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court says the U.S. territory of Guam can pursue a $160 million lawsuit against the federal government over the cost of cleaning up a landfill on the island.

The justices on Monday unanimously overturned a lower court decision that had said Guam had waited too long to pursue the claim.

The case before the justices involves a long-running dispute over the Ordot Dump on Guam. The lawsuit says the Navy built the dump during the 1940s and then deposited toxic military waste there before turning over control to Guam in 1950.

Guam operated the dump for decades. The U.S. has said Guam “vastly expanded” it and “failed to provide even rudimentary environmental safeguards.” In 2002, the government sued Guam over pollution from the dump. Guam ultimately agreed in 2004 to close the dump and take steps to stop pollution from the dump, among other things.

In 2017, Guam sued the United States, arguing that it’s responsible for some of the costs of the cleanup, which Guam estimates to be more than $160 million. A trial court had allowed the lawsuit to go forward, but an appeals court had dismissed it.

In an email, Guam’s attorney Gregory Garre said: “We are thrilled with the Court’s decision in favor of Guam today, which paves the way for the United States to pay its fair share for the cleanup of the Ordot Dump.” The case is Territory of Guam v. United States, 20-382
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Supreme Court rejects defendant’s appeal in 2015 slaying

Court Watch 2021/04/20 14:37   Bookmark and Share
The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the life prison sentence given to a man who plotted the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, a 22-year-old Rapid City woman.

Jonathan Klinetobe pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Klinetobe was originally facing the death penalty in connection with the fatal stabbing of Jessica Rehfeld in 2015.

Prosecutors said Klinetobe was upset that Rehfeld broke up with him and convinced two other men to kidnap and kill her.

In his appeal, Klinetobe argued the judge who sentenced him abused her discretion and that the life term violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the Rapid City Journal  reported.

The justices unanimously rejected both arguments. Klinetobe convinced Richard Hirth and David Schneider to kill Rehfeld after he made up a story that the Hell’s Angels would pay an $80,000 bounty since she had information on the motorcycle gang, according to prosecutors.

After Hirth and Schneider kidnapped and stabbed her to death while pretending to give her a ride to work, Klinetobe helped them bury her body in the woods near Rockerville, officials said.

Two weeks later, he hired Garland Brown and Michael Frye to help him dig up Rehfeld’s body from the shallow grave and bury her farther into the woods and deeper underground. Everyone but Hirth has pleaded guilty and been sentenced.
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Judge rules Mormon church didn’t meddle in death row case

Court Watch 2021/03/31 15:58   Bookmark and Share
A Utah judge has ruled that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not interfere in a death row inmate’s 2015 trial when it laid out ground rules for what local church leaders could say before they testified as character witnesses for the man.

Death row inmate Doug Lovell, 62, claimed the witnesses were effectively silenced by the church, or never contacted at all by his court-appointed attorney, Sean Young, The Salt Lake Tribune reported  Tuesday.

The lawyers argued the witnesses were family members, inmates and former church leaders who could have told jurors Lovell positively affected their lives. Those testimonies, which were not all given, could have swayed the jurors, they said.

Instead, Lovell was sentenced in 2015 to die by lethal injection for killing Joyce Yost three decades ago in an effort to silence her after she had alleged Lovell had raped her. Lovell appealed the verdict, claiming the church interfered in his trial and he didn’t receive adequate legal representation.

In a recent court ruling, Second District Judge Michael DiReda said Young wasn’t deficient in his representation and didn’t contact several witnesses because they would have said damaging things about his client.

DiReda also said the church didn’t interfere with Lovell’s case and told former bishops to tell the truth, but did not emphasize what they should say.

Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder in 1993 under a plea agreement that would have removed the death penalty if Lovell could show authorities the location of Yost’s body. The body was never found and the agreement was voided, but Lovell still pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.

In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea. He was then convicted at trial and again sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court in 2017 heard the case again and sent it back to a district court to determine if Lovell’s attorneys did their jobs properly and if the church asked ecclesiastical leaders to not testify.

The case will now get kicked back to the Utah Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in whether Lovell should receive another trial.

Lovell is one of seven men currently on death row in Utah. An execution date is unclear.
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Justices: California can’t enforce indoor church service ban

Court Watch 2021/02/06 14:28   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can keep for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

The high court issued orders late Friday in two cases where churches had sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in the state. The high court said that for now, California can’t ban indoor worship as it had in almost all of the state because virus cases are high.

The justices said the state can cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity. The justices also declined to stop California from enforcing a ban put in place last summer on indoor singing and chanting. California had put the restrictions in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

The justices were acting on emergency requests to halt the restrictions from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials” when it comes to public health restrictions, but he said deference “has its limits.”

Roberts wrote that California’s determination “that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero?appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”

In addition to Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Amy Coney Barrett also wrote to explain their views. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas would have kept California from enforcing its singing ban. Barrett, the court’s newest justice, disagreed. Writing for herself and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she said it wasn’t clear at this point whether the singing ban was being applied “across the board.”

She wrote that “if a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral,” triggering a stricter review by courts. The justices said the churches who sued can submit new evidence to a lower court that the singing ban is not being applied generally.

The court’s three liberal justices dissented, saying they would have upheld California’s restrictions. Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor that the court’s action “risks worsening the pandemic.” She said that the court was “making a special exception for worship services” rather than treating them like other activities where large groups of people come together “in close proximity for extended periods of time.” In areas of California where COVID-19 is widespread, which includes most of the state, activities including indoor dining and going to the movies are banned.

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