Court drops rape, other charges against megachurch leader
Court Watch | 2020/04/10 17:39
A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.

Naason Joaquin Garcia, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.

While being held without bail in Los Angeles, Garcia has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light Of The World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.

It was not clear when he would be released. The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.

Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, said he and his client are “thrilled” by the decision.


Wisconsin moves forward with election despite virus concerns
Court Watch | 2020/04/04 00:52
Voters in Wisconsin will face a choice Tuesday of participating in a presidential primary election or heeding warnings from public health officials to stay away from large crowds during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hours after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an order postponing the election for two months, the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday sided with Republicans who said he didn’t have the authority to reschedule the race on his own. Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court quickly followed with a ruling blocking Democratic efforts to extend absentee voting.

The decisions leave Wisconsin as the only state with an election scheduled in April that is proceeding as planned. As other states prepare to vote in May or June, Wisconsin will be closely watched for signs that fears of the coronavirus may depress turnout or cause other problems at the polls.

Evers said he had no other options after the state court ruled against him. “There’s not a Plan B. There’s not a Plan C,” Evers said earlier Monday.

Joe Biden already has a commanding delegate lead over Bernie Sanders and the Wisconsin results aren’t likely to slow his march to the Democratic presidential nomination. But the tumult in one of the most critical general election battlegrounds was a reminder of how the coronavirus has upended politics during an election year. Beyond the shifts in the primary calendar, Biden and President Donald Trump have not been able to hold in-person campaign events and have moved most of their operations online. Sanders called Tuesday’s election “dangerous” and said his campaign will not engage in any traditional get-out-the-vote efforts.

The tension in Wisconsin over whether and how to proceed with the election has been building for weeks. Evers and Republicans initially agreed it was imperative for the election to proceed because thousands of local offices are on the ballot Tuesday for terms that begin in two weeks. There is also a state Supreme Court election.




International court approves Afghanistan investigation
Court Watch | 2020/03/12 01:38
International Criminal Court judges authorized a far-reaching investigation Thursday of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Afghan government forces, the Taliban, American troops and U.S. foreign intelligence operatives.

The appellate ruling marked the first time the court’s prosecutor has been cleared to investigate U.S. forces, and set the global tribunal on a collision course with the Trump administration.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda pledged to carry out an independent and impartial investigation and called for full support and cooperation from all parties.

“The many victims of atrocious crimes committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan deserve to finally have justice,” Bensouda said. “Today they are one step closer to that coveted outcome.”

Washington, which has long rejected the court’s jurisdiction and refuses to cooperate with it, condemned the decision while human rights groups and lawyers for victims applauded it.

A five-judge appellate panel upheld an appeal by prosecutors against a pretrial chamber’s rejection in April last year of Bensouda’s request to open a probe in Afghanistan.

While acknowledging that widespread crimes have been committed in Afghanistan, pretrial judges had said an investigation wouldn’t be in the interests of justice because the expected lack of cooperation meant convictions would ultimately be unlikely.



A clinic prepares for Supreme Court abortion fight
Court Watch | 2020/03/02 17:20
The Hope Medical Group for Women in northern Louisiana fields phone calls every day from anxious pregnant women who ask if abortion is still legal and if the clinic, one of only three that provides abortions in the state, is still open.

Despite the protesters who sometimes gather outside, the threats that forced the clinic to board up all the windows and the repeated restrictions put upon abortion providers in this staunchly anti-abortion state, the clinic stands. Abortion remains legal in Louisiana and elsewhere in the United States. But a Supreme Court case set for arguments Wednesday could lead to the clinic’s closure and, more fundamentally, a retreat from protecting the right to abortion that the high court first announced in 1973.

The case is just one in a series of high-stakes disputes the more conservative court, now with two appointees of President Donald Trump, is expected to decide by late June as the 2020 election campaign gathers steam.

“We're fighting this as hard as we possibly can. And for now, all three clinics are still open. And for now, abortion is still legal in all 50 states,” said Hope’s administrator, Kathaleen Pittman.

