Hong Kong court to rule later on 3 activists' prison terms
Court News | 2018/01/16 17:43
Three Hong Kong activists will have to wait to learn the outcome of their final appeal Tuesday to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014's massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Judges at Hong Kong's top court said they would issue their decision at a later, unspecified date following the appeal hearing for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow against the sentences of up to eight months. Bail for the three was extended.

The three were initially let off with suspended or community service sentences after they were convicted of taking part in or inciting an unlawful assembly by storming a courtyard at government headquarters to kick-off the protests.

But the case sparked controversy when the justice secretary requested a sentencing review that resulted in stiffer sentences, raising concerns about rule of law and fears that the city's Beijing-backed government is tightening up on dissent.

The trio's lawyers said the lower court overstepped its boundaries and put too much emphasis on the need for deterrence in handing down the revised harsher sentence.

"Laying down a heavy sentence will have a deterrent effect, but a balance has to be held between a deterrent and stifling young idealistic people," Law's lawyer, Robert Pang, told the judges.



Supreme Court to hear sales tax collection case
Court News | 2018/01/16 01:44
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to wade into the issue of sales tax collection on internet purchases in a case that could force consumers to pay more for certain purchases and allow states to recoup what they say is billions in lost revenue annually.

Under previous Supreme Court rulings, when internet retailers don't have a physical presence in a state, they can't be forced to collect sales tax on sales into that state. Consumers who purchase from out-of-state retailers are generally supposed to pay the state taxes themselves, but few do. A total of 36 states and the District of Columbia had asked the high court to revisit the issue.

Large brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target have long bemoaned the fact that they have to collect sales tax on online purchases because they have physical stores nationwide. Meanwhile, smaller online retailers, who don't have vast networks of stores, don't have to collect the tax where they don't have a physical presence.

Internet giant Amazon.com fought for years against collecting sales tax but now does so nationwide, though third-party sellers on its site make their own decisions. But the case before the Supreme Court does directly affect other online retailers, including Overstock.com, home goods company Wayfair and electronics retailer Newegg, who are part of the case the court accepted.

States say the court's previous rulings have also hurt them. According to one estimate cited by the states in a brief they filed with the high court, they'll lose out on nearly $34 billion in 2018 if the Supreme Court's previous rulings stand. The Government Accountability Office, which provides nonpartisan reports to Congress, wrote in a report last year that state and local governments would have been able to gain between $8.5 billion and $13 billion in 2017 if they could require out-of-state sellers to collect tax on sales into the state. All but five states charge a sales tax.



Doctor charged in wife's death moved after threat to him
Court News | 2018/01/15 19:44
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.


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.



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.



Western powers warn Kosovo on changing war crimes court law
Court News | 2018/01/04 10:42
Five western nations have warned Kosovo against repealing or amending a law on a war crimes court, saying it would suffer negative consequences "in international and Euro-Atlantic integration."

A statement Thursday from the nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy — said they were "deeply concerned by ongoing efforts to undermine the work of the Specialist Chambers." It called on Kosovo politicians and lawmakers "to abandon any thought of repealing or re-negotiating any aspect of the law ... (because that) calls into question Kosovo's commitment to the rule of law."

In December, a group of Kosovo lawmakers tried to amend the law, seeking to extend its jurisdiction over Serbs, their former adversaries in the 1998-1999 war for independence. The court now has jurisdiction only over potential war crimes suspects who were Kosovo citizens.

"(This move) puts the interests of certain individuals above the interests of Kosovo society. We condemn such a move," the nations said.

Kosovo detached from Yugoslavia following a three-month NATO air war in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists. It then declared unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by 114 states but not by Serbia.

The court law was passed in 2015 as a result of U.S. and European pressure on Kosovo's government to confront alleged war crimes that the Kosovo Liberation Army committed against ethnic Serbs.




Spanish court reviews custody of ex-Catalan vice president
Court News | 2018/01/02 10:43
A Spanish court is reviewing an appeal by former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras against his jailing as he awaits formal charges over possible rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in the restive region's recent drive for independence from Spain.

A panel of three Supreme Court judges will decide Thursday on whether to keep Junqueras in custody or grant bail, which would ease the way for him to take his oath as a regional lawmaker and possibly become the new Catalan leader.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy deposed Catalonia's government after separatist legislators passed a declaration of independence from Spain in late October.

Pro-secession parties, including a ticket led by the fugitive ousted president Carles Puigdemont and the left-republican party led by Junqueras, won back most seats in fresh elections last month.




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