New Jersey's top court: Defendant must share phone passcodes
Legal Topics | 2020/08/12 17:31
The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled a defendant must turn over the passcodes for his two phones in response to a search warrant, opening the way for law enforcement to compel other defendants in the state to do the same.

The court's majority decision on Monday was supported by four justices with three dissenting in the case of a former Essex County sheriff’s officer who is suspected of helping a man charged with trafficking drugs, NJ Advance Media reported.

Robert Andrews was charged in 2016 for official misconduct, hindering and obstruction for passing on information about an ongoing law enforcement investigation to the suspect, who was in the same motorcycle club as him.

Andrews had appealed an order from a lower court to turn over the passcodes to his phones so authorities could execute a search warrant on phone calls and texts between the two men.

“It’s time to rethink whether you should keep anything simply private or personal on a personal electronic device because if the government wants it they can now get it,” said Charles J. Sciarra, Andrews’ attorney in a statement.

Sciarra argued, in part, that Andrews did not have to turn over the passcodes because the Fifth Amendment protected him from self-incrimination. But the court found the passcodes were not “testimonial” and noted Andrews did not challenge the search warrants, which give the state “the right to the cellphones’ purportedly incriminating contents,” the majority decision said.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who authored the dissenting opinion, said the law had reached a crossroads.

“Will we allow law enforcement -- and our courts as their collaborators -- to compel a defendant to disgorge undisclosed private thoughts -- presumably memorized numbers or letters -- so that the government can obtain access to encrypted smartphones?” she wrote.

Andrews' attorney did not respond to the newspaper's questions about whether he would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or turn over his passcodes.

In October, an Oregon court of appeals ruled in a similar case that a defendant there must enter the passcode into a phone found in her purse in response to a search warrant. She entered in the wrong code twice and was ordered to be held for 30 days in jail in contempt of court.

In another case in Louisiana, the FBI said it managed to unlock a defendant's phone before an appeals court issued a decision over whether the law compels him to disclose the password to his phone in response to a search warrant.


UK court says face recognition violates human rig
Court Watch | 2020/08/11 00:31
The use of facial recognition technology by British police has violated human rights and data protection laws, a court said Tuesday, in a decision praised as a victory against invasive practices by the authorities.

In a case trumpeted as the first of its kind, Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday in the case of civil rights campaigner Ed Bridges, who argued that South Wales Police caused him “distress’’ by scanning his face as he shopped in 2017 and as he attended a peaceful anti-arms protest in 2018.

The appeals judges ruled that the way the system was being used during tests was unlawful. The decision does not necessarily mean that facial recognition cannot be used at all, but that authorities should take greater care in how they deploy it.

The judges said they faced two question about how the technology is applied: who is captured in the video surveillance and where. “In relation to both of those questions too much discretion is currently left to individual police officers,” they said.

The judgment said there was no clear evidence that the software was biased on grounds of race or sex. But the judges said that police forces using the controversial and novel technology “would wish to satisfy themselves that everything reasonable which could be done had been done in order to make sure that the software used does not have a racial or gender bias.”

Megan Goulding, a lawyer for civil rights group Liberty, which supported Bridges’ claim, said the facial recognition systems are discriminatory and oppressive.

“The court has agreed that this dystopian surveillance tool violates our rights and threatens our liberties,’’ Goulding said. “Facial recognition discriminates against people of color, and it is absolutely right that the court found that South Wales Police had failed in their duty to investigate and avoid discrimination.’’

Police said they had already made some changes in the use of the technology in the time it has taken to hear the case. The chief constable of South Wales Police, Matt Jukes, described the judgement as something the force could work with and said the priority remains protecting the public while being committed to using the technology in ways that are “responsible and fair.’’

“Questions of public confidence, fairness and transparency are vitally important, and the Court of Appeal is clear that further work is needed to ensure that there is no risk of us breaching our duties around equality,’’ he said.


Court lifts block on 4 Arkansas abortion restrictions
Legal Topics | 2020/08/08 18:33
A federal appeals court on Friday lifted a judge's ruling that has blocked four Arkansas abortion restrictions from taking effect, including a ban on a common second trimester procedure and a fetal remains law that opponents say would effectively require a partner’s consent before a woman could get an abortion.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the 2017 preliminary injunction issued against the restrictions. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights had challenged the measures, suing on behalf of Dr. Frederick Hopkins, a Little Rock abortion provider.

The appeals panel said the case needs to be reconsidered in light of a recent decision on abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The laws U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker blocked include a ban on a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which abortion rights supporters say it is the safest and most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions. The state calls it barbaric and “dismemberment abortion,” saying it can have emotional consequences for the women who undergo it.

Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the appeals court's ruling.

“Arkansas has taken a strong stance to protect the unborn from inhumane treatment,” Rutledge said in a statement. “As Arkansas’s chief legal officer, I have always advocated for the lives of unborn children and will continue to defend our state’s legal right to protect the unborn."

The 2017 decision also blocked new restrictions on the disposal of fetal tissue collected during abortions. The plaintiffs argued that it could also block access by requiring notification of a third party, such as the woman’s parents or her sexual partner, to determine what happens to the fetal remains.

The other restrictions included one that bans abortions based solely on the fetus’ sex and another that requires physicians performing abortions for patients under 14 to take certain steps to preserve embryonic or fetal tissue and notify police where the minor resides.


