Circus operator agrees to plea deal in tent collapse

Topics in Legal News 2017/01/08 16:47   Bookmark and Share
Court records show a Florida-based circus operator has agreed to a plea deal following a tent collapse in New Hampshire in 2015 that killed two people and injured dozens.

The Caledonian-Record in Vermont reports details of the plea deal involving Sarasota-based Walker International Events weren't made available.

The company had previously pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of operating without a license and to misdemeanor counts alleging it hadn't complied with state standards. Corporations can face fines and sanctions on criminal convictions.

The company, now out of business, agreed to pay federal safety fines and settled some lawsuits.

Forty-one-year-old Robert Young and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont, died when a storm with 75 mph winds blew through the Lancaster Fairgrounds, toppling the tent.

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Court cites racial profiling in tossing gun charge

Topics in Legal News 2016/09/24 22:39   Bookmark and Share
The highest court in Massachusetts on Tuesday threw out a gun conviction against a Boston man in a ruling that says black men who flee when approached by police may be reacting to racial profiling rather than trying to hide criminal activity.

In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court found that Boston police had "far too little information" to stop Jimmy Warren after seeing him and another black man walking in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood about 30 minutes after they received a report of a home break-in in 2011.

Police had received only a vague description of three black males wearing dark clothing and hooded sweatshirts seen leaving the home. Warren ran when police approached him. After a foot chase, an officer arrested him in a backyard. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after a handgun was found on the front lawn.

The SJC found that police did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop Warren and his friend, noting that an officer's hunch is not enough. The court cited a report by the Boston Police Department that found black men were disproportionately stopped and frisked by Boston police between 2007 and 2010. The court said black men in Boston who flee when approached by police does not necessarily indicate that they are guilty of a crime.
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Police union defends ex-officer in black musician's death

Topics in Legal News 2016/06/04 23:57   Bookmark and Share
The police union defended a former officer charged in the fatal shooting of a legally armed black man, saying they believe the officer identified himself before the confrontation.
 
Former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja has been charged with manslaughter and attempted murder in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones. Raja's bail was set at $250,000 during his first court appearance Thursday.

Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said the union believes Raja, who was fired after the shooting, identified himself before confronting Jones on an Interstate 95 ramp before dawn.

Charging documents said Raja, who was investigating a string of auto burglaries, did not identify himself before opening fire. He was driving an unmarked cargo van with no police lights and was in civilian clothes: a tan T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap, the documents said.

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High court sides with property owners in wetlands case

Topics in Legal News 2016/06/03 23:57   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is making it easier for landowners to bring a court challenge when federal regulators try to restrict property development due to concerns about water pollution.

The justices ruled unanimously Tuesday that a Minnesota company could file a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the agency's determination that its land is off limits to peat mining under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling is a win for property rights and business groups that said it was unfair for government agencies to decide what land is subject to complex environmental laws without a court ever deciding whether the agency is right.

It was the second time in four years that the high court sided with property owners against the government in a dispute over the right to challenge a designation of protected wetlands.

The Obama administration argued that the Hawkes Company could only contest the finding by seeking a permit, an expensive process that could take years to resolve. The company said it should be able to challenge the order immediately in federal court without having to spend more than $100,000 on a permit or risk hefty fines.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Corps' decision was the kind of final decision that carries a risk of major criminal and civil penalties if landowners don't go along. He said property owners shouldn't have to wait for the agency to "drop the hammer in order to have their day in court."

The case began when the East Grand Forks, Minnesota, company planned to expand its peat processing operations and asked the Corps for guidance. The agency issued a determination that the property was governed by the Clean Water Act because it affected the Red River of the North about 120 miles away.

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Court gives green light to death penalty fast-tracking

Topics in Legal News 2016/03/23 09:34   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court Wednesday cleared the way for the Department of Justice to allow states to have their inmates' death penalty appeals expedited through federal court.
 
Legal organizations that challenged the DOJ's criteria for certifying states for the fast-track program lacked standing to bring the lawsuit, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said. The court also noted that the DOJ had not yet granted any certifications, and those certifications would be reviewed by a separate appeals court.

The decision threw out a lower court ruling that blocked the certification process.

The fast-track program would require inmates to file petitions in federal court within six months of a final ruling on their appeal in state court. They normally have a year. It would also require federal courts to act faster on the inmates' petitions.

At least one state, Arizona, has asked the DOJ to certify it for the fast-track program.

Opponents say it would force attorneys representing death penalty inmates to scramble to file appeals, possibly leading some cases to be neglected. Supporters say the program could take years off the death penalty appeals process, giving crime victims faster justice.

"This decision is important not only for the families of murder victims, but also for everyone in the United States who depends upon the rule of law and relies upon the courts to follow it," Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said in a statement. The Sacramento-based nonprofit organization advocates for swift punishment for guilty defendants and filed arguments in the case.

Marc Shapiro, an attorney for the legal organizations that sued — the San Francisco-based Habeas Corpus Resource Center and the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Arizona — said he will ask a larger 9th Circuit panel to review the ruling.

"We're living in a time where our system of capital punishment is being exposed for its critical flaws," he said. "There's a heightened need for assuring we're not sending innocent or otherwise undeserving people to the execution chamber."

To qualify for the fast-track program, a state has to require a court to appoint an attorney to represent an indigent capital inmate unless the inmate rejects the attorney or is not indigent, according to the 9th Circuit's ruling. Regulations finalized by the DOJ in 2013 set benchmarks for attorney competency.

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California High Court Allows Gov. Jerry Brown's Prison Initiative

Topics in Legal News 2016/02/25 14:40   Bookmark and Share
California's Supreme Court is allowing Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to put his plan to reduce the state's prison population before voters in November.

The high court acted Friday after Brown warned that further delay could push voters' consideration to 2018.

The justices put on hold a lower court ruling that barred the state attorney general from issuing the documents that would let Brown's supporters gather the signatures needed to put his initiative on this year's ballot.

The Sacramento-based judge ruled that Brown improperly amended a juvenile justice initiative. The Democratic governor added his proposal to increase sentencing credits for adult inmates and allow earlier parole for non-violent felons.

Brown says it is too late to start over and still collect the nearly 586,000 signatures needed for a ballot measure this year.
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