Appeals court upholds Virginia health care facility law
Court News | 2016/01/23 00:38
A Virginia law that requires government approval for new or expanded health care facilities is constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously rejected a claim that Virginia's "certificate of public need" program impermissibly interferes with interstate commerce.

While we cannot say whether Virginia's program is ultimately wise, it most certainly is constitutional," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

Virginia requires medical providers to prove to the State Board of Health that proposed new facilities, expansions or major equipment purchases are necessary in a geographic area. According to the appeals court, 36 states have similar programs.

Colon Health Centers of America and Progressive Radiology challenged Virginia's law. U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled against the plaintiffs, and the appeals court upheld Hilton's decision.

“The program left in place by today's ruling amounts to nothing more than a certificate of monopoly for favored established businesses, which comes at enormous cost to ordinary Virginians,” said Robert McNamara, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice who represented the plaintiffs.

McNamara said no decision has been made on whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said such a petition would be due April 20, and the General Assembly might take action on the issue before then.



Ohio's top court declines to change rules on plea deals
Court News | 2016/01/18 07:29
Ohio's top court decided Thursday to continue allowing defendants to plead to lesser crimes that don't bear much resemblance to the facts of the original charge.

Some trial court judges argued that such pleas undermine public confidence in the courts, saying the seriousness of a crime sometimes isn't reflected in the end result.

"Baseless pleas are an affront to the very principles our justice system was designed to promote: that is, truth and justice," Michael Donnelly, a judge in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County court, said in a letter to a Supreme Court committee reviewing the use of such pleas.

Plea bargains that stray from the facts in sex crimes can also allow defendants to avoid having to register as sex offenders, Donnelly said.

The Ohio Supreme Court without comment declined by a 4-2 vote to move the proposal forward.

Donnelly said Thursday he was disappointed but would continue to push the issue.

Connecticut, Florida and New Jersey, among other states, require a plea to have some basis in the facts of the crime.

More than 20 states limit prosecutors' ability to resolve drunken driving cases with plea bargains that dismiss or eliminate an impaired-driving charge, according to the National Center for State Courts. New Mexico allows plea bargains as long as one of the convictions includes at least one offense related to driving under the influence.


High court raises doubts over Puerto Rico sovereignty
Court News | 2016/01/15 07:29
The Supreme Court on Wednesday raised doubts about whether Puerto Rico should be treated as a sovereign state with powers that go beyond its status as a territory of the United States.
 
The justices considered the question during arguments in a criminal case involving two men who claim that Puerto Rico and the federal government can't prosecute them for the same charges of selling weapons without a permit.

The double jeopardy principal prevents defendants from being tried twice for the same offense. But there is an exception that allows prosecution under similar state and federal laws, since states are considered separate sovereigns.

Several justices said Puerto Rico's power to enforce local laws really comes from Congress, which in theory could take it away.

The case has broad political and legal implications that could affect Puerto Rico on issues ranging from taxation and bankruptcy to federal benefits. It comes as the high court prepares to hear a separate dispute later this year over whether the financially struggling Puerto Rican government can give its municipalities the power to declare bankruptcy.


Mexico issues first permits for marijuana under court ruling
Court News | 2015/12/12 17:24
The Mexican government on Friday granted the first permits allowing the cultivation and possession of marijuana for personal use.

The federal medical protection agency said the permits apply only to the four plaintiffs who won a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court last month. The court said growing and consuming marijuana is covered under the right of "free development of personality."

The permits issued Friday won't allow smoking marijuana in the presence of children or anyone who hasn't given consent. The permits also don't allow the sale or distribution of the drug. Ironically, the plaintiffs said that even with the permits in hand, they don't plan to smoke the marijuana permitted.

They said they filed the suit to make a point about prohibitionist policies being wrong, not to get their hands on legal weed. "The objective is to change the policy, not to promote consumption," said Juan Francisco Torres Landa, one of the four plaintiffs. "We are going to set the example; we are not going to consume it."

The court's ruling didn't mean a general legalization for Mexico. But if the court ruled the same way on five similar petitions, it would then establish the precedent to change the law and allow general recreational use.

The government medical protection agency, known as COFEPRIS, said it has received 155 applications to get such permits. But other applicants would have to go through the appeals process, something supporters say would probably take at least a year.


India court orders action on crematorium near Taj Mahal
Court News | 2015/11/17 23:14
India's Supreme Court has ordered a state government to remove a wood-burning crematorium from near the Taj Mahal to protect the monument from pollution damage.

The judges said Monday the Uttar Pradesh government could either move the crematorium or install an electric one in its place.

They ruled after a letter from another Supreme Court judge, who said that he'd noticed the mausoleum spewing smoke and ash during a recent visit to the monument and was concerned about the effect of air pollution on the marble structure.

In their order, the two judges suggested that the state could move the wood-burning crematorium and also build an electric one at the current site. This would allow people wanting to use wood pyres to do so, while others could use the electric crematorium, they said.

Hindus traditionally cremate their dead using wood fires. The government has been trying to encourage people to use electricity-powered crematoriums.

With its gleaming dome and graceful spires, the Taj Mahal is one of the world's most recognizable buildings, visited by more than 3 million tourists a year.

With its domes and minarets, semi-precious stone inlays and carvings, the monument is considered the finest example of Mughal art in India. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

On the banks of the Yamuna River in the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century by Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child.


Ruling gives Sandusky back $4,900-a-month Penn State pension
Court News | 2015/11/12 05:38
The state must restore the $4,900-a-month pension of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky that was taken away three years ago when he was sentenced to decades in prison on child molestation convictions, a court ordered Friday.

A Commonwealth Court panel ruled unanimously that the State Employees' Retirement Board wrongly concluded Sandusky was a Penn State employee when he committed the crimes that were the basis for the pension forfeiture.

"The board conflated the requirements that Mr. Sandusky engage in 'work relating to' PSU and that he engage in that work 'for' PSU," wrote Judge Dan Pellegrini. "Mr. Sandusky's performance of services that benefited PSU does not render him a PSU employee."

Sandusky, 71, collected a $148,000 lump sum payment upon retirement in 1999 and began receiving monthly payments of $4,900.

The board stopped those payments in October 2012 on the day he was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 children. A jury found him guilty of 45 counts for offenses that ranged from grooming and fondling to violent sexual attacks. Some of the encounters happened inside university facilities.

The basis for the pension board's decision was a provision in the state Pension Forfeiture Act that applies to "crimes related to public office or public employment," and he was convicted of indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

The judges said the board's characterization of Sandusky as a Penn State employee at the time those offenses occurred was erroneous because he did not maintain an employer-employee relationship with the university after 1999.

The judges ordered the board to pay back interest and reinstated the pension retroactively, granting him about three years of makeup payments.



German court: former SS Auschwitz guard fit for trial
Court News | 2015/11/03 05:14
A German court says a 93-year-old former SS sergeant charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as an Auschwitz death camp guard has been declared fit for trial.
 
The Detmold state court said Monday a doctor determined that Reinhold H., whose last name wasn't given for privacy reasons, is fit to stand trial so long as sessions are limited to two hours per day.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors now have two weeks to submit responses to the expert opinion. The court will then decide whether to open a trial.

H. is accused of being an accessory to murders at Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944. The suspect says he was assigned to a part of the camp not involved in the mass murders.




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