Massachusetts high court to weigh teen texting suicide case
Legal Topics | 2018/10/05 05:17
Massachusetts' highest court is set to consider whether to throw out the involuntary manslaughter conviction of a woman who as a teenager encouraged her suicidal boyfriend to kill himself in dozens of text messages.

Lawyers for 22-year-old Michelle Carter will urge the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday to reject a judge's finding that she caused Conrad Roy III's death when she told him to get back in a truck filled with toxic gas.

Carter was sentenced to 15 months in jail last year but has remained free while she pursues her appeal. Prosecutors say Carter could have stopped Roy, who was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014.

Her lawyers say her conviction criminalizes free speech and that Carter's words didn't cause Roy's death.


Cemetery case puts property rights issue before high court
Headline Legal News | 2018/10/05 05:16
Rose Mary Knick makes no bones about it. She doesn't buy that there are bodies buried on her eastern Pennsylvania farmland, and she doesn't want people strolling onto her property to visit what her town says is a small cemetery.

Six years ago, however, Knick's town passed an ordinance that requires anyone with a cemetery on their land to open it to the public during the day. The town ordered Knick to comply, threatening a daily fine of $300 to $600 if she didn't. Knick's response has been to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in her case Wednesday.

"Would you want somebody roaming around in your backyard?" Knick asked during a recent interview on her Lackawanna County property, which is posted with signs warning against trespassing.

Her neighbors in Scott Township, the Vail family, say they just want to visit their ancestors' graves.

The Supreme Court isn't going to weigh in on whether there's a cemetery on Knick's land. Instead, it's considering whether people with property rights cases like Knick's can bring their cases to federal court or must go to state court, an issue groups nationwide are interested in.

Knick, 69, says her town's ordinance wouldn't protect her if people injure themselves on her land and sue. And she says if the town is going to take her private property and open it up to the public, they should pay her. She says she believes that the town was trying to make an example out of her for questioning lawmakers' decisions.



Indian court allows deportation of 7 Rohingya to Myanmar
Attorney News | 2018/10/04 12:17
India on Thursday deported its first group of Rohingya Muslims since the government last year ordered the expulsion of members of the Myanmar minority group and others who entered the country illegally.

The deportation was carried out after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute plea by the seven men's lawyer that they be allowed to remain in India because they feared reprisals in Myanmar. They were arrested in 2012 for entering India illegally and have been held in prison since then.

Indian authorities handed the seven over to Myanmar officials at a border crossing in Moreh in Manipur state, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. Each carried a bag of belongings.

The Supreme Court said it would allow their deportation because Myanmar had accepted them as citizens. Government attorney Tushar Mehta told the judges that Myanmar had given the seven certificates of identity and 1-month visas to facilitate their deportation.

Most Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are denied citizenship and face widespread discrimination.

Defense attorney Prashant Bhushan said the government should treat them as refugees, not as illegal migrants, and send a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to talk to them so they would not be deported under duress.

About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape a brutal campaign of violence by Myanmar's military.

An estimated 40,000 other Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India. Less than 15,000 are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many have settled in areas of India with large Muslim populations, including the southern city of Hyderabad, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi, and the Himalayan region of Jammu-Kashmir. Some have taken refuge in northeast India bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.


UN court orders US to lift some Iran sanctions
Court News | 2018/10/03 12:17
The United Nations' highest court on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must "remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from" the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

By limiting the order to sanctions covering humanitarian goods and the civil aviation industry, the ruling did not go as far as Iran had requested.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, pointed that out in a tweet.

"This is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction," the ambassador tweeted. "Even so, it is worth noting that the Court declined today to grant the sweeping measures requested by Iran. Instead, the Court issued a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors."

While imposing the so-called "provisional measures," the court's president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, stressed that the case will continue and the United States could still challenge the court's jurisdiction.


