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Court revises test on determining Native American status
Court News | 2015/07/09 20:06
Attorneys in federal cases stemming from crimes on American Indian reservations have new guidance on what's needed to prove a defendant is Indian.

Federal authorities have jurisdiction over major crimes on tribal land when the victim, suspect or both are American Indian. A two-part test determines who is Indian.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revised the first part of that test in an opinion Tuesday — no longer requiring that the degree of Indian blood be traced to a federally recognized tribe — and restored an Arizona man's 90-year sentence on assault and firearms charges.

The court said evidence at trial was enough to find Damien Zepeda is American Indian. Zepeda, an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community, disagreed.

"That's why it was so important to clarify that the proof in this case was sufficient," said Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who monitors the 9th Circuit. "This will lay down the rule for future prosecutors."

In 2013, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zepeda's bloodline of one-quarter Pima and one-quarter Tohono O'odham derived from an American Indian tribe recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. It reversed all but one of nine convictions and ordered a lower court to resentence him.


Bryant tells court it should affirm same-sex marriage ruling
Court News | 2015/07/04 20:13
Gov. Phil Bryant remains opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, but he’s stopping his court fight against it.

In a letter Wednesday, Bryant’s lawyer asks the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to return a Mississippi gay marriage lawsuit to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson. That would allow Reeves to enter a final ruling aligned with the Supreme Court decision.

Reeves overturned Mississippi’s gay marriage ban last year, but put his ruling on hold. The appeals court also put a hold on Reeves’ ruling.

Those procedural blocks need to be lifted, but most Mississippi counties are already issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Lawyers for plaintiffs want judges to act before July 4, to “celebrate the promise of liberty and freedom for all.”


Supreme Court will re-hear Texas affirmative action
Court News | 2015/06/29 15:56
The Supreme Court said Monday it will dive back into the fight over the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas, a decision that presages tighter limits on affirmative action in higher education.

The justices said they will hear for a second time the case of a white woman who was denied admission to the university's flagship Austin campus.

The conservative-leaning federal appeals court in New Orleans has twice upheld the university's admissions process, including in a ruling last year that followed a Supreme Court order to reconsider the woman's case.

The case began in 2008 when Abigail Fisher, who is white, was denied admission to the University of Texas's flagship Austin campus because she did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class — the criterion for 75 percent of the school's admissions. The university also passed her over for a position among the remaining 25 percent, which is reserved for special scholarships and people who meet a formula for personal achievement that includes race as a factor.

The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013. But rather than issue a landmark decision on affirmative action, it voted 7-1 to tell a lower appeals court to take another look at Fisher's lawsuit. That meant the university's admissions policies remained unchanged.

Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals again upheld the university's admissions policy. Fisher is a graduate of Louisiana State University.

Justice Elena Kagan is not taking part in the case. She sat out the first round as well, presumably because of her work on the case when she served in the Justice Department before joining the court.



Illinois high court: Comcast must reveal anonymous commenter
Court News | 2015/06/20 18:31
The Illinois Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court opinion ordering Comcast Cable Communications to identify a subscriber who posted an anonymous message suggesting a political candidate molests children.

The court said Thursday that the internet service provider must identify the subscriber who commented on a 2011 article in the Freeport Journal Standard about Bill Hadley's candidacy for the Stephenson County board.

The commenter, who used the online name "Fuboy," wrote that "Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed" because he can see an elementary school from his home. The comment was an apparent reference to former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky who was convicted of child sex abuse in 2012.

Hadley filed a defamation lawsuit against the commenter and subpoenaed Comcast demanding that it identify the subscriber.



Man accused of Jewish site shootings to appear in court
Court News | 2015/06/10 17:12
A Missouri man facing capital murder charges in Kansas is scheduled to be in court Wednesday for a hearing on motions in his case, one asking a judge to let him stay in the courtroom during recesses and another to suppress certain evidence.

Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., 74, of Aurora, Missouri, is accused of killing three people last year at two Jewish sites in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas.

The avowed white supremacist has told various media outlets, including The Associated Press, he is dying from emphysema and went to the sites with the intent to kill Jewish people.

All three of the victims of the April 13, 2014, rampage — William Lewis Corporon, 69, his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, and Terri LaMano, 53 — were Christians.

Also known as Frazier Glenn Cross, Miller got permission last month from Johnson County District Judge Kelly Ryan to fire his attorneys and represent himself. However, Ryan ruled that the attorneys would stay involved in the case on a stand-by basis and could be restored as Miller's counsel if he gets kicked out of the courtroom during his trial or decides he wants them back.


Judge grants new trial in death of intern Chandra Levy
Court News | 2015/06/04 19:05
A judge has formally granted a retrial in the case of a man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy.
 
D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher on Thursday granted a motion for a new trial the case of Ingmar Guandique, who was convicted in 2010 of killing Levy.

Guandique's attorneys had been pushing for a new trial because they said a key witness in the case gave false or misleading testimony. Prosecutors last month told a judge they believe the jury's verdict was correct but that they would no longer oppose the new-trial request.

Levy's 2001 disappearance created a national sensation after the 24-year-old California native was romantically linked with then-U.S. Rep. Gary Condit.

Condit, a California Democrat, was ultimately ruled out as a suspect.


California court ruling could limit drought fighting tools
Court News | 2015/04/23 21:35
In a ruling that Gov. Jerry Brown says puts a "straitjacket" on local governments trying to fight the severe statewide drought, an appeals court has found that an Orange County city's tiered water rates are unconstitutional.

The ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal on Monday against the city of San Juan Capistrano potentially deals a blow to agencies statewide that have used the pricing structure to encourage water conservation.

"The practical effect of the court's decision is to put a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed," Brown said in a statement after Monday's ruling. "My policy is and will continue to be: employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California."

The 3-0 ruling upholds a Superior Court judge's decision that found that charging bigger water users incrementally higher rates violates a voter-approved law that prohibits government agencies from charging more than the cost of a service.

It comes shortly after Brown issued drought orders that call for rates that encourage people to save water, including tiered pricing. About two-thirds of water districts in the state use some form of tiered pricing, and the ruling was being closely watched to see how it might apply beyond the appellate court, which is only binding in Orange County.


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