Pittman tries to keep her focus on the women who come through the door every day — generally poor women who are forced to travel increasingly longer distances as other clinics in Louisiana and neighboring states have closed. Pittman estimates as many as 80% of the women who come in get financial assistance to help pay for the abortion.



Ex-Phoenix area sheriff declares victory despite court loss
Court Watch | 2020/02/27 01:20
Former Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio lost a bid to erase his criminal conviction for disobeying a 2011 court order, but claimed victory Thursday after an appeal's court said the verdict no longer has any legal consequence because of President Donald Trump's pardon.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals explained Arpaio was pardoned before he could be sentenced and that the final judgment in the case ended up dismissing the contempt charge.

“They can’t use that conviction against me in a court of law,” Arpaio said. “That’s a win.”

Gabriel “Jack" Chin, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, agreed. “Even though Mr. Arpaio did not get the district court's findings vacated, he still won his case.

”The Ninth Circuit clearly ruled that after the pardon there is neither a conviction for criminal purposes (say, sentencing in the future), nor a finding of fact binding in any future criminal or civil cases," Chin added. “On the other hand, the underlying facts are out there for whatever the court of public opinion wants to do with them.”

Arpaio was convicted for disobeying an order barring his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.

The 87-year-old lawman, who was defeated for reelection in 2016 after six terms, had argued the misdemeanor contempt of court conviction should be removed from his record so it can't be raised against him in future court cases.

A 2017 lower court decision said Trump’s pardon removed his possible punishments and that pardons don’t erase convictions or the facts of cases.


India's top court grants equal rights to women in army
Court Watch | 2020/02/16 02:49
India’s top court on Monday ordered the federal government to grant permanent commission and command positions to female officers in the army on par with men, asserting that the government's arguments against the policy were based on gender stereotypes.

The court’s decision, seen as a watershed moment for the Indian military, would mean that women can extend their short service roles in noncombat support units such as education, law and logistics until they want to retire and rise to the rank of Colonel, based on merit.

Currently, female officers can serve for only 10 to 14 years in the army.

“This is a historic decision and a significant day for not only those who are serving in the army but for also those who are desirers of joining forces,” said Lt. Col. Anjali Bisht.

The Supreme Court’s decision, however, does not mean that female officers will serve in army combat units such as the infantry, artillery or armored corps.



Lawmakers slam Missouri Supreme Court over bail rules
Court Watch | 2020/01/24 05:14
Dozens of Missouri lawmakers have asked the state Supreme Court to undo new rules limiting when judges can impose bail, a move that was aimed at reducing court costs that can derail the lives of low-income defendants.

More than 80 legislators signed on to a letter sent by Rep. Justin Hill to Supreme Court judges this week. In it, the Republican complained that a new rule requiring judges to first consider non-monetary conditions for pretrial release went too far.

“Now, individuals who are potentially dangerous or have a history of failing to appear for court are being released on recognizance with no conditions at all ? because the rules that went into effect in July make it too difficult for judges to impose bail,” Hill wrote.

He cited one of the two convicted felons facing criminal charges over a Kansas bar shooting that killed four people. Both men allegedly involved had previous brushes with the law that could have kept them behind bars had judges and other officials made different decisions, although only 23-year-old Javier Alatorre’s case dealt with Missouri judges.

Alatorre was released from jail in September in Jackson County, Missouri, where he still faces charges of fleeing from police in a stolen vehicle. A judge released him on his own recognizance after his attorney sought to have his bail lowered.

Missouri judges are still able to set bail under the new rules if needed, but only at an amount necessary to ensure either public safety or that the defendant will appear in court. Courts may not order a defendant to pay costs associated with conditions of their release, such as the costs of an ankle monitoring bracelet, without first considering reducing or waiving those costs.

Prior court rules directed judges to impose bail only to ensure that defendants returned to court, although the Missouri Constitution gave judges leeway to deny bail or set limits on release as a way to protect victims or public safety.


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