Texas Supreme Court to hear sex offender law challenge
Court Watch | 2018/10/08 13:38
The Texas Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the state's retroactive sex offender laws that some say unfairly stack new punishments on those convicted in plea deals.

More than 2,800 sex offenders remain on the Texas registry despite being no longer required to register under terms of their probation, according to an Austin-American Statesman analysis of the list.

Every qualifying sex offender was ordered onto the registry in 2005 after Texas expanded its sex offense laws. But that included some defendants who were promised in deals with prosecutors that they wouldn't have to be on the list after a certain amount of time.

Donnie Miller struck a deal with Travis County prosecutors after he was charged with sexual assault against a woman outside an Austin gentleman's club in 1993. A jury couldn't agree on a verdict at his trial, forcing Miller to face a second trial and more than $20,000 in legal fees.

He made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty and in exchange, his record would be cleaned if he stayed out of trouble for 10 years. But Miller received a call a year after successfully completing his probation telling him that Texas had changed the rules and that he'd be on the sex offender registry for life, contrary to the terms of his plea deal.

"If I'd known, why would I have taken a plea deal?" said Miller, 48. "I would have borrowed the money for the retrial."

In a lawsuit before the Texas Supreme Court regarding another similar case, San Antonio attorney Angela Moore argues that undoing plea bargains makes the agreements worthless. About 94 percent of criminal convictions are disposed of with pleas, she said.

Texas Department of Public Safety attorneys warn that the lawsuit could relieve many "other sex offenders of their duty to register."

Texas was among several states to expand state law to include offenders from old cases. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2003 that Alaska's law retroactively requiring old sex offenders with completed sentences to register was legal because the registry wasn't intended to be punitive.

But recent studies show that public lists can have severe consequences, such as public shaming and limiting job opportunities. Since the Alaska decision, new research has emerged that disproves what policymakers previously thought to be true about sex offenders and the effectiveness of such laws.

The updated findings are appearing in court cases across the country. Rulings in Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Alaska eliminated their retroactive sex offender clauses.


Supreme Court could limit execution of people with dementia
Court Watch | 2018/10/02 12:18
The Supreme Court appeared willing Tuesday to extend protection from capital punishment to people with dementia who can't recall their crime or understand the circumstances of their execution.

The eight justices heard arguments in the case of Alabama death row inmate Vernon Madison, who killed a police officer in 1985 but has suffered strokes that his lawyers say have left him with severe dementia.

The high court has previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.

A ruling for Madison probably would mean a new hearing in state court over whether his condition renders him ineligible for execution.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four liberal justices seemed most willing to rule for Madison. The other three justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, are unlikely to side with Madison because they voted to allow his execution to proceed when their colleagues blocked it in January, setting up the current case.

In a reflection of the changed dynamics on the court, Roberts' vote would appear to be decisive since a 4-4 split would leave in place a state court ruling against Madison and allow Alabama to try again to execute him. The high court is down one justice, following Anthony Kennedy's retirement in July and a delay in a vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh so that the FBI can investigate allegations against him of sexual misconduct.

Kennedy had been the conservative justice most likely to vote with the liberals on death penalty cases. The court agreed to hear the appeal while Kennedy was on the bench. He had been a key voice in limiting capital punishment, having voted to bar the execution of people under 18, the intellectually disabled and those who lack a rational understanding of why they are to be put to death.


India's top court lifts temple's ban on women who menstruate
Court Watch | 2018/09/26 23:20
India's Supreme Court on Friday lifted a temple's ban on women of menstruating age, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.

The historic Sabarimala temple had barred women age 10 to 50 from entering the temple that is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage centers in the world.

Some religious figures consider menstruating women to be impure. But the court ruled 4-1 the practice of excluding women cannot be regarded as an essential religious practice.

The temple argued the celibate nature of Sabarimala temple's presiding deity Lord Ayyappa was protected by India's Constitution.

The top court's verdict is part a string of recent rulings that recognize more rights of women, challenging deeply conservative Indian society. On Thursday, it scrapped a law which did not allow wives to bring criminal charges against adulterous husbands.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra in part of Friday's judgment said devotion could not be discriminatory and patriarchal notion could not trump equality in devotion.

"Religion cannot be the cover to deny women right to worship. To treat women as children of lesser God is to blink at constitutional morality," he said.

Rahul Eswaran, an attorney for the temple, said the temple management would seek a review of the court's decision. It noted girls and women of other ages were allowed in the temple without restrictions.


Missouri court lets redistricting initiative go to voters
Court Watch | 2018/09/21 04:49
A Missouri appeals court panel cleared the way Friday for voters to decide a November ballot initiative that could shake up of the state Legislature by requiring districts to be drawn to achieve "partisan fairness" and imposing new lobbying limits.

The ruling overturned a decision issued a week ago by a state judge who said the so-called Clean Missouri initiative violated the state constitution by addressing multiple topics.

The Western District appeals panel disagreed, ruling that the "multiple provisions all relate to a single central purpose: regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests."

Republican-aligned attorneys for those opposing the measure said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court. But time is running short. Missouri law sets a Tuesday deadline to make changes to the Nov. 6. ballot. The state's high court previously turned down a chance to hear the case in place of the appeals panel.

As it stands, the measure would appear on the ballot as Constitutional Amendment 1.

"We hope this brings an end to it and that the people can vote in November on whether they want to adopt these changes," said attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents Clean Missouri.

The initiative has been opposed in court by the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a Republican voter who was represented by the law firm of Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves.



Guatemala court orders UN anti-graft chief be readmitted
Court Watch | 2018/09/17 19:16
Guatemala's Constitutional Court has ordered President Jimmy Morales to allow the head of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission to return to the country.

Ivan Velasquez is the head of the commission known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish. It has led a number of high-profile graft investigations, including one that is pending against Morales.

Earlier this month the president announced that he would not renew CICIG's mandate for another two-year term, effectively giving it a year to wind down and end its activities.

He later said that Velasquez, who was traveling in Washington, would be barred from re-entering the Central American nation. Morales called Velasquez "a person who attacks order and public security in the country."


Nebraska’s top court: Voters to decide on expanding Medicaid
Court Watch | 2018/09/13 04:43
The Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that voters will decide in November whether to expand Medicaid in the state.

The court’s rejection of a Republican-led lawsuit Wednesday is a victory for advocates who say a vote favoring expansion would ensure coverage for about 90,000 low-income residents who earn too much to qualify for regular Medicaid but too little to be eligible for assistance under the Affordable Care Act.

Nebraska’s Republican-dominated Legislature rejected six previous attempts to expand Medicaid. Utah and Idaho have similar ballot measures pending. Maine became the first state to expand Medicaid by ballot measure last year.

The lawsuit was filed by state Sen. Lydia Brasch and former state Sen. Mark Christensen, both Republicans who helped derail similar bills in the Legislature.


Indiana high court to consider city rental registration fee
Court Watch | 2018/09/10 20:01
The Indiana Supreme Court is preparing to review the constitutionality of a 2015 state law targeting the city of Hammond's rental registration revenue.

The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports that the state's high court will hear oral arguments Thursday about a law limiting housing rental registration fees to $5 per unit per year. The law exempts Bloomington and West Lafayette due to their unique rental market as college towns, but applies to Hammond, which charges rental registration fees of $80 per unit.

The state Court of Appeals struck down the law in February, concluding that lawmakers violated the constitutional ban on special laws "relating to fees or salaries" by allowing only the two college towns to charge a rental registration fee distinct from what applies across the rest of Indiana.



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