Thai court issues new arrest warrant for Red Bull scion
Court News | 2020/08/25 07:53
A Thai court issued a new arrest warrant on Tuesday for an heir to the Red Bull energy drink fortune, a month after news of the dropping of a long-standing charge against him caused widespread anger.

Assistant National Police Chief Lt. Gen. Jaruwat Waisay confirmed that Vorayuth Yoovidhya, commonly known by the nickname “Boss,” faces charges of causing death by negligent driving and use of a narcotic substance.

“This was the recommendation by the police committee investigating the case," he said by phone. "We are confident that we can move forward on this, otherwise this decision would not have been made.”

Vorayuth is the grandson of Chaleo Yoovidhya, one of the creators of the globally famous Red Bull brand. Forbes puts the family’s net worth at $20 billion.

Around dawn on Sept. 3 , 2012, Vorayuth was at the wheel of a Ferrari that struck the back of a traffic policeman’s motorcycle on a main Bangkok road. The officer was flung from his motorbike and died at the scene, while Vorayuth drove home.

The family does not dispute he was the driver but says the policeman caused the crash by veering suddenly across his path. A forensic examination at the time put his speed at around 177 kilometers (110 miles) per hour in an 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour zone, and medical tests allegedly found traces of cocaine in his bloodstream.

For years Boss avoided court by not turning up to meet prosecutors. Meanwhile, the number of charges against him dwindled due to the statute of limitations.

After an AP investigation revealed that he was continuing to live a globetrotting life, using private jets to party around the world and staying in the family's luxurious properties, authorities finally issued an arrest warrant for causing death by reckless driving in April 2017.


California justices toss death penalty for Scott Peterson
Court Watch | 2020/08/23 07:53
Scott Peterson’s conviction for killing his pregnant wife will stand, but the California Supreme Court on Monday overturned his 2005 death sentence in a case that attracted worldwide attention. The justices cited “significant errors” in jury selection in overturning the death penalty but welcomed prosecutors to again seek the sentence if they wish.

Laci Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant with their unborn son, Connor, when she was killed. Investigators said that on Christmas Eve 2002, Peterson dumped their bodies from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.

“Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case,” the court said. “We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder.”

But the justices said the trial judge “made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.”

It agreed with his argument that potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.

“While a court may dismiss a prospective juror as unqualified to sit on a capital case if the juror’s views on capital punishment would substantially impair his or her ability to follow the law, a juror may not be dismissed merely because he or she has expressed opposition to the death penalty as a general matter,” the justices said in a unanimous decision.

They rejected Peterson’s argument that he couldn’t get a fair trial because of widespread publicity after the proceedings were moved nearly 90 miles (145 kilometers) away from his Central Valley home of Modesto to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.


Convention silence from Democrats with high court at stake
Court News | 2020/08/20 07:54
The future of the Supreme Court is on the line, though it would be hard to tell from the Democratic National Convention that just concluded.

There was a fleeting glimpse of a younger Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a brief reference to the court by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and a mention of it by Ayesha Curry, in a segment with NBA star Stephen Curry and their two daughters.

Neither Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden nor vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris said a word about the high court in their acceptance speeches.

By contrast, President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates rarely miss a chance to talk up Trump's more than 200 federal court appointments, including Supreme Court justices  Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, with the prospect of more seats to fill in a second term.

“The most important thing a president can do is the appointment of federal judges and Supreme Court justices," Trump said at a recent campaign stop in Yuma, Arizona.

That's a refrain likely to be repeated at the Republican National Convention that begins on Monday and when Trump gives his acceptance speech later in the week.

The Democratic silence is all the more surprising because liberal groups are trying to motivate progressive voters by highlighting the GOP's success in restocking the federal bench with younger judges who might serve for decades.


UN-backed court to issue verdicts in Lebanon’s Hariri case
Legal Interview | 2020/08/18 16:05
More than 15 years after the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, a U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is announcing verdicts this week in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah allegedly involved in the killing, which deeply divided the tiny country.

