Court orders release of detained immigrant kids, not parents
Legal Interview | 2016/07/12 16:40
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Homeland Security officials must quickly release immigrant children — but not their parents — from family detention centers after being picked up crossing the border without documentation.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said that lengthy detentions of migrant children violated a 19-year-old legal settlement ordering their quick release after processing. Government lawyers had argued that the settlement covered only immigrant children who crossed the border unaccompanied by adult relatives. But the three-judge panel ruled that immigration officials aren't required to release the parents detained along with the children, reversing U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee's ruling last year.

Advocates seeking stricter immigration controls said they hoped the ruling would discourage adults crossing the border illegally from exploiting children as a way to stay out of custody in the United States.

Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies executive director and an advocate for stricter border controls, said allowing the parents to be released may have encouraged illegal immigration of adults traveling with children.



Police union defends ex-officer in black musician's death
Legal Interview | 2016/06/02 17:43
The police union defended a former officer charged in the fatal shooting of a legally armed black man, saying they believe the officer identified himself before the confrontation.
 
Former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja has been charged with manslaughter and attempted murder in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones. Raja's bail was set at $250,000 during his first court appearance Thursday.

Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said the union believes Raja, who was fired after the shooting, identified himself before confronting Jones on an Interstate 95 ramp before dawn.

Charging documents said Raja, who was investigating a string of auto burglaries, did not identify himself before opening fire. He was driving an unmarked cargo van with no police lights and was in civilian clothes: a tan T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap, the documents said.



JetBlue attendant pleads not guilty to cocaine charge
Legal Interview | 2016/04/24 17:21
A JetBlue flight attendant accused of trying to sneak a suitcase full of cocaine through Los Angeles International Airport has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge.
 
City News Service says Marsha Gay Reynolds entered the plea Friday to possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.
   
Authorities say during a random security screening at LAX in March, the former Jamaican beauty queen left her carry-on luggage, kicked off her Gucci high heels and bolted down an upward-moving escalator.

Authorities found about 70 pounds of cocaine in her luggage.

Reynolds, who lives in Queens, later surrendered in New York.

If convicted, she faces 10 years in prison.



Court gives green light to death penalty fast-tracking
Legal Interview | 2016/03/23 15:43
A federal appeals court Wednesday cleared the way for the Department of Justice to allow states to have their inmates' death penalty appeals expedited through federal court.
 
Legal organizations that challenged the DOJ's criteria for certifying states for the fast-track program lacked standing to bring the lawsuit, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said. The court also noted that the DOJ had not yet granted any certifications, and those certifications would be reviewed by a separate appeals court.

The decision threw out a lower court ruling that blocked the certification process.

The fast-track program would require inmates to file petitions in federal court within six months of a final ruling on their appeal in state court. They normally have a year. It would also require federal courts to act faster on the inmates' petitions.

At least one state, Arizona, has asked the DOJ to certify it for the fast-track program.

Opponents say it would force attorneys representing death penalty inmates to scramble to file appeals, possibly leading some cases to be neglected. Supporters say the program could take years off the death penalty appeals process, giving crime victims faster justice.

"This decision is important not only for the families of murder victims, but also for everyone in the United States who depends upon the rule of law and relies upon the courts to follow it," Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said in a statement. The Sacramento-based nonprofit organization advocates for swift punishment for guilty defendants and filed arguments in the case.

Marc Shapiro, an attorney for the legal organizations that sued — the San Francisco-based Habeas Corpus Resource Center and the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Arizona — said he will ask a larger 9th Circuit panel to review the ruling.

"We're living in a time where our system of capital punishment is being exposed for its critical flaws," he said. "There's a heightened need for assuring we're not sending innocent or otherwise undeserving people to the execution chamber."

To qualify for the fast-track program, a state has to require a court to appoint an attorney to represent an indigent capital inmate unless the inmate rejects the attorney or is not indigent, according to the 9th Circuit's ruling. Regulations finalized by the DOJ in 2013 set benchmarks for attorney competency.


California High Court Allows Gov. Jerry Brown's Prison Initiative
Legal Interview | 2016/02/27 00:29
California's Supreme Court is allowing Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to put his plan to reduce the state's prison population before voters in November.

The high court acted Friday after Brown warned that further delay could push voters' consideration to 2018.

The justices put on hold a lower court ruling that barred the state attorney general from issuing the documents that would let Brown's supporters gather the signatures needed to put his initiative on this year's ballot.

The Sacramento-based judge ruled that Brown improperly amended a juvenile justice initiative. The Democratic governor added his proposal to increase sentencing credits for adult inmates and allow earlier parole for non-violent felons.

Brown says it is too late to start over and still collect the nearly 586,000 signatures needed for a ballot measure this year.


High court seems skeptical of mandatory public union fees
Legal Interview | 2016/01/17 07:30
The Supreme Court appears ready to deliver a major setback to American unions as it considers scrapping a four-decade precedent that lets public-sector labor organizations collect fees from workers who decline to join.

During more than an hour of oral arguments Monday, the high court's conservative justices seemed likely to side with a group of California teachers who say those mandatory fees violate the free-speech rights of workers who disagree with a union's positions.

Labor officials fear unions' very existence could be threatened if workers are allowed to get all the benefits of representation without at least paying fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining. The case affects more than 5 million workers in 23 states and Washington, D.C.


But Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected arguments by lawyers for the state of California and the California Teachers Association that the current fee system is needed to prevent non-members from becoming "free riders" — workers who reap the rewards of union bargaining and grievance procedures without paying for it.

"The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree," Kennedy said, noting the political nature of bargaining issues like teacher salaries, merit promotions and class size.



Kansas Court of Appeals mulls state protections for abortion
Legal Interview | 2015/12/08 17:29
A lawsuit blocking Kansas’ first-in-the-nation ban on a common second-trimester method for terminating pregnancies forced an appeals court Wednesday to wrestle with whether the state constitution independently protects abortion rights.

Abortion opponents are watching the case before the full Kansas Court of Appeals closely. If the two doctors who’ve challenged the ban prevail, the state courts could find grounds to invalidate other state abortion laws — even if federal courts declare that the U.S. Constitution permits the restrictions.

During arguments from attorneys Wednesday, several judges expressed skepticism that broad language in the state constitution’s Bill of Rights about individual liberty can be interpreted as specifically protecting abortion rights. But several also questioned the state’s position that the language is only a statement of principles.

The state is appealing a Shawnee County judge’s ruling in July that blocked the law from being enforced while the doctors’ lawsuit is heard. The judge said the ban imposes an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions. He also said the state constitution protects abortion rights at least as much as the federal constitution — something higher courts haven’t previously declared.

“It’s important to have the Kansas courts recognize these rights under the Kansas Constitution,” said Janet Crepps, a senior attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the doctors.


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