Supreme Court could limit execution of people with dementia
Court Watch | 2018/10/02 12:18
The Supreme Court appeared willing Tuesday to extend protection from capital punishment to people with dementia who can't recall their crime or understand the circumstances of their execution.

The eight justices heard arguments in the case of Alabama death row inmate Vernon Madison, who killed a police officer in 1985 but has suffered strokes that his lawyers say have left him with severe dementia.

The high court has previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.

A ruling for Madison probably would mean a new hearing in state court over whether his condition renders him ineligible for execution.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four liberal justices seemed most willing to rule for Madison. The other three justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, are unlikely to side with Madison because they voted to allow his execution to proceed when their colleagues blocked it in January, setting up the current case.

In a reflection of the changed dynamics on the court, Roberts' vote would appear to be decisive since a 4-4 split would leave in place a state court ruling against Madison and allow Alabama to try again to execute him. The high court is down one justice, following Anthony Kennedy's retirement in July and a delay in a vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh so that the FBI can investigate allegations against him of sexual misconduct.

Kennedy had been the conservative justice most likely to vote with the liberals on death penalty cases. The court agreed to hear the appeal while Kennedy was on the bench. He had been a key voice in limiting capital punishment, having voted to bar the execution of people under 18, the intellectually disabled and those who lack a rational understanding of why they are to be put to death.


Supreme Court won't hear case over California beach access
Court News | 2018/10/01 23:19
The Supreme Court is refusing to hear an appeal from a California billionaire who doesn't want to open a road on his property so that the public can access a beach.

The justices said Monday that they will not take up Vinod Khosla's appeal of a California appeals court decision. The case had the potential to upend California's longstanding efforts to keep beaches open to the public.

Khosla bought the property in the San Francisco Bay Area for $32.5 million in 2008 and later blocked the public from accessing it. That prompted a lawsuit by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation.

A state appeals court ruled last year that Khosla needed to apply for a coastal development permit before denying public access.

Khosla — a venture capitalist who co-founded the Silicon Valley technology company, Sun Microsystems — closed a gate, put up a no-access sign and painted over a billboard at the entrance to the property that had advertised access to the beach, according to the appellate ruling.

The secluded beach south of Half Moon Bay, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of San Francisco, is only accessible by a road that goes over Khosla's land.

The previous owners of the property allowed public access to the beach for a fee. But Khosla's attorneys say the cost to maintain the beach and other facilities far exceeded revenue from the fees.

The government cannot demand that people keep their private property open to the public without paying them to do so, Khosla's attorneys said in their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state appeals court ruling would "throw private property rights in California into disarray," the appeal argued, saying other property owners along California's coast would prefer to exclude the public.

The Surfrider Foundation said Khosla's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was premature because he had not yet applied for a permit and received a decision from the state.

"This win helps to secure beach access for all people, as is enshrined in our laws," said Angela Howe, legal director of the foundation. "The Surfrider Foundation will always fight to preserve the rights of the many from becoming the assets of the few."



Trial set for 1 of 4 impeached W.Va. Supreme Court justices
Attorney News | 2018/10/01 16:18
The first West Virginia Supreme Court justice to go on trial in an impeachment scandal is looking forward to explaining her decisions since taking office.

Justice Beth Walker's trial is set to start Monday in the state Senate. Senators are serving as jurors with several members of the House of Delegates serving as prosecutors.

Four justices were impeached by the House in August. The cases targeted spending, including renovations to the justices' offices, and also raised questions about corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty earlier this decade.

In a statement after her impeachment last month, Walker said she takes "full responsibility" for her actions and she will "look forward to explaining those actions and decisions before the State Senate."

Walker, who joined the court in 2017, said she has been committed to greater transparency and accountability in the judicial branch and agreed that "expenditures prior to my election were ill-advised, excessive and needed greater oversight."

Some Democrats have criticized the impeachment moves as a power grab by majority Republican lawmakers, strategically timed to allow GOP Gov. Jim Justice to name their temporary replacements.



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