Supreme Court takes the wheel in 2 cases of vehicle searches
Attorney News | 2018/01/12 02:39
The Supreme Court's justices put themselves in the driver's seat Tuesday, hearing arguments in two cases involving vehicle searches, but it was unclear what routes the justices will take to resolve the cases.

One case involved Pennsylvania state troopers' stop of a rental car driven by a man who wasn't on the rental agreement. The second involved a policeman's search for a stolen motorcycle in Virginia.

"One of the things that I think is very important in these types of cases is the ability to give clear guidance not only to the courts but to the police," Chief Justice Roberts said. Justice Stephen Breyer, when trying to describe a resolution to the case, said he was "looking for something simple."

The first case involves Terrence Byrd, who was driving his fiancee's rental car on a Pennsylvania highway when a state trooper pulled him over for an alleged minor traffic violation. He acted nervous during the stop and told troopers he had a marijuana cigarette in the car, and officers decided to search the car.

Because the rental agreement didn't authorize Byrd to drive the gray Ford Fusion, troopers told him they didn't need his consent for the search. And when troopers opened the trunk, they found body armor and about 2,500 little bags of heroin. Byrd later acknowledged he planned to sell the drugs for roughly $7,000, and a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Byrd's attorneys argue his case has potential consequences for the 115 million car rentals that take place annually in the United States. They say that if the government wins, police will have an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because police will know they can search the car if the driver isn't on the rental agreement.



Doctor charged in wife's death moved after threat to him
Court News | 2018/01/11 10:39
A New Jersey doctor accused of having his wife killed to protect an illegal prescription drug ring he was running with an outlaw biker gang has been moved to a different jail nearly 100 miles away due to an alleged plot by a co-defendant to kill him.

James Kauffman, 68, of Linwood, New Jersey, is charged with numerous offenses, including murder, racketeering and weapons offenses.

Kauffman and co-defendant Ferdinand Augello, 61, of Petersburg, New Jersey, are charged in the death of Kauffman's 47-year-old wife, April, a radio talk show host who was fatally shot in her home in May 2012.

The charges, including those relating to April Kauffman's shooting as well as the alleged plot to kill James Kauffman, were announced Tuesday after more than five years of investigation.

On Thursday, following brief initial court appearances via video links, prosecutors said Kauffman has been moved from the Atlantic County Jail in Mays Landing to the Hudson County Jail in Kearney, nearly 100 miles away, for his protection.

"We don't think it would be prudent for those two to be lodged together," Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner said.



Democratic judge announces bid for Ohio Supreme Court seat
Attorney News | 2018/01/10 10:42
A Democratic judge has announced his candidacy for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. Michael Donnelly currently serves on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland. He said Thursday he's running for the high court this year.

There are two November races for seats on the seven-person court. One is for an open seat being vacated by the retirement of Republican Justice Terrence O'Donnell. The second is for a seat being vacated this month by Democratic Justice William O'Neill, who is running for governor.

Gov. John Kasich is expected to appoint a fellow Republican to fill O'Neill's seat, and that person will then choose whether to run for the full six-year term.




State high court upholds ex-police chief's murder conviction
Court News | 2018/01/10 10:39
The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of a former police chief found guilty in the 2009 death of his pregnant fiancée.

Russell Bertram was sentenced in 2016 to life in prison for fatally shooting 26-year-old Leonila Stickney. The high court this week declined to vacate Bertram's conviction.

At the time of the incident, Bertram told authorities he was putting his shotgun into his truck after a hunting trip when the weapon fired accidentally, striking Stickney.

Officials accused the one-time Harrisburg police chief of shooting Stickney out of jealousy and to collect more than $900,000 in insurance benefits.

Supreme Court justices ruled the circuit court didn't abuse its discretion by excluding polygraph evidence from Bertram or admitting prosecutors' evidence of his sexual encounters with other women in the days before Stickney's death.



Greece to limit Sharia law after European Court challenge
Areas of Focus | 2018/01/09 10:40
Lawmakers in Greece are set to limit the powers of Islamic courts operating in a border region that is home to a 100,000-strong Muslim minority.

Backed by parliament's largest political parties, the draft law is set to be voted on later Tuesday. The proposal aims to scrap rules dating back more than 90 years ago and which refer many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Sharia law courts. The new legislation will give Greek courts priority in all cases.

The changes — considered long overdue by many Greek legal experts — follow a complaint to the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights over an inheritance dispute by a Muslim woman who lives in the northeastern Greek city of Komotini.

Legislation concerning minority rights was based on international treaties following wars in the aftermath of the Ottoman empire's collapse. The Muslim minority in Greece is largely Turkish speaking. Minority areas were visited last month by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Greek governments in the past have been reluctant to amend minority rights, as many disputes between Greece and Turkey remain unresolved.

Currently, Islamic court hearings are presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric.

In parliament Tuesday, Constantine Gavroglou, minister of education and religious affairs, praised opposition party support for the bill.



Court extends halt in Louisiana executions after judge dies
Legal Topics | 2018/01/07 10:42
A court order blocking Louisiana from carrying out any executions has been extended indefinitely after the death of the federal judge who issued it.

A lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection protocols has kept death sentences on hold since 2014. U.S. District Judge James Brady, who died Dec. 9 after a brief illness, oversaw the lawsuit and agreed to order the temporary stay of all executions.

Brady's order was due to expire next Monday, but U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick agreed Thursday to extend it until another judge is assigned to the lawsuit.

Louisiana has 72 inmates on death row, according to state corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick. The state's last execution was in January 2010, when it carried out a death sentence for Gerald Bordelon, who was convicted of killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter in 2002.

Drug shortages have forced the corrections department to rewrite its execution plan several times since 2010. Under the state's current execution protocols, its primary method is a single-drug injection of pentobarbital, a powerful sedative. The alternative method is a two-drug combination of the painkiller hydromorphone and the sedative midazolam.

The most recent order that Brady issued to halt executions — at the request of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry — is limited to death row inmates who are plaintiffs in the litigation. But others can join the lawsuit if an execution date is set by the courts.



North Carolina's altered legislative districts back in court
Attorney News | 2018/01/07 10:41
North Carolina legislative districts are back in court again as federal judges must decide whether to accept proposed alterations by their appointed third-party expert.

A three-judge panel scheduled a hearing Friday in Greensboro to listen to why a Stanford University law professor they hired redrew boundaries the way he did. House and Senate districts drawn by Republican legislators have been in courts since 2011.

The same judicial panel previously struck down 28 districts as illegal racial gerrymanders, ultimately leading GOP legislators last summer to retool their maps. But the judges said there seemed to be lingering problems with race and constitutional violations and brought in a special master.

GOP lawyers already have said they expect to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if the judicial panel approves the professor's proposal.



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