Appeals court revives House lawsuit for McGahn's testimony
Legal Interview | 2020/08/07 01:33
A federal appeals court in Washington on Friday revived House Democrats' lawsuit to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before a congressional committee, but left other legal issues unresolved with time growing short in the current Congress.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted 7-2 in ruling that the House Judiciary Committee can make its claims in court, reversing the judgment of a three-judge panel that would have ended the court fight.

The matter now returns to the panel for consideration of other legal issues. The current House of Representatives session ends on Jan. 3. That time crunch means “the chances that the Committee hears McGahn’s testimony anytime soon are vanishingly slim," dissenting Judge Thomas Griffith wrote. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson also dissented.

The Judiciary Committee first subpoenaed McGahn in April 2019 as it examined potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Trump directed McGahn not to appear and the Democratic-led panel filed a federal lawsuit to force McGahn to testify.

A trial judge ruled in November that the president’s close advisers do not have the absolute immunity from testifying to Congress that the administration claimed. Griffith and Henderson formed the majority when the appellate panel said in February that the Constitution forbids federal courts from refereeing this kind of dispute between the other two branches of government.

On Friday, the full court said the panel reached the wrong decision. Lawmakers can ask the courts “for judicial enforcement of congressional subpoenas when necessary," Judge Judith Rogers wrote. Congress needs detailed information about the executive branch for both oversight and impeachment, she wrote.

House lawmakers had sought McGahn’s testimony because he was a vital witness for Mueller, whose report detailed the president’s outrage over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s efforts to curtail it.

In interviews with Mueller’s team, McGahn described being called at home by the president on the night of June 17, 2017, and being directed to call the Justice Department and say Mueller had conflicts of interest and should be removed. McGahn declined the command, deciding he would resign rather than carry it out, the report said.


Court upholds health order fines for New Mexico businesses
Court News | 2020/08/05 19:57
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the governor’s authority to fine businesses up to $5,000 a day for violating state emergency health orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The court heard arguments from a group of business owners who claimed the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overstepped its authority in imposing fines higher than $100 citations.

The five-member court ruled without dissent against the business owners who sued. Chief Justice Michael Vigil said the “Legislature has clearly given the governor that authority.”

The court did not make a decision on another claim that the restrictions in response to the pandemic may require government compensation for businesses.

Carter Harrison, an attorney for several business owners, contended that the health order violations could be sanctioned with fines of up to $100 and up to six months in jail.

But Matthew Garcia, a lawyer for the administration, said Lujan Grisham has the authority to impose steep fines.

“What we’re trying to get here is immediate compliance because the only tool we currently have to stem the transmission of COVID-19 is social distancing,” Garcia told the justices.


Court OKs extradition of man linked to Venezuela's Maduro
Attorney News | 2020/08/04 17:43
A court in the West African nation of Cape Verde has approved the extradition to the United States of a Colombian businessman wanted on suspicion of money laundering on behalf of Venezuela's socialist government, his lawyers said Tuesday.

The court made the decision to extradite Alex Saab on Friday, but his legal team said in a statement it was informed about the decision only on Monday. They said they would appeal.

Saab was arrested in June when his private jet stopped to refuel in the former Portuguese colony on the way to Iran.
Saab was waiting for the court to schedule a hearing at which he could argue against extradition, according to the statement sent by the legal team, which is led by former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

The legal team described the extradition order as “alarming” and accused Cape Verdean authorities of denying him his legal rights. The defense lawyers plan to appeal to Cape Verde’s Supreme Court and, if necessary, the Constitutional Court, the statement said.

U.S. officials trying to reignite their campaign to oust Maduro believe Saab holds many secrets about how Venezuelan president, his family and top aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts at a time of widespread hunger in the oil-rich nation.

Venezuela’s government had protested the arrest of Saab, 48, who it said was on a “humanitarian mission” to buy food and medical supplies. Saab came onto the radar of U.S. authorities a few years ago after amassing a large number of contracts with Maduro’s government.

Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted him and a business partner last year on money laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government that was never built.


Lawsuit: Trump still blocks Twitter critics after court loss
Headline Legal News | 2020/08/02 00:43
An organization that successfully proved President Donald Trump violated the law when he blocked Twitter critics sued him anew on Friday, saying he continues to reject some accounts two years after losing in court.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump a second time in Manhattan federal court over use of his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, saying the president and his staff continue to block some accounts.

Some individuals identified in a lawsuit filed in 2017, along with dozens of others who were blocked on the basis of viewpoint, have been unblocked, the lawsuit said.

But lawyers say the White House has refused to unblock those who can't identify which tweet led them to be blocked and others who were blocked before Trump was sworn in more than three years ago.

“It shouldn’t take another lawsuit to get the president to respect the rule of law and to stop blocking people simply because he doesn’t like what they’re posting,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute, in a release.

The lawsuit identified as plaintiffs five individuals who remain blocked, including a digital specialist with the American Federation of Teachers, a freelance writer and researcher, a former teacher, an actor and Donald Moynihan, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

Moynihan could not point to a specific tweet that caused him to be blocked because he periodically deletes tweets, the lawsuit said. It added that when the institute pressed the White House to unblock Moynihan, the request was rejected.


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