The verdicts on Tuesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in a village on the outskirts of the Dutch city of The Hague, are expected to further add to soaring tensions in Lebanon, two weeks after a catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port that killed nearly 180 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed thousands of homes in the Lebanese capital.

Unlike the blast that killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, the Aug. 4 explosion was believed to be a result of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that accidentally ignited at Beirut’s port. While the cause of the fire that provided the trigger is still not clear, Hezbollah, which maintains huge influence over Lebanese politics, is being sucked into the public fury directed at the country’s ruling politicians.

Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country’s leaders were concerned about violence after the verdicts. Hariri was Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician at the time, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group.

Tensions between Sunni and Shiites in the Middle East have fueled deadly conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and to a smaller scale in Lebanon. Some Lebanese see the tribunal as an impartial way of uncovering the truth about Hariri’s slaying, while Hezbollah ? which denies involvement ? calls it an Israeli plot to tarnish the group.


Int'l court: Hezbollah member guilty in Lebanon ex-PM death
Headline Legal News | 2020/08/17 23:05
A U.N.-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted one member of the Hezbollah militant group and acquitted three others of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash was guilty as a co-conspirator of five charges linked to his involvement in the suicide truck bombing. Hariri and 21 others were killed and 226 were wounded in a huge blast outside a seaside hotel in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

However, after a years-long investigation and trial, three other Hezbollah members were acquitted of all charges that they also were involved in the killing of Hariri, which sent shock waves through the Mideast.

None of the suspects were ever arrested and were not in court to hear the verdicts.

The tribunal’s judges also said there was no evidence the leadership of the Hezbollah militant group and Syria were involved in the attack, despite saying the assassination happened as Harairi and his political allies were discussing calling for an “immediate and total withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon,” Presiding Judge David Re said.

When launched in the wake of the attack, the tribunal raised hopes that for the first time in multiple instances of political violence in Lebanon, the truth of what happened would emerge and those responsible would be held to account.

But for many in Lebanon, the tribunal failed on both counts. Many of the suspects, including the man convicted Tuesday, are either dead or out of reach of justice. And the prosecution was unable to present a cohesive picture of the bombing plot or who ordered it.

The verdicts come at a particularly sensitive time for Lebanon, following the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut two weeks ago, and as many in Lebanon are calling for an international investigation into that explosion.



9th Circuit ends California ban on high-capacity magazines
Areas of Focus | 2020/08/15 16:33
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out California’s ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the right to bear firearms.

“Even well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster,” appellate Judge Kenneth Lee wrote for the panel’s majority. California’s ban on magazines holding more than 10 bullets “strikes at the core of the Second Amendment — the right to armed self-defense.”

He noted that California passed the law “in the wake of heart-wrenching and highly publicized mass shootings,” but said that isn’t enough to justify a ban whose scope “is so sweeping that half of all magazines in America are now unlawful to own in California.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said it is reviewing the decision and he “remains committed to using every tool possible to defend California’s gun safety laws and keep our communities safe.”

Gun owners cannot immediately rush to buy high-capacity magazines because a stay issued by the lower court judge remains in place.

But Becerra did not say if the state would seek a further delay of Friday’s ruling to prevent an immediate buying spree if the lower court judge ends that restriction. Gun groups estimated that more than a million high-capacity ammunition magazines may have legally flooded into California during a one-week window before the judge stayed his ruling three years ago.

Becerra also did not say if he would ask a larger 11-judge appellate panel to reconsider the ruling by the three judges, or if he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who championed the magazine ban when he was lieutenant governor, defended the law as a vital gun violence prevention measure.

“I think it was sound, I think it was right, and ... the overwhelming majority of Californians agreed when they supported a ballot initiative that we put forth,” he said Friday.

California Rifle & Pistol Association attorney Chuck Michel called Friday’s decision “a huge victory” for gun owners “and the right to choose to own a firearm to defend your family,” while a group that favors firearms restrictions called it ”dangerous” and expects it will be overturned.

The ruling has national implications because other states have similar restrictions, though it immediately applies only to Western states under the appeals court’s jurisdiction.


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.


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